Face it, even before COVID-19, we were long overdue for a recession. Most “experts” predicted one would occur last year, in 2019. So, guess what? We got an extra year of unprecedented expansion.
And guess what else has happened since the last recession? Many salespeople have become complacent. In the pre-virus economy, life was grand. Anybody and everybody were buying. There was so much demand that it didn’t matter if an individual could sell on value and differentiate – they sold. Not because they were good, mind you, but because the buyers were buying.
Those times were so happy that most employers found it hard to hire quality sales candidates. Salespeople were comfortable, and maybe even fat and happy where they were. Gone were the days of posting an ad and having hundreds of options. Then the Corona Virus Crisis hit.
Time to Prepare for the New Reality
While we have never experienced a pandemic, we have experienced an economic downturn. The difference between those companies that emerge strong from a recession and those that suffer is the effectiveness of their salespeople.
In good times, you can afford to accept mediocrity. The pipeline can be bloated because business is just rolling in. But in economic turmoil, your salespeople must be better than the competition, able to sell based on value, not price, and they must be able to hunt for new opportunities, not just rely on their old customers expanding, because that won’t be happening.
In bad times, your sales team needs to get a bigger piece of the pie. They need to be able to steal business away from the competition. They must be stronger, faster, smarter; they must differentiate and be more valuable to their customers than everyone else. They must not be afraid to talk with decision-makers. And, in all likelihood, they must be able to do all this working remotely.
Actions to Take Now
There are some steps that your sales team must follow…NOW! These steps may not be easy, but they are simple.
- Target more precisely. Have each seller create and go after a hot target list of 100 companies. These should be in your sweet spot of preferred client types. Make sure salespeople know who they are focusing on and why and don’t allow them to get too paralyzed by doing tons of research.
- Further narrow the focus. Have salespeople identify 10 of that 100 and have them research all the decision-makers and influencers on LinkedIn. Have them figure out which connections they have who know these 10 people and can introduce them, then pick up the phone, call those connections and ask for an introduction. The best approach is to get these referred introductions but if that is not possible, salespeople should reach out to the key contacts directly, like in the good old days.
- Be sure to follow up with emails. But help them focus on language that the targeted decision-makers will respond to. Make sellers practice what they are going to say and review what they are going to write before a call or send. Once salespeople have exhausted all options to get to the first 10 on the list, have them do the same thing with the next 10.
- Seek referrals. Call all former clients. See if they can be helped by your products and services and if not, then ask for referrals. Call all existing clients and discuss additional products and services that will help and also ask for referrals from them as well.
- Monitor activity. You may not have paid much attention in the past to number of first appointments or discovery conversations your team is making, but you must do it now. Know the number of first meetings/discovery calls required to produce one piece of new business, then assume it will take more now.
- Salespeople should have a set goal of first conversations every week, or month, based on what is needed to produce enough business. Next, ensure they have created an action plan of what steps they will take to get an adequate number of first meetings.
We know the reason many salespeople suffer in a down economy is because they don’t do the basics of prospecting all the time. Get ahead of the curve and set these expectations now with your sales team. A good starting place is our Sales Action Planning Playbook. Don’t be afraid to reset goals and expectations around activity and behaviors. No sales team can afford to rest on its laurels now.