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Cheer Up!

Downturn got your sales team down? Turn their frowns upside down.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Capitalism is a mercurial master of fates-smiling and generous one day, cruel and miserly the next. Many of you, after a rousing ride on the New Economy wave, are now facing hacked budgets, equivocating clients and possum-playing prospects. No wonder your sales force's esprit de corps is looking a tad shabby.

As the economic Geiger counter of an organization, salespeople are first to take the hit when times go from rah-rah to ho-hum, so it's crucial to pay attention to morale when the economy cools.

There are myriad signs that sales-force confidence may be headed south. "Complaining, grousing, negativity, cynicism, closed doors, arriving late, leaving early and generally not seeming to care are symptoms of slipping morale," says Bob Nelson, a speaker on management, employee and sales motivation and author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Publishing).

While it's easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom heaped on nightly by network TV Chicken Littles, remind your reps that the United States (and the rest of the globe) is still open for business-even during a slowdown. "Markets seldom disappear," says Steve Waterhouse, president of Waterhouse Group, a Scarborough, Maine, company that consults, trains and speaks on sales topics. "A decline of 20 to 30 percent can seem like a disaster, but the reality is that a significant number of orders are still being written," adds Waterhouse, who encourages sales teams to get aggressive when the order rate drops.

In fact, your sales team may be able to turn the tables on a slowdown. Think about it: Your competitors are running scared. Capitalize on their paralysis by courting their clients.

Consider the marketing industry: When times started to slow, agency owners and independent consultants beat feet to get back to cozy corporate positions. Simultaneously, companies pared back in-house marketing staffs, though their marketing needs didn't evaporate. As the independent talent pool withered and fewer marcom professionals were on payroll, agencies and independents who held firm got even more business after the slowdown.

Just make sure a declining economy doesn't pull your sales staff's morale down with it. Consider these attitude-enhancing tips from Waterhouse:

Stay positive. If your salespeople smell fear, they'll start to worry.

Have a plan. When the economy takes a dive, sales are tougher to find, and your sales team will need new ideas. Plan promotions and specials to get things moving. Investigate new markets or launch new products. Active people are positive people.

Get out in the field. Schedule ride-alongs with salespeople to visit key clients. Use this time to hear their problems and ideas. In tough times, we all need to be heard.

Rev 'em up! In a soft market, salespeople are getting beaten up every day. It's your job to inject a positive attitude into their lives. Leave them encouraging voice mails or pager text messages.

Be a cheerleader. Make a big deal out of every sale. Celebrate successes to motivate your team to keep on

Set realistic goals. Reset your goals to reflect the tougher market. Consistently missed goals lower morale.

I'm not recommending an economic downturn as a bottom-line
enhancer-that's too much Tums-taking to be advisable. But you can guide your troops through the rough spots by assuring them that, given the right attitude, just about any negative can be flipped.

Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing, a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.

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