No one likes to hear the “R” word, particularly salespeople. When a recession follows a boom (as it often does) it’s even more difficult to keep up the spirits of your legacy sales team. Denial is generally followed by despair. It will be up to you, the business owner, to put your own anxieties aside and focus on creating a strategy to get your team, and your company, through the bump.
The first thing you will have to do is revaluate your own expectations and get realistic about the market. Take your team out of the office for a day and work together to create reasonable sales goals for 24 months. It’s important to let employees have a voice in the projections so they feel empowered, as opposed to set up to fail. You may need to reconfigure compensation: less base, more commission. Or use this as an opportunity to usurp high commissions with profit sharing. If cash flow is going to be a problem, consider offering the team a four-day week, flex-time, or the option to work from home for a cut in pay.
Small Perks Count
Golf outings, spa days, and Mexican vacations may be out for the time being, in terms of employee motivators and rewards for reaching sales goals. But that does not mean you have to cancel the company picnic and send back the water cooler. Just as people turn to comfort food when they are in distress, your sales team will appreciate affordable “comfort” perks. Order in lunch once a week from a favorite local restaurant and sit down to eat together. Bring in a massage therapist for neck and back rubs. Depending on your business, see what goods or services you can barter with local vendors. Free movie tickets? A case of wine? Car detailing?
Don’t Let the Doomsday Person Wear Down the Team
People deal with downturns in different ways. If you have a “misery loves company” salesperson with a knack for manipulating the spirits of your entire crew, you are going to have to take action quickly. If the person is someone you want to keep around (e.g., a rainmaker), make a date with him or her for a nice lunch, drinks after work, or dinner. Be straight and let the person know that you feel he or she is dragging down the team. Try to figure out what, aside from the floundering economy, is bugging that person most and help him or her work through the issue. It may be the person is feeling financial pressures at home. Depending on the value you feel the person brings to the company, set up (and pay for) an appointment with a financial planner to consult the person. If possible, offer to transition him or her into a different role with a stable salary, instead of one that pays commission.
Don’t Forget: It’s Your Business
Ultimately it’s your business and you have to do what’s right for the business as a whole. You may have to make some hard decisions. More than any other employees, salespeople reap the benefit of a bull market. If someone can’t adjust to the new reality of smaller paychecks or doesn’t have the foresight to see the long-term future of the company, be quick to send the person on their way. The other members of the team will be happy to pick up the accounts. And if you need to look for new hires, no doubt there will be a long line of eager people who will see joining your company as a step up and a long-term opportunity.