Improve Sales Performance During a Recession
Best Practices From Leading Sales Experts
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 www.springlaketech.com.
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 www.theirf.org.
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 www.profitbuilders.com.
4. Improve Usage of Technology
To support improved sales process and training, the usage of new technologies to engage and communicate with people should also be considered. "A 'best practices' incentive management system today should include an integrated customer relationship management (CRM), learning management system (LMS) and social networking tools, along with inspiring tangible merchandise and travel awards, communications, tracking and reporting tools," according to Mike Hadlow, CEO of Engagement Technologies. For more information, visit www.incentivebusinessexchange.com.
5. Offer Attainable Incentives
Many companies that have traditionally run group incentive travel programs reset their budgets this year to include fewer winners, so that these programs can remain financially viable. In some cases they have cancelled them outright, but these actions often create a negative sales environment. A better idea might be to create a blended program that awards the top winners with their choice of individual trips, while providing the next tier of performers with lower-cost merchandise choices.
According to Greg Whitacre, the senior director of global individual travel sales for Marriott International, "there is no doubt that group travel provides a setting for camaraderie, but it also takes salespeople out of the field during a stressful time, and many companies that have tried using individual travel incentives report that their salespeople, especially younger ones, appreciate the opportunity to take their own personal vacation, without the stress of needing to 'hobnob' with executives." For more information, visit www.marriott.com./incentives.
Saro Hartounian, CEO of Harco Incentive Solutions, agrees and points out that there are thousands of highly desirable merchandise awards from leading name-brand manufacturers that range in cost between $25 and $250, so they are attainable for all sales incentive program participants. For more information, visit www.premiumincentive.com.
6. Start at the Top
During a recession, many salespeople know that their prospect companies have reduced their budgets, but most don't realize that decision-making has also shifted to a higher level. According to Anthony Parinello best-selling author, trainer and keynote speaker, to sell most effectively, it is essential to "Sell to VITO"—the Very Important Top Officer.
There is a specific method that salespeople need to understand to prepare for and connect with a CEO or other VITO at a prospect company. "It starts with understanding the most important challenges facing the business and then scripting your approach to explain why your solution will help achieve their objectives," according to Parinello. Salespeople need to get prepared, and be thorough and to the point. For more information, visit www.sellingtovito.com.
7. Improve Leadership
Robert Kelly, vice president of sales operations for S.P. Richards Company and an Advisory Board Member of the Sales Management Association, emphasizes that sales managers must become better leaders. To salespeople, their manager is the company and during recessionary times, many sales managers who are under pressure to perform use negative reinforcement, with such messages as "you are lucky to have a job" to motivate.
The Sales Management Association was created in 2008 to gather best practices from the sales leadership of companies with large sales forces, because as the organization size increases, it becomes more challenging to inspire and lead from the top. For more information, visit www.salesmanagement.org.
8. Consider Intrinsic Motivation
The latest research from Gallup and other leading employee engagement research organizations Sirota Survey Intelligence and the Corporate Executive Board show that for most companies, only about 30 percent of their employees are fully engaged, 55 percent are disengaged and 15 percent are actively disengaged with their employer's business.
"Companies must continue to reward and recognize top performers, but now more than ever, to increase sales most effectively they must move the "middle 60 percent" of the sales force," said Michael Norton, CEO of CanDoGo, a company that provides on-demand motivation and training "insights" from more than 100 top authors and speakers.
Companies must also recognize that every salesperson has challenges in their personal life in addition to their sales career. Managers must be prepared to guide them openly to create an environment of trust and teamwork. This will help encourage sales people to improve their personal or "intrinsic" motivation. For more information, visit www.candogo.com.
So during these recessionary times, sales performance improvement is attainable, but more challenging. It is necessary to create an integrated system that incorporates all of these strategies to best motivate and engage salespeople and managers to improve their performance.