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7 Strategies for Leading a Sales Team through a Downturn

Leading in Downturn | Sales Advisory | Fahrenheit Advisors

As a sales leader facing economic uncertainty, no doubt you’re thinking about what impact a downturn might have on your revenue. You may already see concerning trends. And if you’re concerned, members of your sales team are too, and are forming their own narratives about sales, pipeline, their compensation, and their future.

Sales teams are jumpy because this cycle isn’t like others in our experience. For the last two years, the unusual dynamics of the pandemic and related supply chain issues drove demand, prices, and sales. Fast growth in many industries has seen companies purposely shed and not add new customers, and price inflation has skewed sales performance metrics. As the pandemic’s retreat and downturn concerns accelerate, sales leaders have the added challenge of reorienting their teams back to active selling and rebuilding effective pipelines.

To focus, calm nerves, and prepare yourself and your team for turbulent times, here are seven leadership strategies to consider.


1. Remember, Recession is a temporary market condition

How you manage through a recession can go a long way towards positioning your business and your team ahead of your competition and determine the speed with which you exit the downturn. Take my Mom and Dad’s advice: channel downturn worries into a plan and apply a steady hand in managing your team. Your competitors may overcorrect and choose layoffs or lower customer service standards. Or they may be slow to react to economic challenges. Careful planning and execution can turn a downturn into accelerated growth when the economy regains its upward momentum.

2. Stay close to your team

Let your team know that you support them and rally around the challenge. Face the uncertainty by reaffirming your team’s purpose and identity. If your team brings a confident, focused approach, they’ll galvanize their customer relationships. How you frame uncertainty is critical. Listen and support your team but avoid commiserating about conditions. Keep the focus on navigating through them. Ask your salespeople what they would do or how they would manage any challenge that they are seeing.

3. Increase the quality and frequency of interactions between your customers and sales team

A downturn is the absolute right time to review your internal and external meeting cadence and the quality of discussions with customers. What’s working? What isn’t? Get input from your team and customers. Be prepared to listen and learn, share best practices internally, and use them to improve communication with your customers to stay on top of their needs. Share wins and great stories often and with all. This is a time to show the resilience and quality of your team and business.

4. Review processes, but do not radically tighten process compliance

In a declining or uncertain market, every lead, every interaction, every sales call becomes more critical. If you have solid processes, be honest about how your team is managing to them coming out of the last two years. Get buy in on any changes you think are necessary instead of mandating heavy-handed compliance. Having the team’s buy in around good processes allows you to make the right adjustments and avoid overcorrecting and alienating team members.

5. Double down on reviewing and communicating your value proposition

Reinvest in the training to ensure your sales team understands and advances your value proposition. Make sure that your team knows the positive business impact that your value proposition creates and relentlessly positions it with prospects and customers. It will pay dividends in how you qualify leads, convert, and hold on to margin in a tighter environment.

6. Stay on top of your pipeline

Stay tuned to leading indicators such as lead and appointment counts. Stay vigilant to key customers’ volume. Make sure that you are having business discussions with customers to understand their forecast and the use of your products.

7. If needed, establish new processes or measures

If you see a falloff in business, establish processes like Root Cause Countermeasure to understand not only where the fall off is happening, but why. Using a solid process like RCCM, will help you to zero in on the right solution and help you to avoid over-correcting.

No leader wants to face a downtown. But there is an unseen benefit. It presents great opportunity to a well-equipped team with great processes to be more agile and make the right adjustments to thrive. Channel the worry and uncertainty of the market into making sure that your processes and people are prepared.

Need any help with your sales plan, team, or both? Contact us!


About the Author

Ralph Morgan brings more than 20 years of leading sales organizations to outperform market conditions by creating collaborative, responsible teams and equipping them with the strategy, belief, tools, and processes necessary to deliver results. He has created strong alignment with customers and organizations via creative, solution-driven growth plans. He is an energetic, process-focused leader who has led businesses through both challenging and opportunity-rich conditions to deliver outstanding results. He has worked independently and collaboratively to work through market data and intel to identify opportunities, set direction, develop plans, and keep those plans moving.