Sales forces should utilize the gift of slow times

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In an earlier article, I suggested some business strategies for effectively handling the changes wrought by the pandemic. My recommendation was to instill a set of practices that would keep you, personally, at the top of your game. In the second article of this series, I suggested some specific steps that chief sales officers could take in response to the changes brought by the pandemic.

With that in place, the next question has to do with your broader responsibilities. What about your business or organization? Are there some things you should be doing to prepare your business for life on the other side of social distancing?

One of the things that I have learned over my 35-plus years in business is this: Slow times are a gift. Let me explain. As I struggled through the ebbs and flows of my business, it seemed that ebbs occurred pretty regularly, regardless of what I did. And, in that period of forced inactivity, I discovered the space to clean up the messes, to tighten up the systems, to address issues that hadn’t been addressed for a while. I found the space and the inclination to plan for the next thing and to lay the groundwork for the next climb up the sales curve.

After a while, I became thankful for the slow times, as they provided me space and time to get ready for the next onslaught of activity. The slow times, brought on by national calamities or just turns in my own specific markets, were a gift.

I believe the same is true for most of us. For most of our time, we find ourselves striving to build the business, acquire the right people, build effective systems, increase our margins and expand our bottom lines. It has been a frenzy of activity focused on a single issue: Build the business.

Now, however, for a lot of people, building the business, at least in the short term, is no longer a realistic goal. We just want to survive.  

That sudden lull in frenetic activity presents us with an opportunity. Now, we have the emotional space, time and energy to think about things we haven’t thought about for a while, to imagine a future we haven’t dreamt about for a while, and to envision the specifics of a more fulfilling tomorrow.

With that perspective, I have two suggestions for business strategies right now.  Use the gift of slow time to do it better and prepare to do it differently.

Do it better

It is likely that some aspects of your business have gotten sloppy. Now is the time to look at all those bits and pieces that have been overlooked because they didn’t rise to the top of the “to do” list.

  • Is all the software updated?
  • Is everyone trained on the new features?
  • Are there processes and procedures that have been around for a few years and become ingrained to the point that no one questions them?

Now is the time to dust them off and reconfigure them.

Are there people who have been marginal performers, but you never had the luxury of time to address that issue? Now is the time to make those personnel changes you’ve been thinking about.

As a sales consultant, I have accumulated a whole list of very specific “systems issues” that should be looked at afresh, with an eye to putting in place the right systems, processes, tools and people — not based on the past, but focused on the future.

While this list is specific to sales organizations, your list could be just as detailed for your area of responsibility.

For chief sales officers, now is the time to look at, and make adjustments to:

  • The arrangement of sales territories and accounts.
  • Creating a company-wide process for identifying and prioritizing high-potential accounts.
  • The sales compensation formula.
  • Making the changes in the CRM system that have been accumulating.
  • Taking a critical look at your marketing collateral — hard copy and electronic and bringing it up to standards.
  • Looking critically at the productivity of each salesperson and making adjustments along the way. (We have a free tool you can use to objectively measure the productivity of a salesperson, a sales team, and the company as a whole. Download “Kahle’s Kalculation of Sales Productivity.”
  • Critically looking at the education and development of the sales force. Now is the time to invest in providing them with the skills and strategies they will need in the post-pandemic world. You’ll find the sales team is more amenable to making changes and accepting training now than they may have been for years.

All these efforts are based on the premise that the business will survive and, after accounting for some minor changes, be pretty much the same, doing business in much the same way next year as you did last year. The focus, then, was to prepare to do it better.

But, what if the gift of slow times also brought an opportunity to challenge the limitations of business as usual? Then, you could spend some intellectual and emotional capital on the next business strategy.

Prepare to do it differently

Your business came into existence when you, or your predecessors, saw a need that you thought you could fill. That could have been generations ago, or it may have been last month. Regardless, the world has changed dramatically since then, and the fundamental premise upon which your business is based may be shifting.

What if you could use this gift of downtime to re-imagine your business? There is the possibility, at least with a few of you, that you could emerge from the pandemic malaise with a transformed business.

If you think that may be you, here are a few ideas on how I would go about it.

  1. Ask this question, and brainstorm some solutions: “What urgent problems and/or pain do our customers have (or will they have) that we can help with?”
  2. Then, I’d prioritize the answers to the brainstorming session by asking these questions:
  • “Which of these can we address the quickest?”
  • “With which of these can we make the greatest impact?”
  • “Which of these are we most passionate about?”
  1. And if your work uncovered a likely suspect, then I’d ask and answer these questions:
  • “If we wipe the slate clean and started fresh, what solutions could we provide?”
  • “Exactly what would that look like?”
  • “How could we deliver it?”
  • “How much would we charge?”
  • “How would we promote and sell it?”
  • “What would we need to pull this off?”
  • “What would we need to do to pull this off?”
  • “Who needs to do what, by when?”

And at the end of this hard work of brainstorming, prioritizing and planning, I’d have a plan to transform the business, and maybe the industry.

Slow times are a gift. Use the gift well. You may not have another opportunity like this for a long time.

Grand Rapids-based Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written 12 books, presented in 47 states and 11 countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of salespeople and transform hundreds of sales organizations. His book, “How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime,” has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, “The Good Book on Business.” This article originally appeared at davekahle.com

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