The Sales Survival Guide in a Tough Economy

Our Sales Numbers are Low. What do we do?
In the last 24 months this has been the most common question we have received. The economy is tough
for most businesses. Selling in this economy is becoming harder and harder. It doesn’t matter what
product or service you are offering it is harder selling now than it was a few months ago. Competition is
stiffer. Price competition is the new normal. Government policies and regulations are not easing matters
for business. Consumer and institutional purchasing ability is reducing.
Business people are problem solvers. They cannot sit and lament when there are bills to pay. So, they
trying many solutions at least to remain afloat. Some have opted to hire new people with a promise to
sell to replace existing non-performers. Other have had motivational talks and trainings to see if they
can light some fire in their sales teams. While others have changed sales management. Have the
numbers changed. In majority of cases not much has changed. In some cases, they have deteriorated.
In good economic times most sales teams tend to do well- even if they are not run well. They are on
sales autopilot.
Sales on Autopilot
The autopilot approach is not reliable when going through the turbulence of tough economy and tough
business environment. To navigate the challenges there are decisions and choices that have to be made
deliberately. . These choices have to do with strategies to use, resources to deploy, areas to focus on
among many others.
While this describes the experience of every sales leader and business owner the question remains. Is
there anything I can do to improve my sales numbers?
Whenever a client confronts us with this question we have sought to go deeper and understand their
core challenges. Low sales numbers are symptoms of underlying sales problems. We open the hood to
see how well the sales engine is running. We look whether there are aspects of sales are being ignored.
We identify the resources that are being mismanaged. We figure out which ones need fine tuning. Since

sales organizations are human organizations this diagnosis is rarely easy. It is intricate and complex. But
over the years we have learnt which questions to ask and where to look.
In most cases we have found out the main underlying problems cover: Deployment and management of
sales effort; Use of sales resources; engagement and development of sales people.
Sales Survival Kit in tough economy
In this piece we give general solutions that we have seen work to help many businesses at least stop the
downward spiral and others return to growth path. The speed at which they work and how well they
work is dependent on the extent of the disease and willingness to swallow the bitter pill of changing
how things are done.
Without further ado here are some of the solutions that can help improve your sales numbers in the
tough economy.

  1. Review your plan
    When did you last have a look at you sales plan- if you have one? When was it developed? What were
    the business conditions then? Do these conditions still exist? How much of this plan guide your actions
    today? It is important to check how relevant that plan is.
    I have had businesses that have not reviewed their plans for years yet the businesses circumstances
    change every day. Many others made a plan which they don’t use.
    Following a plan that is right for your current business situation and economic factors will make a very
    big difference on how your business will progress in the tough environment.
  2. Harvest low hanging fruits first
    I had a conversation with a client early in the year. We asked whether the business needed a sales first
    aid or comprehensive surgery. We agreed the business though it will need surgery it couldn’t afford to
    wait for it we opted for first aid. Recently we began conducting the surgery.
    First aid involved picking the low hanging fruits which was going back to customers who had done
    business with them with better purchase offers. Surgery involved setting up a whole new organization.
    We also had a customer in cosmetics business who was struggling and had asked for a lot of our strategy
    development and execution support. But they needed quick sales to meet their immediate cash

requirements. We thought of the best first aid for the them which including the shop arrangement,
purchase incentives and the putting more smiling hours on the faces of the attendants.

  1. Focus your sales energies to maximize results from them
    Sales effort can be costly especially if it is spread all over. In the tough economy, many businesses tend
    to spread their effort everywhere in the hope that they will not miss out on any new opportunity in the
    market. Unfortunately, by doing so they tend to miss out on a lot of opportunities. In tough economy
    the best approach is to focus on maximizing results by have your sales efforts focused on few
    For every minute, coin or any other resource the returns must be maximized. This requires careful
    consideration on what it will take to get the optimal result.
    Working with one organization we looked at how much travel expenses by sales people are and how
    many people the called in a day. We recommended adjustments to call plan which was the easiest
    action. Then we moved in to focus on improving the quality of the call which involved refining the selling
    skills of the people. From the same number of calls sales went up four times.
  2. Retain and develop average performers into superstars
    When the going gets tough everyone wants tougher sales people. The go out to buy them. They hope
    the new ones will become miracle workers. While we have hired miracle workers for a number of
    businesses, they are generally rare and far between.
    A better approach has been to develop the average players in your team. These are the C players in your
    team. They normally carry their weight and, in most cases, they have a positive attitude. What most
    average performers lack are the skills and support structures to make them become B and A players.
  3. Hire intelligently, if you have to.
    The worst time to hire is during a sales crisis. The next worst time is when you must hire. Both of these
    times are ever present during tough economic times.
    There is probably no greater cost in sales than that of hiring wrongly. Many businesses engage is trial
    and error approaches to pick that stellar sales person who will come in and solve all their problems.
    They seek a highly motivated person. One who will work eight hours a day A fearless man or woman

who is always chasing an opportunity. A masters of closing the deal. This super human is expected to
operate even in the most disorganized situation or circumstances.
The person promises heaven and employer promises great rewards.
Unfortunately, the marriage made in heaven is short-lived. Both parties are disillusioned and frustrated
within a short time. In the best of economies this scenario is replicated across many businesses. During
a tough economy it plays with every blinking of an eye.
The remedy to this is hiring intelligently. Intelligent hiring involves getting the best person fit for the
role, having realistic expectation of what the person, set-up structures that enable the new higher to
plugin easily and have a short rump up time. The person is then put through a program that puts him on
the right footing to start producing.
Hiring right sales people is an investment with huge positive returns.
If you hire badly the total cost is massive in terms of lost business, wasted time and financial costs are

