Guest Column - September/October 2009

Improve Sales Performance During a Recession

Best Practices From Leading Sales Experts

By Ira Ozer


hen the economy is growing and business is strong, increasing sales is relatively easy—as the old adage says, "A rising tide lifts all boats." But in a prolonged recession, such as we been experiencing for more than a year, how do we improve sales when the tide has dropped so low that many companies' boats are no longer even floating? Do we now need to follow the adage, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going"? Or is there a better way?

According to top sales experts who work with hundreds of companies and thousands of salespeople, there is a better way, and if you follow their advice, you can improve the performance of your sales force, or if you work for an agency, those of your clients. Here are eight strategies to implement now:

1. Assess Performance

According to Steve D'Angelo, CEO of Springlake Technologies, a sales assessment company with expertise in behavioral sciences, every company has a unique "sales DNA." It is common to see salespeople who were top achievers at another company fail when they join a new one. Instead of simply cutting these people, which costs time, money and credibility with customers and the remaining salespeople, first start by assessing your top performers—the "A" players—to understand the behaviors and attributes that are unique to your company's culture, sales process and industry. Then assess the other salespeople to determine where they are lacking using either an offline method or interactive online tools that provide reports and insights that sales managers can use to properly coach each sales person to increase their performance to become "A" players themselves. For more information, visit

2. Set Realistic Goals

Many companies are still measuring their performance based on the results of years just prior to the start of the recession, but this is erroneous and creates objectives for salespeople and the company as a whole that are unattainable in this economy. For these companies, it is time for a reset to more reasonable objectives.

According to Rodger Stotz, the chief research officer for the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) and co-author along with Bruce Bolger of the IMA course on the "Principles of Results-Based Incentive Program Design," having attainable goals is fundamental to the creation of an effective program. Without attainable goals, very few salespeople will achieve their numbers, and for the incentive programs we create, realistic "stretch" objectives cannot be set. Therefore when few salespeople earn bonus compensation or incentives, an attitude of cynicism can take hold and become a negative influence on everybody. For more information and research, visit

3. Improve Process, Training and Coaching

During a recession, companies need to reconsider their sales processes, because many of their prospective customers have reduced staffing levels, communications methods and buying patterns. For example, in the incentive industry, it is common that the position of "incentive buyer" has been eliminated at many companies and that this responsibility has shifted to a marketing generalist or to variety of people to whom buying incentives is a very minor aspect of their job and one for which they have no expertise or passion.

Many companies have cut back on sales training, but this is a mistake, according to Keith Rosen, a Master Certified Coach who is the author of the book "Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions," and was recognized with a Stevie Award as the No. 1 sales trainer for 2009. He writes, "Sales managers must learn to become better coaches to teach their salespeople ways to improve their sales process and guide them to increase their efficiency and effectiveness."

For more information, visit