When faced with a potential economic downturn, many sales leaders choose to cut costs. And often, the first areas cut are training and technology. On the surface, cutting those costs seems to make sense. But reducing these investments—all of which strengthen sales skills—puts sales teams even further behind when the economy rebounds, especially if the competition has maintained or increased their investment.

In our experience, sales organizations that prepare for an uptick during a slowdown grow at 20 to 30 percent. According to Mark Grimshaw, Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry, “When things start to recover, you want to be the one positioned to take advantage. When we reach the other end of the recession, you need to be ready.”

“When things start to recover, you want to be the one positioned to take advantage. When we reach the other end of the recession, you need to be ready.”

Here are three reasons sales leaders should act now to ensure their sellers emerge from a recession ready to seize new opportunities and close more deals.

1 Get ahead of the competition

In defining readiness, Grimshaw explained that there’s no difference between being ready for now and being ready for the future, as preparing now will prepare you for the recovery. “Your sellers need to be engaged and trained. You need the right technology," says Grimshaw. "You need the right insights with the right sales methodologies.”

The key is figuring out what will move the needle. “It’s not about looking at the shiny things first," says Grimshaw. Invest in the things that matter: for most organizations, that’s going to be sales methodology, sales process and talent assessments. According to Grimshaw, “These actions can lead to a 5 to 10 percent uptick, which can make all the difference.” It all comes back to the data—figure out what you’re trying to change, then how to change it.

2 Engage top talent

In this economy, the secret isn’t doing more with less. In our experience, this doesn’t work. The key is enabling your sellers to do more with more—more training and development to give them more up-to-date skills. The right sales skills help build and nurture relationships that can blossom once the downturn is over.

Perhaps more importantly, investing in your people can also boost retention rates, saving you the cost of recruitment and onboarding for new hires. During the downturn, sellers may also look for other job opportunities if they feel that their current organization isn’t invested in their success. But when they feel that sales leaders want to help them develop, they’re less likely to jump ship.

The middle 60 percent

So, how can sales organizations improve their sales talent without breaking the bank? The key, according to Joe DiMisa, Senior Client Partner, Global Sales Force Effectiveness & Rewards Advisory Leader at Korn Ferry, is investing in the middle 60 percent of sellers.

“Moving the middle pays off more than trying to get the lower 10 percent to creep up or spending time with your superstars,” explains DiMisa. It’s easy to spend time with the superstars because they’re doing their job and it makes sales leaders feel good. But the real opportunity lies just below the optimal performance level. “Improving the middle 60 percent of sellers’ performance drives the greatest productivity and results,” says DiMisa.

So how can you move the middle? “Sales training,” says DiMisa. We recently surveyed business leaders, sales professionals and talent managers from 250 companies. The data revealed many areas of disagreement over aspects of the sales process. However, the one area where everyone aligned was on the need for sales training, even in this down economy.

According to DiMisa, “Fifty percent of high-performing and low-performing sales organizations said more training and enablement is necessary to maximize sales reps’ potential; 60 percent of sales leaders and 63 percent of sales reps agreed. If your company isn’t investing, you’re going to miss out.”

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3 Get deeper insights into your sales pipeline

Investing in sales technology can give sales teams the insight they need to target the right prospects and create more opportunities to convert deals. The problem is that sellers have too many tools and too much data, according to Robert Sparno, Senior Client Partner, Global Ecosystems, Salesforce at Korn Ferry.

“Sellers today have to do too much manual research and rekeying of data,” says Sparno. “When sellers have an opportunity with a new customer, the data they need isn’t in their CRM. They have to Google the company, find their annual report, look at their balance sheet and their go-to-market plans, and synthesize a lot of disjointed data. Then they have to input this information that exists elsewhere into their CRM.” That extra work leads to complaints and incomplete CRMs because sellers don’t want to spend their time on data entry. They want to spend time selling.

So, what tech should sales organizations choose when dollars are limited? Sparno explains, “We’re hearing from sales leaders that their teams need to be more agile. They need to anticipate buyers’ needs and make decisions faster.”

Investing in integrated sales tools—such as CRMs that connect with sales methodology and point sellers to the next step—puts the insights that sellers need to move deals forward at their fingertips.

You can’t cut your way to sales prosperity

When markets and budgets are shrinking, it can be tempting to focus on cost-cutting. But investments in the right areas — sales methodology, sales training and sales technology—can ensure you build an even stronger sales team ready to lead you through the rebound.

To learn more about how we can help you assess the state of your sales organization and position your company for growth now and after the downturn, get in touch.

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