As sales managers, we feel like we're ready to deal with anything at all.
The strategy deck is all happy families and smashed targets. The line items are filled with building strong sales teams, training and upskilling remarkable salespeople, crushing objectives and truly impacting the well-being of our company.
Not even the most optimistic sales manager can pretend this will be a constant reality.
A crisis can and will hit your sales team at any time.
You might lose a team member. You might let an enormous deal slip. You might unexpectedly miss your quarterly targets. If you only plan for the ideal scenario, you’ll only add to the panic, pressure and stress of your team’s instinctive response to these unexpected problems.
But crisis management is tough.
A recent Deloitte study reports that more than three-quarters of board members believe their companies would respond effectively if a crisis struck tomorrow.
But there’s two alarming results every sales manager should consider:
- Only 49 percent of board members say their companies engage in monitoring or internal communications to detect trouble ahead
- Only 49 percent say their companies have proactive plans for likely crisis scenarios
When tough times come, your team will either thrive or crumble - and this is largely dependent on the way you lead.
The emotional impact on you and your team can be significant, but effective management of a crisis can allow you a priceless opportunity to strengthen team bonds, galvanise trust and build confidence.
Peter Drucker famously said:
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."
Steve Lucas, the CEO of Marketo, did an exceptional job capturing the idea of a manager's role in a recent video with Allen Gannett, the CEO of TrackMaven. He said a manager's success is no longer about winning trophies, awards or plaudits, but about their ability to enable their teams to thrive.
Empowering and supporting your team in a time of crisis will help make your salespeople emerge more resilient than ever.
The Types of Crisis You Need to Plan For
As a sales manager, there are numerous types of crises that can come your way. They can also hit you and your team at any moment, often without a warning, forcing you to deal with stress and emotional pressure—both your own and your team members'.
Let's look at some of the most common examples.
A Huge Deal Can Fall Through
The beauty of having a well-defined, resilient sales process is that it enables you to forecast sales, predict revenue, and allocate resources throughout the process.
However, this process isn't flawless, and deals can turn unsuccessful. Prospects go through changes you can't impact, and they lose the need for your offering or their ability to purchase it.
A Massive Client Can Churn
Just like the example above, a significant churn means there's a gap in forecasted revenue and a potentially massive impact on the company as a whole.
Not only that; losing a recurring stream of revenue puts additional load on your sales team because they want to make up for the lost revenue.
"Churn is the antithesis of growth. When you lose a customer, in order to grow by one customer, you have to first replace that customer you lost, and then add a new customer."
A Key Team Member Might Leave Due to Resignation, Dismissal or Illness
This can happen for many reasons, from job-related reasons like resignation or dismissal to personal issues such as illness.
The less apparent outcome of a team member leaving is the weight your sales team might feel in order to replace that loss. Furthermore, if your team member decided to leave for another job, the rest of the team could be questioning their own future within your company, too.
Budget or Funding Can Be Slashed
Budget cuts will see morale amongst your team toppling down like dominoes. Apart from the obvious impacts on hiring and travel costs - training and sales collateral will be affected.
If you've set expectations and targets based on a well-trained team and the training budget is taken away from you, you're in trouble.
The Voice of the Sales Force survey by Sales Performance International uncovered that measuring the value sales teams create for the customer is one of the keys to winning more deals. Once your budget gets reduced, you can no longer create helpful resources or collateral for your team to use as leverage in their sales conversations.
A Series of Targets Can Be Missed
Your sales team has a job of dealing with objections, pushbacks, and challenges every single day. They have to deal with a lot of uncertain conditions and unforeseeable circumstances. When things go wrong, they have to deal with anxiety and responsibility of not hitting their targets—and they will need you to ease that burden for them.
You then have to defend the sales numbers in front of the company leadership. When the predicted revenue isn't coming in, it's a particularly grueling task.
The best salespeople are optimistic, but when significant sales targets are missed, optimism won’t be enough to convince your superiors.
A Disciplinary Issue Can Occur
Misconduct in the workplace can happen anytime. Conduct issues can vary from poor time management and insubordination to serious misconduct that might include illegal activity.
Whenever disciplinary issues occur, it takes an emotional toll not only on you as the one that works on the disciplinary procedure and the person involved, but your entire sales team, too.
The Best Way to Immediately Respond to a Crisis
1. Be transparent - but don’t vent
When the crisis hits your sales team, don’t try to keep the crisis to yourself. Worse still, don’t just share information sparsely and deceive your team members by trying to stage manage a situation. Stick to reality.
At the same time, you don’t want to exaggerate and stir up unnecessary panic.
The best thing you can do?
Be open and transparent about what's going on.
As you've seen in the examples above, the implications of a crisis can vary from mild to severe. There's a huge chance it will impact your team's workload, workflow, productivity, and morale. You might feel more comfortable keeping the details to yourself - or limit the sharing to senior staff only - but it's imperative that everyone stays informed along the way.
You can make this process painless by making sure all the information your team needs is in one place and accessible to everyone. The right CRM can make this information sharing direct and simple.
With an increase in stress and pressure your team will feel, it's important you encourage them to share their thoughts. This will allow you to help them prioritize and allocate their time and resources. It's your job as a sales leader to ensure you're available for any concerns that arise.
Clear communication and open dialogue are the key foundation for successful sales crisis management.
2. Seek ideas from your team
The next step from ensuring everyone on your team can freely access the information they need to understand and deal with a sales crisis is to empower them to contribute to the solution.
Everyone on your sales team is unique. You've hired them because they brought a unique mix of traits, qualities, and skills to the team.
They also bring a history of experience in their past roles unique to just them. Asking for input from each member of your team is likely to bring up ideas you'd otherwise never have thought of.
