This Week’s Big Deal: Building a Recession-Proof Sales Strategy

July 22, 2019

Is a recession in the offing? Many investors believe so.

The economy has been on a strong run over the past decade, but any realist in the business world understands that no good thing lasts forever. The realities of a changing marketplace shouldn’t fill us with apprehension or dread, but they should keep us on our toes, constantly vigilant in positioning our companies to remain steady as conditions shift.

From a sales and marketing standpoint, this means separating correlation from causation, and pinpointing the practices that will keep working even as external variables change.

The Sales Bubble

“Many sales organizations saw increases in quota attainment and revenues last year,” pronounced CSO Insights in their newly released report covering key findings from the 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study. “However, key leading metrics decreased and adherence to many sales best practices remains low, leading us to attribute the uptick in lagging sales metrics more to the economy than to any sales transformation initiatives.” 

Their conclusion: All that glitters is not gold. (In fact, that’s the title of their report.)

This can be a dangerous combination. It’s easy to become complacent in our ways when the results are there. As the above report notes, “While lagging indicators such as revenues and the proportion of sellers making goals increased … they have done so in a time of significant economic growth.” Looking deeper, CSO Insights uncovers some disconcerting numbers. For example:

  • Win rates for forecasted deals remain at less than 50%

  • Customer retention has dropped by 3%

  • Seller attrition has increased by 18%

These are the numbers we should be aiming to address. 

“To achieve long-term world-class status, sales organizations need to apply greater focus to sales transformation initiatives,” suggests Seleste Lunsford, chief research officer for CSO Insights. “Using these proven strategies, today’s sellers will be ready to win tomorrow’s opportunities, despite changes in the global economic landscape.”

Achieving Sales Transformation

The “proven strategies” cited by Lunsford above refer to 12 advisable sales practices listed in the report, all nesting within a three-pronged sales system built for sustainable success:

These practices include: 

  • Customer Engagement

    • Consistently positive interactions with customers

    • Conducting mutually valuable sales calls with customers and prospects

    • Communicating value messages with relevance to buyer needs

  • Performance Support

    • Alignment of sales management, sales operations, and sales enablement

    • Continuous development of customer-facing professionals

    • Effective coaching of salespeople to higher performance levels

    • Rigorous and accurate forecasting process

    • Effective use of call planning tools to prepare for customer interactions

  • Strategy Alignment

    • Alignment of sales, marketing, and customer service

    • Clear strategy for leveraging operational and customer data

    • Talent strategy ensures you have the right people to achieve goals

    • Continual assessment of why top performers are successful

There’s plenty more detail and insight around each of these practices in the report, so it’s a recommended read for any sales leader. But today I wanted to call out another key data point that I believe is crucial when it comes to aligning our teams with the future of selling.

Last week I sat in on a webcast hosted by Andrew Gaffney of Demand Gen Report and John Dering of Demandbase. The two were going over results from the 2019 B2B Buyers Survey Report, which we highlighted in this space last week. One interesting finding discussed by Gaffney and Dering was that 82% of respondents said purchase decisions are often accelerated or put on hold based on changing business needs.

In the event of an economic shift, changing business needs will be the name of the game. The most effective salespeople will be able to illuminate unseen challenges and solutions, striking resonant chords with prospects who welcome legitimate outside perspective at a time of uncertainty. According to the new B2B Buyers Survey from Aberdeen, buyers are most receptive to new ways to solve existing problems:

Last week our blog featured a post from Danielle Rosen about the emerging generation of buyers, and the resulting alterations to preferences and expectations. “A key challenge is that Millennials have a general distrust of salespeople relative to other generations,” Rosen wrote. “They are more likely to believe a seller’s only goal is to sell their product, not to solve their business problems.”

Rosen also shared this quote from Miller Heiman Group CEO Byron Matthews: “It's no longer just about [sellers providing] information but sellers must also provide inspiration about a problem the buyer hasn't thought of.”

All of these insights from varying sources point to the same imperative: Going forward, salespeople must go beyond pitching and provide clear value to buyers. That’s how we become indispensable and build the strong relationships that not only close deals, but earn repeat business and referrals. 

Amidst changes to buyer preferences and the overarching economic landscape, this model will endure and enable your company to keep growing.

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