An economic recession is likely on the way — at least, that’s what more than two-thirds of economists believe, according to a study by The Financial Times. While some companies will likely wait to see how it shakes out, they may face budget cuts, profit losses, layoffs, and more.
Fortunately, sales leaders can work to avoid these hardships by acting now.
To ensure your company is recession-ready, develop a game plan for your sales organisation that focuses on investments in tools, training, and effective sales tactics. These not only safeguard against the risks that come with a recession but also prepare organisations to seize unique opportunities that emerge during an economic downturn.
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Here are detailed tips to guard against recession chaos, curated by sales experts who’ve been there:
1. Refocus on delivering value, not hitting quotas
Talk of an impending recession likely has your customers worried. Instead of obsessing over quota attainment, find ways to deliver more value and support to your existing customer base so they know their investment is worthwhile — and won’t disappear.
Elyse Archer, founder and CEO of She Sells, said this should start with the customer need: “What can you change in your processes, systems, and delivery to serve them best now?” Additionally, simple tweaks to payment options and contract terms go a long way to addressing customers’ budgetary concerns.
Donald Kelly, founder of The Sales Evangelist, suggested a few easy value wins: “Can you adjust a three-year agreement to a one-year agreement? Can you offer a smaller [package] so [the customer] gets the help they need for now and let them add on later?”
“If you are seen as the organisation that can help others right now, you will get more business,” said Kelly. “Be seen as the company that’s still there and ready to assist.”
2. Upskill and cross-train your teams
A resilient sales org can nimbly respond to market changes whenever they arise. But that’s only possible when you invest in upskilling and cross-training to ensure your team can take on new roles or responsibilities that emerge as you adapt to shifting market dynamics.
As Marcus Chan, founder and CEO of Venli Consulting Group, urged, “Invest in your teams’ skills so they can effectively win regardless of the marketplace conditions.”
Fortunately, this training doesn’t have to be a big lift. Juliette Evans, learning and development business partner for Close Brothers, uses Salesforce Trailhead to support her teams’ ongoing education. “We want to ensure our people have the skills and tools they need to be successful,” explained Evans. “With myTrailhead, we can launch new training content in a couple of days.”
To ensure you’re hitting on the right training topics as an economic recession approaches, identify sticking points in your sales engine. What stands in the way of achieving quota — slow ramp time, too many complex deals, long sales cycle, a roadblock in the sales process? Use these insights to create training modules with instruction and quizzes, examples, or interactive activities to coach reps.
Also, be sure this training is cross-functional. For example, train your AEs to handle basic billing questions so customers don’t have to jump from one department to another. Walk them through a standard billing conversation and empower them to answer key questions like, “Where can I see my bill and how can I pay it?” Be sure you consolidate your sales data in one CRM so they have access to critical billing information when customers reach out.
3. Set clear performance expectations — and rise to meet them
One of the best things you can do as a leader is to set transparent expectations for your reps so they know what needs to happen for the company to succeed — and how they fit into that equation. A lot of this comes back to fundamentals: Make sure core sales responsibilities are well defined.
But it’s not enough to tell someone what to do. You need to show them they can do it, especially as an economic recession nears. “Help set clear guidelines for performance and cultural expectations — then model them,” said Chan. “Leaders must be present and lead from the front.”
For example, make it clear you want your reps to double down on pipeline maintenance, ongoing training, and team alignment. Then, take the lead by maintaining (and preparing for) weekly pipeline reviews to demonstrate accountability, making upskilling and training part of your own weekly to-dos, and regularly syncing with other teams to show the importance of alignment.
As you model these behaviours, make sure you give your reps what they need to succeed. “Continue to coach and support reps to maximise their performance and provide transparency on all org changes,” urged Chan.
4. Automate tasks to maximise efficiency
Automation can minimise risk, reduce human error, and help you concentrate on tasks that move the needle. Sales leaders like Belal Batrawy, head of GTM (Go To Market) at GTM Buddy, implement tech that helps reps stay focused on high-impact selling activities instead of manual tasks.
