How to Recession-Proof your Sales Organisation?

Recession can disrupt businesses. Slower growth and lower profits can hit hard. Optimizing resources, customer retention, automation, and rejigging the sales process can uplift sales teams to deliver tremendous results under pressure.

Recessions are not an everyday affair, although, given the recent prevalence, it is no longer a rarity. Over the past two decades, the world has already seen two major financial crises, the Dot Com bubble (2001) and the Great Financial Crisis (2008). While we inch towards the last quarter of 2022, the world is marred with rising inflation, energy prices, and food crisis caused by major supply disruptions caused due to post-covid and other geopolitical events.

Businesses have been impacted by growing instability and there is enough evidence of shrinking growth and profits squeezed signaling to organizations that they brace themselves up for a rough ride. The focus inherently shifts to sales teams across companies on what strategies they plan to deploy to recession-proof their business.

Businesses and sales teams impacted by a financial downturn

  1. Slowing business growth: With rising inflation and a doubtful financial environment, consumer and business spending takes a hit. This directly impacts business topline for organizations with lower-than-expected sales. The stress on sales teams goes up significantly.
  2. Reduced profit margins: Both consumers and other businesses behave similarly, cutting on discretionary spend first. With lower sales, many organizations look for ways to cut down on spending to reduce losses. Fresh sales get delayed or projects get shelved altogether impacting sales targets for your team.
  3. Cash flow crisis: With the economic slowdown, cash flow is one of the core metrics impacted for most businesses, whether in b2b or b2c sales. Account receivable inflates and collection teams spend more time chasing vendors for payments. Defaults on bills are also expectedly to rise during a recession.
  4. Sales team morale: Most salespeople in today's times are aware of business downturns and how their pitfalls. Layoffs play on their minds all the time, and achieving sales quota becomes even more stressful with little cushion than earlier for them. Performance appraisals and sales incentives dry out hitting salespeople hard
  5. Dynamic changes: Businesses take drastic decisions given the business slowdown, sales processes, leadership changes, business unit mergers, and new projects are paused if not stopped. Given the fast-changing landscape, sales teams are in a constant dilemma on their role impacting their focus and motivation at work.

Intuitively, most sales teams are not prepared well for recession times. A majority (>50%) of businesses create a plan for downturns just after a recession hits the market, as per a survey of sales executives by Bain. Subsequent research has indicated that organizations which has planned for recession much ahead of time, fared very well during and after the recession was over. It became a watershed moment for some companies, and they increased their gains over the laggard competitors by significant margins. Let us dive deep to understand what specific levers can sales leaders deploy to safeguard their interests and go a step further to aggressively

Best strategies to safeguard business interests for sales teams

  • Bring back the classic rigor in sales operations: Start with discipline in the sales organization with a top-down approach. Get the sales managers and leadership involved in the day-to-day functioning of the business. Hold daily standups, closely track the sales metrics, and get salespeople speaking to customers than spending time updating CRM or updating reports.
  • Open discussion: There is no better way to emphasize the criticality of any issue than being transparent about it and discussing it openly. Organize a town hall, hold sales leadership sessions, and skip level meetings with salespeople to cascade the message. Allay fears and confusion that may have crept into team members' minds. Present a fair view of the upcoming situation, discuss the action plan and motivate the team to work towards the targets with renewed vigor.
  • Reset the plan: All your assumptions, growth levers, and market opportunities while planning would have drastically changed with the recession set in. You mustn't cling to it but rather follow a zero-base for your mid-year planning. You could use advanced analytical tools to fast pace the entire process of sales planning.
  • Right-size the team:  Given a realistic situation, the business targets are scaled down, and moonshot projects are dropped. Sales capacity utilization tends to drop sharply and with severe bottom-line pressure, it's best to fine-tune the resources, pause new hiring, or even consider cutting the flab of non-performers team members. All you need to do is take decisions in the best interests of the business.
  • Prioritize cost-effective sales channels: Cut down on your expansive marketing strategy, identify the most cost-effective channels and double down on them. Deploy all low-cost strategies required to bring down costs while compromising little on the business growth. Ramp-up the inside sales function, of late this has grown as a very effective and low-cost sales channel. With inside sales focusing on low-mid market prospects who at times get ignored in the quest for larger organizations, the sales team can focus on large enterprise customers.
  • Focus on customer retention: In the event of a downturn, several businesses start cost-cutting exercises, it's important to be sensitive to the customer's asks. It is suggested that you have tough discussions with the customers early on, offer benefits in forms other than price discounts, and provide more value add offerings at the same old price. It's essential to focus on existing customers, talk to them regularly, and address any concern areas that they may have.
  • Digital tools to drive automation:  There is no better time to onboard new technology solutions to drive productivity and speed in the sales teams. Sales automation, pricing intelligence, sales enablement, automated prospecting, and sales intelligence are some new-age tools that may be considered depending on your specific use cases and ROI considerations.  Artificial intelligence and machine learning-based solutions like AI chatbots, and predictive analytics software can be considered for adoption to automate and enhance customer experience.
  • Redefine sales processes: Your sales processes need a rejig while set out to chase the new set of targets. Some basic changes in the approach of the sales process can better align your organization to weather the downturn.
             - Sales Reps can focus on the limited set of high-potential prospects
              - Focus on your star products; don't go building new product lines
              - Get the best salespeople in priority territories or industry verticals
              - Blur allocations, allowing the best reps to handle key leads
              - Constant feedback and training sessions with teams
              - Closely track competition, some may lose steam sooner or later

Conclusion:

There are some notions that many leaders have associated with financial slowdowns. "Should I offer a discount to increase sales conversion?" "I need to increase the sales funnel to counter the churn" "Sales will surely go down and there is no way to arrest the fall".

Recession can bring out the best in sales organizations and can become a black swan moment for a few of them. It all boils down to how well and early you prepare yourself for the impending downturn. In the end, execution becomes the key to taking you home.

Ideally, you start experimenting with most parts of the outlined strategy in small cohorts, territories, industry, and SME/Enterprise segments. The successful experiments can then be scaled up across the board for wider adoption.  

Chakra Sales is a modern sales execution solution to productize your sales process from Lead to Order, eliminating manual activities and multiple data entries. Integrating all the associated tools, Chakra Sales creates a unified interface for sales activities with automated data capture and activity logging.

If you are looking for a customized sales solution for your fast-growing organization, do consider a free demo with Chakra Sales.