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Have we hit the bottom? Sales leaders need to lead with a plan.

July 1, 2020

COVID-19 set off a series of events that had many businesses feeling like they were in a freefall. For many, revenue dropped sharply, and executives spent virtual meetings ringing their hands over how to respond. On average, payroll accounts for about a third of all business expenses, making layoffs a necessary survival tactic. 

Now, as the dust begins to settle and you look around your own organization, you may find yourself wondering, “Is this it? Have we hit bottom? Are we done with layoffs, or could I be next?” This concern doesn’t just hit front line staff, it is echoed by all levels of the organization. 

Long ramp times to get back in the swing of things won’t work; winging it will leave you unable to define how you intend to help rebuild; and trying to revert back to the ‘way things used to be’ will make you appear slow and rigid. Any of these things is equivalent to having a target on your shirt for the next round of budget cuts. The best defense is a good offense. Now is the time to demonstrate your value and lead with confidence. 

Here’s how:

  1. Provide a clear view of current state

Have you done the math? If you have laid off salespeople or other resources, help the C-Suite understand the implications. Don’t assume they are thinking of the sales team this way. Each seller should bring in 5x their salary. CEO’s in defensive survival mode may have thought through the cost savings, but did not calculate what a crippled team will mean for potential recovery. Many companies will ask operations folks to step into sales roles, some companies will begin to rehire sales staff, and some will just try to work extra hard with the resources they have. In any case, it is up to you as the sales leader to provide clear expectations on what is actually possible. Not all of these paths will produce pre-COVID results, nor are they all sustainable for the long term. Having clear conversations now will prevent you having to explain why you missed your target or failed to live up to C-Suite expectations later. 

 2.  Establish a clear, achievable goal

We call this the rally cry, but it needs to be measurable, and in alignment with the other members of the leadership team. Once a goal is established, share it. Make sure it meets expectation up-line, make sure the team you lead understands it, and make sure it isn’t competing with your peer’s objectives. After you’ve done that, communicate the goal, then do it again, then do it again. Couple that communication plan with why the goal was selected and outline clear strategies on how you will attain it. 

 3.   Create a written 90-Day Plan

The first 90 days will be the most critical to your recovery. Employees have established new habits. Many salespeople we talk to believe the “new normal” of not meeting in person has already defeated them. Why try? Be clear about what to do, who to target, and how to stay close to customers. Targets need to be reassessed, activity levels should be looked at, and expectations should be made very clear. Get agreement on who will do what, and when. As a sales leader, you need to have a clearly written, actionable plan that will produce big, short term gains. Once its written, you should share that plan with anyone that will listen. Pressure test it to ensure it meets with up-line approval. 

Taking action is the best way to make sure you aren’t a casualty. As things start to pick up a bit we need to be clear and deliberate about our actions Taking these three steps will show your team what to expect and trust me, they will appreciate the clarity and direction. It will also show the C-Suite that you are ready to help rebuild and that you understand the urgency. This process gives them a chance to add insight or feedback to your plan, in the event your actions were not in line with their expectation. This also prevents any surprises from popping up later. Last, and most important- these actions will breed confidence. That confidence will lead to action. That action will lead to results.

Please let me know if I can help you with your plan. I can help you to write them quickly, I can help keep them simple, and I can help ensure they are effective.

Happy Selling. 

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-Mark Winter 

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