Sales management in slowing times: 6 ways to keep your sales force focused on results

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

As challenging as leading your sales force was during the economic boom times, you may feel the next 12 months won’t be easier. Whether your reps are having new problems closing their prospects or you are already worried about hitting your 2001 goals, times have changed. Even if you were managing a sales force during the last downturn, you may need a refresher course on how to do it now. Or, if this is your first experience, your marketplace has just pitched you a curve ball and you need to change your stance to hit it. Either way, here are six ways to make the next months go a little easier.

  1. Don’t Forget The Basics. Can your sales reps prove to you that their prospects:
    1. Plan to purchase in 30-60 days?
    2. Have money to buy your products or services?
    3. Possess the authority to make purchases? and,
    4. Really need your products or services?

    In reading their sales forecasts or listening to their call reports, do you sense over-optimism? Catch and correct this immediately before the problem grows and your information is completely unreliable

  2. Activity Counts, Quality Activity Wins. Candidly stated, the good times allowed some sales professionals to grow stale. Still others were faced with territories too large to fully manage. Whatever the reason, some reps only skimmed their markets for the lowest hanging fruit instead of honing their consultative or solutions selling skills. Do you know if your sales people are making all the customer and prospect calls they need to? Are they listening well? Unlike previous times, making all the calls well does make a difference. If your sales people say they are not making all the calls they can because people are not buying, you will not hit your goals. Measure and reward sales activity, particularly quality efforts by your best people.
  3. Make It Real and Make It Now. In anxious times, prospects and customers look to reduce their buying risk as much as possible. One way they do this is by turning their attention away from new concepts and towards the tangible products and services they know and trust. Sales people who can uncover real problems that must be solved immediately will be the most successful. Focus your sales force on distilling customer problems and solutions as simply and quickly as possible. Long-term solutions, such as an 18-month payback may not appeal to a buyer fixated on hitting this month’s budget.
  4. Tortoises Win, Hares Lose. If you see your selling cycles stretching out and your sales force impatient for quick results, you must recognize and reward tenacity. Invest in those on your sales team who are doing the right things well. It sets as much of an example as does paying a bonus for a huge sale.
  5. Re-Price, Re-Package Or Re-Value What You Sell. If your value proposition (product, service, sales approach or pricing) is loosing traction in the marketplace, make changes quickly. Tweaking what you sell to meet an anxious customer’s concerns may be just the answer.
  6. Missionaries Don’t Get Paid! This is no time to pilot long-term programs with dubious objectives or without sales force buy-in. If your president’s or marketing executive’s pet projects are interfering with your sales force’s ability to close hot prospects and loyal customers, push back now! Ensure that your leaders recognize the opportunity cost of your sales force’s time. You need to have your people focus all their time on hot prospects with immediate needs and the money to pay you. Closing these will be hard enough.

Whether 2001 has already impacted or really hurt your business, the general economic anxiety will make it a tougher year. Sales success in these times will go to those who are working the hardest and demonstrating the most value. Ensure you and your team are doing this every day and the worst will pass before you know it. At least it will pass for you before it does for your competitors.

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at  (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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