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Rising interest rates, four-decade-high inflation and a slowing economy continue to fuel fears of an impending recession. Many businesses suffer greatly during a recession, as demand for products and services drops and uncertainty about the future of the economy spikes.
Typically, a recession also means slower job growth and hiring freezes. But the current labor market remains strong. That means employees will maintain significant bargaining power — and the liberty to find a perceived better position relatively easily if their demands haven’t been met by their current employer. Indeed, with the positive jobs report, it’s not unlikely many businesses will experience turnover.
While turnover is a worry across departments, it can be especially vexing in the sales organization. Finding, hiring and onboarding new reps is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor in the best of economies. It’s certainly the last thing a sales leader wants to deal with in the perfect storm created by a recession and a strong labor market. To avoid it, they must think ahead and consider different ways to retain their existing sales talent.
Here, we take a look at four ideas that will help sales leaders keep their sales organizations as strong as possible during and after the impending economic storm.
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Reinforce 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 begins and ends with training. When a company invests in training for its reps and gives them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, they’re more engaged and feel empowered instead of defeated — even though their sales numbers may falter during a down economy. Reps who are engaged are also more loyal and tend to remain longer at a company.
But not every training program provides the kind of value required to retain a rep. Many training programs are not built in a way that provides for feedback. They might provide information but don’t reinforce skills and knowledge so that reps become sales experts, which is the goal of training in the first place. Training that includes role plays, for example — and real-time feedback to correct deficiencies revealed in those role plays — creates a more confident rep who’s ready to face a prospect even during a recession.
This brings us to the idea of personalizing training programs. Not all reps need to be trained in handling objections, so why force that training on reps across the sales team? Reps will more likely stay engaged in their training program when the training actually applies to their specific knowledge gaps. Personalizing training programs to fit 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 skillset, which contributes to the overall success of the team.
Emphasize training in empathy and handling objections
Sales training programs should focus training on two specific skills leading up to a recession: demonstrating empathy and handling objections. So many companies will be in a tight spot during the recession, reps will likely get a lot more pushback. Objections like, “It’s not in my budget” or “I’m being stretched thin” will come up more frequently, and knowing how to approach these responses with empathy and then solutions will be critical.
In anticipation, sales leaders should ensure their training programs are first able to identify the reps who need help in these areas. Then, they must be able to incorporate relevant feedback, new messaging and language into the training program to address it. Doing so will help ensure their entire team is well-prepared and gets more favorable outcomes.
Maintain closer connection between sales and customer success to retain customers
Sales success isn’t just about acquiring new logos. In fact, during a recession, new logos will likely be fewer and farther between. That’s why retaining customers becomes even more important, and the best way to retain is by ensuring the sales team is working closely with customer success, touching base on accounts on a regular basis.
Customer success teams can provide the kind of insight the sales organization needs to uncover issues early so that problems can be addressed and a mass customer exodus can be averted. For example, conducting a churn analysis of the customers that have already left or are in the process of leaving lends insight that can be turned over to the sales team and then used to revise and improve messaging. This information is also helpful when setting expectations with any new logos that may come along.
Customer success teams can also uncover upsell opportunities during regular check-ins with customers. These can be major wins for the sales organization during a recession. After all, it’s easier to sell to someone with whom you already have a relationship.
Train your trainers
According to SiriusDecisions, 60% to 80% of sales reps who choose to leave do so because of a lack of connection with leadership. A manager who can demonstrate empathy while still providing guidance and constructive feedback will not only have a much more productive team, they will also retain reps. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to manage. Often, reps are put into management positions simply because they’re high producers. They’ve never been trained on the finer points of management. Ensure that your managers — whether hired from within or outside the company — get training in all areas of management so they contribute to their reps’ success, rather than hinder it.
Recession doesn’t have to mean failure for sales organizations. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it require setting different expectations? Yes. But with some preparation and adaptation, sales leaders can ensure their organizations will come out of the recession on top, with their sales teams intact — and perhaps even stronger and more productive than ever.
Jeff Santelices is CRO of Mindtickle.