Sales management during tough economic times




Management can be a frustrating endeavor during harsh economic times and knowing how to weather the storm is crucial to success. BRIAN JEFFREY shares his thoughts on managing staff during a crisis.

It doesn’t matter if the global economy goes bad – around the country, around the block, or around your industry or market – because managing means making difficult decisions. And as an owner or manager, you’re the best person who has to make them.

Even with small retail businesses such as jewellery stores, I know there are many sales management challenges, but during tough economic times, two always stand out.

First, maintaining the overall morale and motivation of your staff, so that they continue to perform at the highest level possible no matter the market conditions.

Second, fine-tuning the business to ensure optimum performance. Fine-tuning can involve thinning out the herd by laying-off people and, obviously, any downsizing can have a huge impact on motivation and morale.
 

Mismanaging during tough times

When times are tough, you need to review costs, but not necessarily slash and burn. Larger companies headed by non marketing people, such as an accountant, or an engineer, often use difficult trading periods to justify cost cutting.

They terminate training, advertising, staff – anything else they see as a cost to the company. This is a short-sighted view.

The problem with cutting costs on advertising, as an example, is that it diminishes visibility in the marketplace. It stops people buying and, as a result, revenue drops further. The powers at the top – seeing less revenue – make even more cuts and the downward spiral goes on.

When the cost-cutting gets to downsizing, at times the wrong people get affected, since it’s often tempting to sack highly-paid salespeople.
 

The sales arrow

It’s easy to forget that the salespeople are the tip of a ‘sales arrow’ and, like any arrow, it’s only effective when it hits the target.

Let’s look at what makes up an arrow. The tip penetrates the target, the shaft provides mass, and the feathers provide direction. Your salespeople are the tip of the arrow, the company’s products and services are the arrow’s shaft and the feathers represent management.

As a retail sales manager, you need to keep the tip of the arrow sharp at all times.
 

Sharpen the arrow

Tough economic times are often an ideal opportunity to sharpen the arrow. While investing in external sales training and motivational meetings may be out of the question, don’t rule them out. It could make a difference.
 

Fine-tuning your staff

One of the most difficult decisions for a sales manager is parting ways with people he or she knows and likes. Deciding who goes or stays is a gut-wrenching experience for even the most seasoned manager.

Avoid the last-in/first-out approach and certainly do not play favourites. If you’re going to reduce your staff, make sure you’re keeping proven performers and those with the potential to quickly develop into performers.
 

Desperate times, desperate measures

Desperate economic times – global or local – usually call for desperate measures and apart from closing doors on the business, putting people out on the street is something to consider.

The key is knowing which people to keep and supporting them with all you’ve got while you weather the storm.
 

Walking the thin line

As a sales manager, you often walk the thin line between upper management and your sales staff. It is equally important for you to represent the needs of your staff to management, just as it is to carry upper management’s message to the staff.

It’s critical for your staff to see you as their champion, particularly during tough times. It’s crucial that upper management sees you as proactive or part of whatever solution is required to weather the economic storm.

As the staff’s champion, you must be prepared for measures that could hurt the businesses ability to operate effectively. Taking risks is a part of business. Advertising cuts or other marketing measures that endanger the source of sales leads should be opposed if the reason for the cut is simply to save on expenditure.

It goes both ways of course, and you should always be prepared to cut members of staff if needed.
 

The bottom line

If you see tough times on the horizon, plan ahead and be prepared to make difficult decisions when needed if you expect to come out safe on the other side.

If you can stay ahead of the curve, even when it’s heading down, you’ll be in a better position to take advantage of the situation when the time comes and the market improves and sales increase.

 

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