By John Haskell
RISMEDIA, Jan. 1, 2009-The news is overflowing with stories of failing businesses. A nearly 100-year-old company has decided to close its doors. The current owners, fourth generation brothers, blame “the economy.” However, their great grandfather survived the crash of ’29 and the Great Depression. Their grandfather survived ups and downs of the post-war era. And dad survived the craziness of the ’60s. But, they decide to give up.
There is no question that today’s economic times are tough. But why quit now? It may be that business during the last eight to 10 years was just “too easy.” For business owners who aren’t ready to throw in the towel, it’s not too late to make necessary changes that will lead to recession survival, and perhaps growth.
When times get tough, the first place to seek answers is within the sales team. When looking at the sales force, start at the management level. Begin by asking yourself three questions, and then consider the methodology behind them:
Question #1: Is the Sales Manager managing the sales force aggressively?
Having an aggressive sales manager is important because aggressive, smart leadership motivates and inspires sales people in tough times. If your sales manager has not been acknowledged as a really aggressive personality who manages every element related to the sales force, how can your business survive in this tough environment?
The first step to aggressive management is to itemize what needs to be managed; this can be done in a variety of ways. Planning sales calls and travel are a good starting point. Sales people need to be highly organized before, during and after the sales call. In a tough economy, there is a real premium on efficiency. Whether you have your own people or reps, your sales manager must impact the way your field salespeople work with customers; every face-to-face opportunity must be as effective as possible. In most cases, call reports are more fiction than fact. The key is to get your salespeople to create a “Call Guide” to organize, drive and support their sales efforts.
Question #2: Is the sales manager working with a well-developed sales and marketing plan to drive his team’s efforts into “crash mode”?
Moving into “crash mode” is the first step to surviving the recession, and the key here is to identify ways to find and close business quickly and effectively. Organization is critical. When you are in “crash mode,” every detail must be spelled out in writing; therefore, a written marketing and sales plan is vital. Without a well-conceived and well-supported plan, the sales force is working with one hand tied behind their backs. And remember, effective marketing eliminates excuses by sales people.
The sales manager should create a “book” for every territory. The salespeople cannot be left to do it on their own. The sales manager must proactively drive the development of individual customer plans to achieve the sales goals. Salespeople have to be trained to use their sales tools.
Are your sales tools really the best they can be? Have you looked objectively at the image your materials present to current and prospective customers? Does your company stand out above the competition? Do you really know? When was the last time you did an objective study of your company and brand awareness?
Benchmark now for future growth and success. We have been through very prosperous, high-growth times. In good times, it is too easy to overestimate the strength of our marketing, sales planning and programs. Now, times are much tougher and marketing and sales success is much more difficult to come by.
Top management and in-the-trenches marketing and sales management need benchmarks. However, most small and mid-size companies cannot afford big, sophisticated, expensive studies. The good news is that these big, expensive and slow-to-obtain studies are useless, and simple, fast, benchmark analysis is available.
A simple survey conducted by your own sales force can reveal vital information. But even better, a survey done by a professional interviewing company by phone or in person will reveal even more.
Get your information from the people who count. In most businesses the number of customers who actually make a difference is very small. If you have 20 sales territories, there are probably fewer than 20 customers in each territory who contribute the bulk of that territory’s sales. Why not survey the top five in each territory? You will be surprised how much you learn and how fast.
Question #3: Would you bet your life on your sales manager? (You are!)
The sales manager is often times your point person for recession survival, so it’s important you trust them with your life – and your income! Now is the time to review the sales manager’s performance, in writing and in-depth. This is not an exercise tied to a compensation review; in fact, compensation should not be a part of this review at all.
This review is about your company’s future. In times like these, the company is carried on the backs of the sales personnel. The person who manages, drives and controls the producers must be up to the task. The best way to assure that he or she is with you through thick and thin is to analyze skills, organization and results now and every 30 days from now on.
This may sound like micro-management, and to be honest, it is! Salespeople hate paperwork. Salespeople hate accountability. Salespeople hate to be criticized. Salespeople hate to be managed. Micro management is the only way to guarantee your company’s success.
To succeed you have to manage, manage, manage!
If you are a leader of your company, the Rx to survive the recession is to get yourself into the middle of the sales and marketing situation now, and stay there!
John Haskell, aka Dr. Revenue®, is a professional speaker, seminar leader, marketing and sales consultant and author of “Profit Rx.” As a former CEO/COO of divisions of Fortune 500 companies and as president of The Professional Marketing Group, Inc., he consistently demonstrates the value of written marketing and sales planning. He helps his clients write and implement marketing and sales plans, and his “Dr. Revenue Marketing and Sales Clinics” result in immediate sales and marketing focus.