The economy and sales representatives

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

By Bill Conerly

Sales representatives get discouraged in a recession. They brighten up when the economy recovers, but the recovery has been so sluggish that there is still discouragement afloat. Sales staffs may have been reduced, and sales reps are spending too much time taking orders from repeat customers. Their cold calling or warm calling has been generally unsuccessful, so they have stopped outbound calling. The only bright spot: the paper clips in their desk drawers are perfectly sorted. What should a manager do?

First, review the sales reports. Are your people really calling on the folks they should be calling on, at the right frequency? If Jones is doing business with a competitor, and you have so far been unsuccessful at getting business from him, you probably have some idea of how frequently you should touch base with him. You don't want to waste your time or his, but you want him to know that any time he becomes dissatisfied with his current supplier, you'd like his business. Maybe you contact him quarterly, maybe annually. I'll let you make that judgment, but here's something you should be adamant about: whatever frequency of contact is set, make sure it is carried out religiously.

KathyMaixner Second, perfunctory calls are another temptation in a weak sales environment. Sales guru Kathy Maixner says,

"I tell my clients to not simply 'check in' to see if something has changed with the prospect’s current relationship with his/her vendor, but rather to offer something meaningful, regardless of whether they get the business or not.  Bottom line:  We all want to be remembered for the RIGHT reasons."

Second, determine whether each sales rep has the right skill set needed for the current environment. The skills that might have worked in the boom are not necessarily the skills that will work today. For example, the boom-time car salesman was all about after-market accessories and providing financing. Today more customers are price conscious and trying to minimize their debt. You may need to bring in a new coach to help your people fit their selling style to today's economic environment.

Finally, motivation is vital. It does not work to say, "She's a sales professional; I don't have to do anything except sign the paycheck." Incentive programs as well as slaps on the back are vital to most successful sales programs.

This is the first of 11 posts about the challenges that business leaders will face in 2011. (Government and non-profit leaders will face some but not all of these.) See the rest of the series at Businomics.

Lake Oswego-based economist Bill Conerly advises companies on business, finance and strategy, and speaks frequently on these topics. His blog, reprinted here with permission, is titled Businomics.

 
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