Coaching salespeople is the most direct way for sales leaders to impact sales productivity in a tight economy.
Successful salespeople are active sales people. We all know: more carefully focused activity = more sales. The fuel that drives this activity in sales people is optimism and positivity – and these are amongst the first things to be affected when the economy tightens or stalls.
In this 2-3 post series I’ll share the conversational ‘track’ I use to coach my salespeople to understand and acknowledge what’s going on – and to get focused back upon what’s important: activity. If you manage sales people then this post is about how to coach them back to activity that will ensure they get on top of the challenges that tight econonies present. If the only salesperson you coach is yourself then use this approach to keep yourself on track.
Tight Economies Hurt
Let’s not go all Pollyanna positive – in a tight economy there is no doubt but that fewer people are buying. Businesses cut back until they have a firm grasp on what’s going on – until they are confident enough that, first, they can afford to spend. And, second, that anything they spend will get a return on investment in a reasonable period of time. But the bottom line is that there are fewer deals around.
That’s not all – decisions also take longer. In tight economies some of the client/prospect contacts that had discretionary spending power no longer have the ability to spend (as much) without approval from upstairs. Spending decisions are made higher up the food chain – and so they take longer to be approved. The proposal has to flow up to the new level at which buying decisions are approved and back down to you or your salespeople. So, even contacts who want to buy, who are sold on what you’re offering, are likely to take longer to give you a formal go ahead.
e.g. in a major client pharmaceutical prospect a client contact, who previously had discretion over a 50K budget, commented that a purchase he could have previously approved personally now had to go to the overseas head office for approval – a process that took 4 months. It was for a spend of just $12K!
So, tight economies reduce the number of deals that are being done, and tend to elongate the sales cycle – but business is still being done.
Media Catastrophizing: Making The Sky Fall
However, when the media get their hands on these realities they tend to favor spinning them into an Armageddon-like situation, where commerce as we know it is dead – and no one is doing any business.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that people ARE still buying, deals are still going down. But because there are fewer of them you and your salespeople must be coached to realize that they’ll need to ‘kiss more frogs’ to get (more than) your fair share of the available business – and to recognize that the rewards for all that frog-kissing may come slower than they are accustomed to in better times.
The challenge to salespeople
Good salespeople are high activity people and, as I said before, in normal times they are fueled by the optimism that if they keep the activity up then the business will come. In good times salespeople tend to focus upon the business they are winning, and to view the inevitable noes they get as a normal consequence of selling.
In tight economies they get so many negative messages from the media and those around them that many unconsciously switch to focusing more upon the noes – with every ‘no’ knocking their self-confidence and building their fear a little more. Every ‘no’ tends to tighten the noose a little further, self-doubt can sneak in, and the resulting fear can become paralyzing. With this distraction the inevitable result is that this fear and paralysis results in less activity than before – at the precise time when more activity than ever is required. This is a major threat to your sales productivity.
Don’t think that your salespeople are immune – they are not. We all feel the impact of a more negative environment to a greater or lesser extent – and the last people who will let you know that they are affected are those from whom you traditionally expect the greatest level of optimism. So, if things tighten, many salespeople will suffer their self-doubt and fear in private – and you won’t even realize it’s an issue until you notice that activity levels are down at the precise time when you’d have wanted to see them up. Act before it’s an issue – get coaching.
What can you do?
Start coaching and supporting. As a sales leader the two most responsible things you can do are:
- Have a coaching session with each of your salespeople that follows the general track of the paragraphs above – reassure them that what they are experiencing is absolutely normal for the current economic situation. It’s not them.
- Then, reassure them that this can all be overcome – by activity. You must ensure, for your peace of mind and theirs, that each and every one of your salespeople has a coherent sales activity plan that both you and (s)he are confident will get the required results – regardless of any tightening of the market.
In the next post in the two/three series we’ll look at ‘sales activity planning 101’ – a very basic approach to sales planning that you can adapt to coach your people to ensure that each has a coherent sales activity plan.