Sales during times of uncertainty are completely different than under normal economic conditions.
Under normal economic conditions, deals are easier to land. Deals close more quickly. Prospects aren’t so hesitant to spend money. There are simply more potential prospects in the pipeline, making it relatively easier to generate more revenue.
Whereas now, during the ongoing Global Coronavirus Pandemic, nothing in sales is certain. Everything is more difficult. Everything is more challenging. Sales leaders and sales teams are facing unprecedented uncertainty.
Why is Covid-19 causing unprecedented uncertainty?
Recessions are nothing new. On a macro and micro-economic scale, recessions need to happen to renew economies. Since 2000, the world has gone through a couple of recessions or periods of slow growth, around the time of the dot com bubble, and then 9/11 (in 2001).
And then, 2007-08, another, far deeper and more serious recession shook the world. It started with bad debt layered upon debt, fuelled by greed and a ‘too big to fail’ risk taking attitude in the financial sector that caused serious repercussions in the wider economy. Millions lost jobs, companies went under, and whole countries were financially crippled. But the world recovered.
In recent years, GDP has been relatively healthy. Although consumer and business confidence were reducing somewhat in the UK and US, before Covid-19 hit. Even China was already experiencing an economic slowdown before the start of 2020.
However, no one expected the Global Coronavirus Pandemic and its devastating economic consequences. The world has been quickly pushed into a recession. No one has been unaffected in some way. Countries such as the UK and US, which have been hit hardest by Coronavirus are struggling most with the economic fallout. Hence the push in both countries to open up the economy and get back to work.
We are seeing tentative signs of recovery. And countries that have managed the virus most effectively have been least affected. Across Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and many parts of South East Asia and Japan, infection rates, death tolls and economic fallout haven’t been nearly as bad as it could have been.
Despite these hopeful signs, this recession is potentially larger than any recession since the 1930s, following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. We are facing new levels of uncertainty. Around the world, many sectors are facing an unpredictable future, and some will take longer to recover than others. Recovery will be uneven. Not only across regions, but across different sectors too.
Why is this different for sales leaders?
When it comes to managing a sales team during a global recession, many sales leaders are new to this. Managing a sales team during quieter more gentle years is different than navigating more challenging waters. Not only that, but this isn’t the same as previous recessions. It hasn’t been caused by structural faults in the economy; although it has cracked open flaws and weaknesses that already existed in many countries.
As the Harvard Business Review points out, only “somewhere between one-fourth and one-half of sales professionals in American companies have never had to sell during an economic downturn.”
The majority of people in sales, especially those in leadership roles, weren’t doing their current jobs in the last recession, over ten years ago. Experience and institutional muscle memory isn’t going to get us through this. However, current sales leaders would benefit from listening to those who’ve experienced something close to this in the past.
How can sales leaders manage growth in challenging times?
#1: Stay focused
Firstly, we need to remember that Covid-19 and the surrounding economic uncertainty is generating considerable fear. At the same time, companies need to consider what’s actually happening with their clients, pipeline and in the sector(s) they operate.
As a sales leader, you need to ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Are your customers still in business?
- Are they still spending money?
- Do you still have prospects in the pipeline?
- Are new prospects entering the pipeline?
- Does your sales strategy and process still work?
- Is your team performing well?
It would be rare for any company to say yes to all of those, that they’re completely unaffected. Almost every business has been affected in some way. But if, for the most part, things are relatively stable then it should be easier to keep the ship steady and moving forward in the right direction.
If, however, this isn’t the case, then more drastic and timely actions are needed.
When things are relatively stable, under the circumstances, then try to avoid operating from a place of panic and fear. That could cause more serious problems. Leaders that operate from a place of fear inspire that in their team. Deals could be chased too hard, putting potential clients off.
Instead of operating from a place of fear, take action to bring in more revenue.
#2: Expand beyond core sector(s)
Let’s assume one of the challenges is that the sector(s) you currently serve are struggling.
Does that mean giving up?
No. It should mean looking at what you do, and adapting to serve other sectors, and even other countries/regions you don’t currently serve where your target sectors aren’t struggling as much.
Look at what was working for your current strategy, and then move forward with an outbound or partner channel approach in these new sectors or geographic areas.
#3: Ramp up marketing
Are you not getting as many sales leads as you need to hit target?
Alongside adjusting targets to something more realistic, under the global economic circumstances, now would be a good time to raise the volume when it comes to marketing. You need more leads. With outbound sales, that’s one way to get more in the pipeline.
Combine that with more effective marketing and there’s a better than average chance new prospects will hear about you, and remember your name. Even if they aren’t ready to buy straight away, with the right marketing in-place you can keep them engaged for a longer period of time and increase the chances they will become new customers.
We are living through unprecedented times. Sales is more challenging. Leading your team through this means navigating the right direction, picking the smartest approaches, and staying focused. You could find that far from struggling, your team could come through this thriving.