By Margery Weinstein, Training, www.trainingmag.com
Now that we’re in an 'official' recession, your sales reps may have reconciled themselves to failure. Many of them figure they’re probably out the door at the end of the year, anyway, so why bother trying? Some of them may simply be pathetic (that’s always a possibility, though, as trainers and learning professionals, you try to be nice about it and think of euphemisms for that characteristic), but others might be reflecting the attitude of their managers back to them. Or, another way to think of it is they’re living up (or down to) their managers’ expectations.
So if your sales reps are under-performing even by the standards of a recessionary economy, you may have to start with their bosses to unravel the problem. Have their supervisors given up hope of a turnaround or improvement in sales this year? Granted, it’s unlikely given what economists are saying, but not impossible. If you’re significantly down in sales at this last-few-seconds-before-midnight point in the year, you obviously aren’t going to be able to end the year with a bang. But your reps could rally just enough to pick things up a little so it’s not quite so dismal. Couldn’t they? If you don’t honestly believe any improvement is possible, and the managers coaching the reps don’t either, that’s when a successful fourth quarter push becomes all but impossible. Why should they try to do something you’ve tacitly told them through your attitude isn’t realistic?
Then, too, maybe many of your sales reps take for granted your company is going to let them go at the end of the year because they didn’t “make their numbers.” They know, mathematically speaking, they could try as hard as they can, but there’s no way to meet the numerical goals set for them back at the beginning of the year, or at least months ago, before the economy began its bumpy plummet. It might be time to broach the topic with executives and managers of easing or “readjusting” satisfactory sales markers in light of the officially pronounced recession. In addition to enabling you to retain workers who may be suffering from a temporary slump due to extenuating circumstances, telling reps the old markers have been recalculated to take into consideration current financial conditions may spark fresh enthusiasm for selling. “Oh, it’s not a hopeless case after all,” they’ll say to themselves.
Along with changing your own attitude, and that of your managers, about the sales prospects of your reps, emphasize the importance of celebrating small wins. A new account that’s no big deal when the economy is healthy, is major now, so be sure to give the rep who won it proper recognition even if you can’t promise him or her a bonus as a reward. Training sessions that include role-play exercises about selling to prospects in a recession are a good idea. Along with readjusting your sales performance benchmarks, you also need to readjust ongoing sales training to reflect the changed sales environment. A capable trainer, with the help of sales managers, can probably do this him or herself with a little creativity, so don’t worry if you can’t afford an outside sales consultant right now.
What you have at the moment is the depressed person’s version of “resting on laurels.” In high times, a rep coming off a big winning streak is liable to take a break for a few months to admire his or her achievement and bask in the glory of self-greatness. Now, there’s inaction for the opposite reason—they’re resting on the recession. Coming off a big losing streak, they’re content to take the rest of the quarter off to bask in the glow of their self-bleakness. It’s a darkly humorous spectacle (like a comic strip about a consistently down-and-out character), but you should probably be hoping for something more than gallows humor—even if we are in an “official” recession.
What are you doing to buoy the spirits of your sales team? Do you and your managers share in the sense of hopelessness, or is there a plan in place to cheer up and (successfully) move on?