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Rising interest rates, four decades of high inflation and a slowing economy continue to fuel fears of an impending recession. Many companies suffer during a recession as demand for products and services falls and uncertainty about the future of the economy increases.
Typically, a recession also means slower job growth and a workforce freeze. But the current job market remains strong. That means employees retain significant bargaining power – and the freedom to find a better position relatively easily if their current employer hasn’t met their demands. Indeed, with the positive jobs report, it is not unlikely that many companies will experience a turnover.
While revenue is a concern for all departments, it can be especially annoying in the sales organization. Finding, hiring and hiring new sales representatives is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking in the best economies. It’s certainly the last thing a sales executive wants to deal with in the perfect storm brought on by a recession and a strong job market. To avoid this, they need to think ahead and consider different ways to retain their existing sales talent.
Here we look at four ideas that will help sales leaders keep their sales organization as strong as possible during and after the oncoming economic storm.
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Strengthen sales knowledge through personalized training programs and feedback processes
Preparation is the best way to keep teams intact during a recession, and for sales teams, that starts and ends with training. When a company invests in training its reps and equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, they feel more engaged and empowered rather than defeated — even though their sales may falter during a down economy. Engaged representatives are also more loyal and stay with a company longer.
But not every training program provides the kind of value necessary to retain a rep. Many training programs are not built in a way that provides feedback. They may provide information, but do not reinforce the skills and knowledge so that sales reps become sales experts, which is the primary purpose of training. For example, role-playing training — and real-time feedback to correct shortcomings revealed in those role-playing — makes for a more confident sales rep ready to face a prospect even during a recession.
This gives us the idea to personalize training programs. Not all sales reps need training on how to handle objections, so why impose that training on reps across the sales team? Representatives are likely to remain more engaged in their training program when the training actually applies to their specific knowledge gaps. Personalizing training programs for each rep has two benefits: reps see it as a personal investment in their professional development, deepening their loyalty to the company; at the same time, it increases the rep’s knowledge and skills, contributing to the overall success of the team.
Emphasize training in empathy and handling objections
Sales training programs should focus training on two specific skills that lead to a recession: showing empathy and dealing with objections. So many companies will be in a difficult position during the recession that representatives are likely to get a lot more pushback. Objections like, “It doesn’t fit my budget” or “I’m getting stretched” will come up more often, and knowing how to approach these responses with empathy and then solutions will be critical.
In the meantime, sales leaders must ensure that their training programs can first identify the reps who need help in these areas. They then need to be able to incorporate relevant feedback, new messages and language into the training program to address this. Doing this ensures that their entire team is well prepared and achieves more favorable results.
Closer connection between sales and customer success to retain customers
Sales success isn’t just about acquiring new logos. During a recession, new logos will likely be fewer and further in between. Therefore, customer retention becomes even more important, and the best way to retain is by ensuring that the sales team works closely with the customer’s success and regularly touches the foundation of accounts.
Customer success teams can provide the kind of insight the sales organization needs to spot issues early, address issues and prevent a mass customer exodus. For example, doing a churn analysis of the customers who have already left or are about to leave will provide insight that can be passed on to the sales team and then used to review and improve the messaging. This information is also useful when setting expectations with any new logos.
Customer success teams can also discover upsell opportunities during regular customer check-ins. These can be big gains for the sales organization during a recession. After all, it’s easier to sell to someone you’re already in a relationship with.
Train your trainers
According to SiriusDecisions, 60% to 80% of salespeople who choose to leave do so because of a lack of connection to leadership. A manager who can show empathy while still providing guidance and constructive feedback will not only have a much more productive team, but will also retain sales representatives. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to manage. Often, sales reps are placed in management positions simply because they are high producers. They have never been trained in the intricacies of management. Make sure your managers — whether hired from inside or outside the company — receive training in all areas of management so that they contribute to the success of their representatives, rather than hinder it.
Recession doesn’t have to mean failure for sales organizations. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be necessary to set different expectations? Yes. But with some preparation and adaptation, sales leaders can ensure that their organizations emerge from the recession the best, with their sales teams intact — and perhaps even stronger and more productive than ever.
Jeff Santelices is CRO of Mindtickle.
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