Fortunately, sales leaders can work to avoid these hardships by acting now.
To ensure your company is recession ready, develop a game plan for your sales organization that focuses on investments in tools, training, and effective sales tactics. These not only safeguard against the risks that come with a recession, but prepare organizations to seize unique opportunities that emerge during an economic downturn.
Here are detailed tips to guard against recession chaos, curated from sales experts who’ve been there:
Talk of an impending recession likely has your customers worried. Instead of obsessing over quota attainment, find ways to deliver more value and support to your existing customer base so they know their investment is worthwhile — and won’t disappear.
“If you are seen as the organization that can help others right now, you will get more business,” said Kelly. “Be seen as the company that’s still there and ready to assist.”
A resilient sales org can nimbly respond to market changes whenever they arise. But that’s only possible when you invest in upskilling and cross-training to ensure your team can take on new roles or responsibilities that emerge as you adapt to shifting market dynamics.
To ensure you’re hitting on the right training topics as an economic recession approaches, identify sticking points in your sales engine. What stands in the way of achieving quota — slow ramp time, too many complex deals, long sales cycle, a roadblock in the sales process? Use these insights to create training modules with instruction and quizzes, examples, or interactive activities to coach reps.
See how Sales Enablement can guide sellers to better, faster close rates.
One of the best things you can do as a leader is to set transparent expectations for your reps so they know what needs to happen for the company to succeed — and how they fit into that equation. A lot of this comes back to fundamentals: Make sure core sales responsibilities are well defined.
But it’s not enough to tell someone what to do. You need to show them they can do it, especially as an economic recession nears. “Help set clear guidelines for performance and cultural expectations — then model them,” said Chan. “Leaders must be present and lead from the front.”
For example, make it clear you want your reps to double down on pipeline maintenance, ongoing training, and team alignment. Then, take the lead by maintaining (and preparing for) weekly pipeline reviews to demonstrate accountability, making upskilling and training part of your own weekly to-dos, and regularly syncing with other teams to show the importance of alignment.
As you model these behaviors, make sure you give your reps what they need to succeed. “Continue to coach and support reps to maximize their performance and provide transparency on all org changes,” urged Chan.
“We’re investing in automation — we’re investing in anything that allows us to automate steps in the marketing and sales funnel to drive better outcomes,” said Batrawy.
When it comes to being economic recession ready, automation — like the workflows, scheduled messages, and automatic record updates of modern CRMs — can help you scale sales efforts without hiring more reps.
Centralize all of your sales conversations, update records on the fly, and help your team prioritize the biggest deals with the #1 CRM and messaging platform.
If an economic recession does hit, it might be tempting to take immediate, drastic action — whether that’s adjusting your quotas or overhauling your sales processes. But drastic action isn’t always the best way forward. In fact, the best cure for a new problem is often revisiting what made your company so successful in the first place.
“The best thing a sales org can do [during changes like a recession] is revisit their focus and fundamentals, like defining your ideal customer profile, target personas, territories, verticals, etc.,” said Batrawy.
Loyalty and morale can be stretched thin in uncertain times. That’s why Richardson encourages sales leaders to focus on supporting and uplifting employees. Sales reps will go where they are celebrated, not just tolerated, she said, and could leave if they don’t feel heard or empowered.
Offer office hours for reps to drop in or schedule a call to discuss concerns. Give your reps time to rest and recharge following end-of-quarter sprints. If you don’t have the budget for big incentives, outings, or team dinners, find creative ways to celebrate wins, like kudo boards or handwritten congratulations. Little acknowledgements can go a long way to boosting morale.
If there is a recession ahead … it will be about going back to basics. Focus on the jobs to be done, and keep the noise out.
Economic recessions are complicated, and each one is different. But for the people you manage, how you respond should be as clear as possible: They want to know whether they can trust you to do the right thing for the company and, more specifically, everyone in the sales org. That trust begins and ends with transparency.
Shifting customer needs, inflation worries, and the possibility of company layoffs can give even the most bullish sales leaders the jitters, which is why it’s so important to prioritize the things you can control. You can’t control the world’s financial systems, but you can focus on where your organization is succeeding and where it’s failing. In both cases, take the time to find the “why” so you can keep deals from slipping through the cracks.
For example, if you see a deal stall in the middle of contract negotiations, determine what deal changes occurred right before the last prospect communication. Based on prospect need and requests, see if something doesn’t fit — especially core deal info like pricing, contract length, and payment terms. Research the prospect to understand what might be happening in their business that could be stalling the deal. And, when possible, ask the prospect for more information so you can adjust the deal to meet their needs.
“We lose deals because we don’t ask the right questions, not because of the economy or a competitor,” said Harris. “Dig into your sales process and exit criteria. If more than 5% of your deals are going dark, you need to know why and fix it. And if you don’t know why, then you already know the problem. That information should never be a surprise.”
Budget cuts, layoffs, and hiring freezes — oof! These can turn any soaring sales team on its head. To avoid tanking when an economic downturn hits, shift from being reactive to proactive and update your hiring, pricing, processes, and tech to ensure your sales org is resilient — whatever market upheaval lies ahead.
Download our State of Sales report to see how sales teams across industries stay resilient in hard times.