Updating the sales playbook: 3 lessons from recession-savvy sales leaders

Senior executive explaining business strategies with young executive

Welcome to part two of our “updating the sales playbook” blog series. This week our recession-savvy sales leaders, Tom Schodorf, Scott Lovett, and John Turner, share three downturn-tested lessons to carry us through these uncertain times. 

In case you missed it, here’s a link to last week’s installment, “leadership during the time of COVID-19.

Our economic environment is changing rapidly and many of the methods that we once used to navigate through this kind of crisis — tickets to ball games, dinners, and business travel — are simply not an option right now. As a result, your approach to customers must change. And you need to address all this right now because the speed of change happening in the market will reward those who acted quickly. 

While a lot is changing, thankfully, some things really do remain the same. Here are three lessons that our sales leaders all agree work just as well yesterday as they do today — and they will tomorrow.

Lesson #1: Always Run Lean

Tom Schodorf — author, consultant, board member, and former senior vice president of sales and field operations for Splunk — encourages companies to run lean. And not just in the face of a recession, but always. 

He cautions business leaders to remain vigilant and never allow their companies, divisions, or sales forces to get “fat.” 

Staying lean puts your company and sales organization in a better position to weather downturns while reducing the negative politics associated with bloat. This doesn’t mean that you need to avoid or put off investment! You just want to avoid creating a bigger sales organization than what your business is likely to be able to support. 

Running lean, especially in a downturn, teaches business leaders to make decisions faster while simultaneously empowering people. Running lean speeds up organization operations and that speed translates into real business benefit. Downturns are good for that. 

Lesson #2: Remain calm and carry on

Experience has taught our featured thought leaders and sales experts a lot. They all agree that the more stressful the situation, the calmer leaders need to be. 

The secret to remaining calm? During times of crisis, let data drive your decisions. 

Take a deep breath and dive into your data. You’ll want to think about what the data is telling you about your pipeline, your linearity, and your close rates. Remember, your sales team is looking to you to see how you lead and communicate in a crisis. Your body language, the words you use, and your intensity and focus are all important. 

As you work through your recession planning and strategy development, consistently and calmly remind your team not to panic. Work through the ups and downs, reminding your team that you have a great value proposition and a sound financial organization. Control what you can control and don’t react to the noise. Stay focused on what you can influence and control.

Lesson #3: Adjust and adapt

John Turner, chief revenue officer for Google Cloud, notes that whatever got us where we are today is not going to get us where we need to be. Taking a page from his 2008 playbook and inserting it in his 2020 version, Turner encourages leaders to be willing and able to adjust. 

Shiny objects won’t work this time around. Land-and-expand was an innovative strategy, until now. It’s no longer innovative; it’s a necessity. From a go-to-market perspective, discussing a trial or a pilot in this environment is going to become the new normal. 

Decisions where someone could do an easy land — because there were discretionary budget dollars — is simply not going to fly anymore. You’re going to have to bring your sales process and your total cost of ownership down to smaller decisions. This is where you redouble your efforts, like customer success. Turner notes that Google Cloud is pouring resources into customer success because the existing projects are also going to be the ones that get additional funding. New projects are going to be a real uphill battle.

Depending on the resources and agility of your company, you can also adjust your pillars on go-to-market to more effectively compete. Changing your channel mix and leveraging different types of technologies to have more active test points with your customers can result in taking share from the competition. 

Scott Lovett, senior vice president of global web and security sales at Akamai, is changing and adjusting his metrics, incentives, and KPIs to align with new strategies. These changes will enable his company to compete more effectively in a recessionary cycle. 

There is a real opportunity to help customers through this and open new doors.  

Like what you’re reading? Be sure to check back for our final installment, “Making the right hiring choices for the changing world of sales” or download our white paper to learn more!

Adam Charlson is the managing partner of Focus Search Partners and co-leader of Vaco’s retained executive search division.

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