A disturbing trend has come to my attention; one that could leave struggling companies in far worse shape down the road. It’s the practice of “suggesting” that sales reps take unpaid leaves of absence or vacations rather than continuing to work their prospect pipelines and beef up relationships with existing clients.
In many cases, companies are justifying this by saying that clients and prospects don’t want to be “bothered” by sales calls right now. Even if that’s true – and not just a blatant cost-cutting measure – I can’t think of a more detrimental reaction to these tough economic times.
The reality is that companies pulling their sales forces out of the field are going to hurt even more in the long run. When the economic pendulum swings back, any visibility they may have had with customers will be gone. Out of sight; out of mind.
I asked a few of my LinkedIn colleagues for their reaction to this trend. While some admitted to putting their sales reps on commission-only due to the economy, most were just as appalled as I was at the idea of benching them altogether.
“What an odd theory,” wrote one respondent. “The sales workforce should not be benched, it should instead be working with the rest of the corporation to bring innovation to their client base…Being in touch with what is happening and addressing the realities of the economic environment is the solution. Benching the sales team will only ensure that relationships become severed (with existing clients) and pipelines dry up.”
Another respondent had this to say: “This sounds like a thinly veiled, desperate cost-cutting move [that] makes little to no sense to me…Generally my belief is that companies are still spending some money and if the products are for value, it’s the role of the salespeople to express that the budget, though decreasing, should be sent in their direction.”
And finally: “The better question to ask is ‘do we strengthen our position and our relationships’? Eventually, the buying should increase, so you want to do everything in your power to position your company in the best light once that green light for purchasing comes again.”
In other words, rather than taking their sales team out of the game, companies should be using this time to shore up existing relationships. They should be giving their sales team the tools and training they need to be more effective at positioning their product or service as a benefit to the client. And sales reps themselves should be solidifying their position as trusted advisors to their clients, for example by doing some intelligence gathering to help their customers stay on top of the competition.
These are the kinds of activities that allow sales reps to stay engaged with clients in a way that places the focus on the customer’s business vs. the making the sale. This, in the long-run, is what will return companies to profitability.
One respondent summarized it best: “If management sees that customer orders are going stale by their targets asking to not be bothered, they’re going to have to replace that revenue (lost growth) anyway, so benching sales people just doesn’t make sense. This is the time to pull away from the competition and be respectful of your customer at the same time.”