“We’re investing in automation — we’re investing in anything that allows us to automate steps in the marketing and sales funnel to drive better outcomes,” said Batrawy.
When it comes to being economic recession-ready, automation — like the workflows, scheduled messages, and automatic record updates of modern CRMs — can help you scale sales efforts without hiring more reps.
It’s important that whatever automation tools you use, they’re accessible on the go and available to the entire team. If you don’t already have one, consider rolling out a real-time messaging tool like Slack that can integrate with your CRM so your reps can make deal changes, schedule messages to team members, and interface with customers remotely — either in work-from-home environments or out in the field.
5. Don’t forget the fundamentals
If an economic recession does hit, it might be tempting to take immediate, drastic action — whether that’s adjusting your quotas or overhauling your sales processes. But drastic action isn’t always the best way forward. In fact, the best cure for a new problem is often revisiting what made your company so successful in the first place.
“The best thing a sales org can do [during changes like a recession] is revisit their focus and fundamentals, like defining your ideal customer profile, target personas, territories, verticals, etc.,” said Batrawy.
Re-training sales reps on the art of the sales call and consultative selling, or returning to old, but effective, sales plays can also be good strategies to ensure your team closes confidently and efficiently, regardless of changes in the market. Look at your data to identify call scripts, email templates, and other tactics that have worked well in the past and take the opportunity to retest them.
“I’ve been through the ups and downs of our economy over the years. If there is a recession ahead … it will be about going back to basics,” echoed Lori Richardson, president of Women Sales Pros and CEO of Score More Sales. “Focus on the jobs to be done, and keep the noise out.”
6. Focus on rep support and wellbeing
Loyalty and morale can be stretched thin in uncertain times. That’s why Richardson encourages sales leaders to focus on supporting and uplifting employees. Sales reps will go where they are celebrated, not just tolerated, and could leave if they don’t feel heard or empowered, she said.
Offer office hours for reps to drop in or schedule a call to discuss concerns. Give your reps time to rest and recharge following end-of-quarter sprints. If you don’t have the budget for big incentives, outings, or team dinners, find creative ways to celebrate wins, like kudo boards or handwritten congratulations. Little acknowledgements can go a long way to boosting morale.
7. Admit what you know — and what you don’t
Economic recessions are complicated, and each one is different. But for the people you manage, how you respond should be as clear as possible: They want to know whether they can trust you to do the right thing for the company and, more specifically, everyone in the sales org. That trust begins and ends with transparency.
“Be 100% open and honest with your team about what’s happening in your organisation — even if it means saying, ‘I don’t know,’” said Richard Harris, founder and CEO of The Harris Consulting Group. “You will gain more loyalty and trust from your team by acknowledging you don’t know if you’re going to have layoffs, or if goals will be adjusted.”
8. Focus on what you can control
Shifting customer needs, inflation worries and the possibility of company layoffs can give even the most bullish sales leaders the jitters, which is why it’s so important to prioritise the things you can control. You can’t control the world’s financial systems, but you can focus on where your organisation is succeeding and where it’s failing. In both cases, take the time to find the “why” so you can keep deals from slipping through the cracks.
For example, if you see a deal stall in the middle of contract negotiations, determine what deal changes occurred right before the last prospect communication. Based on prospect needs and requests, see if something doesn’t fit — especially core deal info like pricing, contract length, and payment terms. Research the prospect to understand what might be happening in their business that could be stalling the deal. And, when possible, ask the prospect for more information so you can adjust the deal to meet their needs.
“We lose deals because we don’t ask the right questions, not because of the economy or a competitor,” said Harris. “Dig into your sales process and exit criteria. If more than 5% of your deals are going dark, you need to know why and fix it. And if you don’t know why, then you already know the problem. That information should never be a surprise.”
Prepare your sales org for any economic recession
Budget cuts, layoffs, and hiring freezes — oof! These can turn any soaring sales team on its head. To avoid tanking when an economic downturn hits, shift from being reactive to proactive and update your hiring, pricing, processes, and tech to ensure your sales org is resilient — whatever market upheaval lies ahead.
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