Sales Behaviors That Keep Companies Winning

First, get the managers coaching

The first challenge in driving performance lies not with the market or the economy, but with your sales managers. Putting a salesperson under pressure to produce results without coaching them on the ‘how’ creates a vicious cycle of underperformance.

This pressure cycle is common even in good times. It can, however, become endemic in a tough market, and it – as much as the market itself – is the beast to be battled. The flip side, of course, is that while your competitors are flapping around, there’s a fantastic opportunity to grow market share.

Would you rather your team was chasing deals that will never make their quota, and skimming from customer to customer? Or would you rather be the company that digs under the surface, bringing a better idea to a contact that the competition hasn’t even met?

Would you rather be the company that isn’t paying attention to its existing accounts, or the one that is creating defensive strategies on the one hand, while working around entrenched competitors on the other?

To break that cycle, you have to go against the grain for many managers. The leadership team and sales management community has to manage activity, not outputs. And not just the quantity of activity, but its quality. That is why coaching is such a critical part of sales performance in any market.

The good news is that coaching can be trained, though training on its own is not enough; sales managers in turn need to be measured and coached on their coaching skills. You can use specialized internal or external coaches, of course – this can be especially helpful in running ‘deal pursuits’ – but in the end, coaching is at the heart of the manager’s role.

So what behaviors should your managers be helping to develop? There are a large number of sales-related behaviors, from time management to advanced negotiation. But three areas that are especially important in tough times are:

Working with the customer’s agenda, not yours

Any good salesperson is fundamentally a facilitator of the buying process. Contrary to popular belief, customers rarely buy because of a strong relationship, or because someone offers them a discount. They buy – no surprise here – to meet a need. Of course, a strong relationship is a great way to uncover new needs, and to persuade the customer that your solution meets those needs effectively. But simply reinforcing the social relationship is not enough to ensure growth – or indeed survival – in any market. To meet your own needs, you have to be proactive in uncovering and then meeting those of the customer. During a recession a customer’s agenda will change and here are a few ways it might change:

  • In a downturn, customers become even more overwhelmed by contacts from salespeople, and are even less likely to respond to an unfocused approach.
  • New issues drive new needs (customers’ needs are constantly changing, especially during recession)
  • The bar is raised on ROI (shorter pay-back periods)
  • Safety and risk become hugely more influential as buying factors
  • Decision cycles slow down; there are more sign-off points and increasing senior involvement in decision-making.
  • Budgets may get frozen

Spending sales time wisely

In a downturn, the temptation is to chase any deal that moves. Paradoxically, though, a recession is the time to become even more focused, not less. In addition to doing the right things as set out above, it’s important to do them with the right customers.

Now, as in boom times, salespeople need to match the time and effort invested in any given account to its potential, not just its current revenue. That potential is the product of two things: how attractive a given account is (in terms of revenue, product mix and therefore margin, etc.), and how achievable it is as a win for your company and sales team.

Defending what you already have

Counterintuitively, downturns offer an opportunity to grow your market share. Customers and channels may become loosened from their existing supplier relationships and more willing to consider new approaches. Equally, struggling competitors may find it hard to hang on to their customers and offer rich pickings if you are performing well.

However, there is a flip side to this – you need to work even harder to make sure you retain your own customers.

Keeping it on track

Selling in a recession is like selling at any time. It is not just the cheapest supplier that wins. It is the supplier that best understands the customer’s needs, creates a unique solution to meet those needs, and embeds themselves into the customer organization so that they can constantly find ways to create value.

However, in a recession, the penalties for getting it wrong are much more severe. As we’ve seen, you need to keep your team focused on the customer’s agenda, rather than yours. You need to help them spend their time on the right accounts, and you need to get them defending what you already have.

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