Outside of the awful months at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every industry has had an uninterrupted decade-plus worth of sales growth.

But we’re all seeing the same signs now.

  • Inflation.
  • Declining consumer confidence.
  • Rising interest rates.

The good economic times may be coming to an end.

Many sales leaders, while acknowledging that a recession is potentially not too far away, will try to continue to ride the still-good times as long as they can.

However, the best time to make improvements in your business is when you are at or near the top.

Plus, if you, as a sales leader, believe that a recession (or other global issue) is possible — or even probable — the time to take action is now.

Once a recession hits, paralysis, in every form, often rules.

Budgets, time, headcount, resources, everything will be on hold until the boss says: “We see indications of a turnaround.”

So, before things turn south, consider these six strategies you can take to prepare your sales team for whatever the economy throws at us:

Strongly commit to a consultative sales process:

Typically, buyers are typically 70% through their purchase decision before they even want to talk with a vendor.

So don’t waste their time, or yours, giving them a rundown of your products specifications.

Instead, take a consultative selling sales approach, one that prioritizes customer relationships and open dialogue to identify and provide solutions to a customer’s needs.

It is hyper focused on the customer’s desired outcomes rather than the actual product being sold. This approach helps sales professionals better understand the challenges faced by customers so they can position the value of their solutions in the most compelling and effective ways.

Salespeople who believe in themselves and the product can focus on spending their time building trust, asking questions, and finding the right solution for their customers instead of scrambling to close just any deal.

This approach, done well, can achieve remarkable results.

According to a 2020 CSO Insights Sales Performance Study, organizations who do this effectively not only have 18.1% higher quota attainment and 12.6% higher win rates, but 23.8% lower voluntary and 24.8% lower involuntary attrition rates (CSO Insights 2020 Sales Performance Study)

Implement a proven sales methodology:

A sales process maps out a sequence of stages required for success. A sales methodology is a framework that outlines how your sellers approach each phase of the sales process.

A sales methodology introduces discipline through a system of principles and best practices that translate into seller actions. It amazes me how many companies don’t execute a sales methodology.

If there is neither a shared language, nor a shared process on the sales team, your ability, as the sales leader, to predict and sustain revenue is always going to be skewed.

The proof is there: organizations with a methodology get more wins than those without one. Using an effective sales methodology improves those chances by over 50%. When tough times hit, there are fewer opportunities, so you must improve your win rate to grow.

Build confidence through skills training:

A solid sales team is both the lifeblood of your company and the bridge to your customers.

The more confident and skilled your sales professionals are, both as individuals and as a group, the stronger your business is going to be.

But too often, organizations don’t devote resources to helping their full teams succeed.

It’s like having only 2 spark plugs in a hefty V-8 engine.

Your mission is to ensure that all your revenue team members can navigate change (e.g., a recession) and come out the other side as masters of the behaviors that help them win.

Leverage the power of a dynamic sales coaching process:

Much like training programs, sales coaching is essential for many reasons.

First, it helps sellers continuously improve their performance through feedback, practice, and repetition.

Next, it allows sales managers to improve sales processes, training techniques, and pinpoint progress and areas of improvement for their teams.

Most importantly, sales coaching has a significant impact on results.

Sales organizations in which managers were more effective at developing and coaching their salespeople had 23.8% higher quota attainment, according to the 2020 Sales Management report.

Too often, however, sales leaders skip this critical step.

Like the rest of us, even the most well-intended sales manager is busy, and the important-but-not-urgent task of coaching their team members on the new behaviors can easily fall to the wayside.

Obviously, the amount of rigor you apply here will vary depending on the nature of the behavior, your sellers, and their managers. Mission-critical behaviors demand the highest level of rigor. If companies don’t have the right approach, the results will reflect that.

Drive positive accountability:

Accountability is an essential ingredient for sales leaders and team members to both desire and maintain consistent performance.

Your accountability system should accomplish two things:

  1. Ensure that sellers are executing the right behavior
  2. Ensure that sales managers are coaching the right behavior.

While it is fashionable to talk about coaching, accountability gets less attention. Without good accountability, it is difficult to coach well.

Without accountability, people are often unaware of whether they need help.

Consider discovery, for instance. If a seller is not good at discovery, and is not accountable for doing effective discovery, the seller’s win rate usually suffers.

Worse, neither the seller nor manager have a good way to diagnose what’s causing the decline in win rate - they simply don’t have the data they need.

The seller’s poor discovery skills go unaddressed. When a sales leader not only identifies the behaviors that are critical for achieving success, but also creates mechanisms that enable managers to hold their teams accountable for doing these things, they provide a powerful diagnostic tool.

Sales organizations that had a clear understanding of what “good” looks like for each of their sales roles had 15.2% higher quota attainment, 10.5% higher win rates and 3.9% higher revenue attainment, according to CSO.

Integrate your sales enablement capabilities:

If you ask 10 people “What is sales enablement?”, you will likely get 10 different answers.

While many of those definitions may work for different people and organizations, it is extremely important to understand that sales enablement is different from marketing, marketing enablement, or sales operations.

According to CSO Insights, "sales enablement is a strategic, cross-functional discipline, designed to increase sales results and productivity, by providing integrated content, training, and coaching services".

It is the glue between strategizing how to achieve a sales goal and putting the plan into action.

It is better to look at sales enablement as a holistic process, integrating a variety of different elements, including the salespeople and sales management, the CRM, a proven sales methodology, a strong sales process, training and upskilling of salespeople, sales analytics and intelligence, and AI-powered decision support.

Integrating your sales enablement capabilities will make your team more effective and help boost the impact of your sales enablement investments. Choosing to integrate multiple functionalities as described above, can uncover actionable insights and increase overall sales productivity.

According to the 2021 World-Class Sales Practices study, using sales analytics to measure and predict sales performance, when combined with a formal or dynamic methodology, is linked to 16% higher win rates and 10% higher quota attainment.

If you follow the above strategic recommendations, you’ll sell at a higher velocity — identifying and targeting the most qualified leads and executing the right sales motions at the right time. In the process, you’ll waste less time chasing low-probability business.

Those benefits will come in particularly handy when this period of solid economic growth ends.

Pat Smith is a Senior Principal and Client Director in the Sales & Service Practice at Korn Ferry. He can be reached at pat.smith@kornferry.com.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.