One report after another keeps showing the impact of employee engagement on the business: engaged and recognized employees work harder, and their companies report high performance and ROI compared to those with lower employee engagement.
Make a special effort to include your team in the process of powering through this crisis and ask them for ideas, thoughts, and feedback. Get them involved on the path to the solution. This will not only make them feel more confident as they will gain more control over the situation, but it will strengthen the team and interpersonal relationships between its members.
What to Do While the Crisis is Unfolding:
3. Empathize with your team
“Good leaders don't tell people what to do, they give teams capability and inspiration.”
In the crisis, you might impulsively want to simply give orders to your team. They may even want you to do that as it could help them deal with uncertainties and concerns of the crisis.
However, that's not the best thing you could do. Instead, take the time to talk to them and hear out the worries they might be having. Are they concerned about their job's future? Their performance? The future of the company? Something else? Make an effort to acknowledge their thoughts and emotions, as well as to answer any questions they might be having—honestly.
You might not be bringing them the best news, but it will make it a whole lot easier if they know you understand what they are going through and proactively look for a remedy.
Secondly, if one of your team members is at fault—the source of the crisis—do not blame them. Show a united front during the crisis. If you need to take corrective actions like training, wait until things are back to normal and address any necessary steps.
"In crisis management, be quick with the facts, slow with the blame."
Finally, think of the health and wellbeing of your team. When everyone is operating in panic mode, it's easy to forget to pause and check how they're doing, not simply as sales people, but as human beings. There's a chance they won't reach out to you for help on their own.
Instead, ensure you get one-on-one face time with each team member. Take this time to check if they have an issue dealing with the crisis and offer them resources and even professional help if they need it. This will not only help you avoid burnout, mental health problems and a drop in performance, but also build up a layer of trust that maybe wasn't there prior to the crisis.
4. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t
If the crisis is of a sales-only nature, like a failed deal, a churned customer, or a series of missed targets, resist the urge to put pressure on your team to chase every deal out there regardless of how (un)qualified the prospect is. This will make it harder for them to successfully sell, and their motivation might plummet even more.
Instead, support them in taking a step back to clean their sales pipeline. This is an ideal time for them to look at strong customer relationships as opportunities to upsell, follow up with unresponsive qualified leads, and source new ones.
Pipedrive's Smart Contact Data feature can help you and the team to get to know the leads better and pre-qualify them with one click.
If there is a wider company crisis going on and its outcome is out of your control, take this time to focus on actions that are in your full control.
In case the sales activities are ongoing regardless of the crisis, take the time to check in with your team and their schedules, prospects, and pipelines in order for things to keep running smoothly.
However, if selling is on pause, it's a perfect opportunity to focus on training your team. Reports show that the best sales training will improve the performance of an individual on average by 20%, so if you usually struggle to find the time for training, don't skip this chance.
It's also crucial to take the time to provide post-training reinforcement—especially now that you have time for it. According to the RAIN Group, best-in-class companies with a training retention plan have 31% more sales reps reach quota than the industry average and a 10% higher year-over-year increase in corporate revenue.
We've developed a free 2-week email course, the Sales Pipeline Course, to help you make more sales with our exclusive advice and insights.
What to Do Once the Crisis Has Passed:
5. Address what has happened
The crisis is over. Maybe you had to let one of the team members go. Changes have occurred that may be long-term or even permanent. It's time to give your team the closure they need.
First, take the time to recap what has happened, the actions you took, and the aftermath. Just like earlier, your team will likely have questions about the events that took place. If you had to dismiss a team member, they might question their job's safety. If your budget was cut in half, they will wonder about its impact on their role and training. Leave no questions unanswered.
Secondly, your team went through a rollercoaster of emotions and responses in the crisis. Now is the time to thank them for being patient, as well as for their honesty as they worked through the crisis and dealt with uncertainties.
Finally, if any team member stood out and went above and beyond their call of duty—like taking over some of the team's tasks to give you more mental space to handle the crisis—make sure they know you've noticed.
6. Refocus on goals, projects and company values
A sales crisis may leave your team drained and uninspired to tackle their tasks once everything is back to normal. To prevent this spilling into the coming weeks and months, here are some of our favorite tips from our CEO Timo Rein to inject energy into the team:
- Celebrate recent small wins one-on-one, and recent big wins as a team
- Morning and afternoon standups to check in with everyone and address any setbacks or even rough days
- Ensure there's enough time for each action in their schedule and allow time for rest and recharging
Then, it's time to set new goals and targets based on the aftermath of the crisis. Since the crisis may have had an impact on the size of your team, it's key to set goals accordingly. Use the SMART methodology and make the bigger goals achievable by setting smaller targets—your sales reps will be extra appreciative when you do so!
Lastly, remember to schedule recurring blocks of time in your calendar to provide your team with not only feedback, training, and support, but also to recognize their efforts and achievements and positively reinforce their hard work.
The Key to Handling a Sales Crisis
Crises are stressful—if they weren't, they wouldn't be called crises.
Ultimately, it will always come down to how much you can focus on things you can impact, and let go of those you can't. The stress will inevitably spill from you to the team—and vice versa—so it's imperative to keep openly communicating as a team and to bring as many heads together as possible to work towards a solution.
Each crisis, big or small, will make you more prepared for the next one. When crisis hits, remember to:
- Provide full support to your team and have one-to-one meetings with each sales rep
- Do what you do best: strengthen your team's pipelines and help them upgrade and reinforce their skills
- Take the time to recap, refresh the team's energy, and set new goals
When you handle the crisis by allowing your team—and yourself—to be fully honest and open, you will come out of it as a better connected, empowered team ready to tackle anything that comes your way.