  1. Address demotivators before trying to motivate
    Never keep a sales person if you are not willing to remove all factors that leave them frustrated.
    Selling even in the best of economic times is not a very easy task. In tough economy where everyone is
    price sensitive and competitors are too keen to play the price card that difficulty is multiplied many
    times. In that case the sales person cannot afford to deal with systems, processes and policies that seem
    designed to punish bringing in the order.
    It is acceptable that every business take care to avoid being conned but such caution should be
    exercised in a way that doesn’t communicate mistrust of the sales person. Not being trusted is one of
    the biggest demotivator for sales people.
    Other demotivators include not as human beings; ignoring a salesperson concerns -even when they
    seem petty; disregarding feedback they have generated from the field.
    You may not do anything to motivate with no self-drive but there is plenty that happens in businesses
    that kill off even the most self-driven person.

In a tough economy you don’t want wastage of resources. A demotivated sales person is a very
expensive resource to maintain. You don’t want to be the cause of demotivation.

  1. Align your incentives to business goals
    Compensation structure is the most basic sales aspect that any business should get right. There is the
    fixed compensation and the variable pay which comes as a commission or any other incentive for
    achieving certain objectives. The variable aspect is the most important and need to operate as the fuel
    that powers sales effort.
    I have seen incentive plans that work as brakes rather than gas pedal for sales performance. They
    reward mediocrity rather than excellence. Some are outrightly unfair while others are designed such
    that no one can benefit. Others are changed at the whims of the management. There are those that are
    opaque that no one can tell what they will earn even at the end of the month.
    Losing sales people because of poorly designed and ineffective compensation structure is dumb. It is
    even more dumb if it doesn’t encourage A, B and C sales people to aim to maximize their pay.
    In tough business environment the compensation structure needs to be well thought out to drive
    performance rather than hinder it.
    Are these the only things that can be done to improve sales numbers in a tough economy? No. Are they
    all applicable in your business? Of course not. So which ones can work best for you? You can have your
    management team consider them or you could call us for free sales consultancy whereby we can help

you choose the best course of action for your business.

Sam Kariuki is a Sales Strategist and Trainer with Growth Partners which is a leading Sales Performance
Improvement Consultancy Firm based in Nairobi with clients in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
You can learn more about Growth Partners Sales Performance Improvement solutions on , email or call +254 208 01 26 27


Once we (Growth Partners Consultants) got in we immersed ourselves in the businesses accounting
data, we spoke to employees and the owner.
We asked a lot of questions and listened hard. We picked out trends and followed problems beyond the
obvious symptoms to root causes of the problems.
From this exercise we identified these four problems to be the most pressing at that point and once
addressed the firm will be in a better place to address others.

  1. Overreliance on the owner to generate sales
    The owner was previously employed in a similar business before she left to set up her own firm.
    She relied mainly on the experience and contacts she had made in the last to generate Kshs 58
    Million of the Kshs 70million that the business did in the previous year. By the time we met the
    proportion was far much higher.
  2. Stagnated Sales Growth
    The firm’s sales had stagnated at Kshs 70million for the last 3 years and the current year did not
    seem like it would change positively due to post election violence that had hit the country in the
    year. However hard the owner and employees worked they ended up on the same ceiling.
  3. Sales Hires who didn’t Stick
    The business struggled to hire right sales people who had the personality, skills and motivation
    to hack selling to government and other organizations. Whenever they got someone who looked
    like a good match, the person left within a few months out of frustration or availability of greener
    pastures elsewhere.
  4. Sales Team that did not Hit Targets
    Those who stayed took years to start generating sales and none of the existing 4 sales people
    had done more than 50% of their sales targets since employment.
    As a result of these sales challenges the firm was experiencing major cash flow problems. It
    was unable to service many customer orders. Customers were furious and rarely did they buy
    again from the firm after the first bad experience.
    The firm had never engaged any consultant before but at that point they were open to any help
    that came their way especially if it was within their means to pay for it.

After initial analysis of the situation and presentation of the business’s problem in a way that made
financial sense to the firm they engaged our services for one year. Our mandate was to help them turn
around the sales situation.
It appeared like a daunting task but we were willing to dare and the client had confidence that we could
do it especially after we gave measurable outcomes from the consultancy engagement. Milestones
were agreed upon and captured in the contract. We were willing to be held accountable for the

Consultancy Outcomes:
 Achieve 10% Sales Growth in the year;
 Get sales team generate 80% of sales and the owner and showroom the rest;
 Get 2 sales people producing as much as the owner;
 Have all the sales people achieve at least 70% of their monthly sales targets.
With this confidence we picked out the areas where we could achieve the rapid results. From our
analysis we understood that the firm was sending out quotations amounting to Kshs 0.5 Billion a year.
The conversion rate was less than 3%. Taking this closing rate to 20% was easy. This information lay in
the organization and no one had a clue it existed. From this data lay an easy route to great success.
We put in a programme and within 3 months we had the closing rate upto 15%. The top performer had
a closing rate of 33%.
In the time 2 of the longtime sales people left abruptly as they could no longer hide when number
focused tracking was in place. They used to run their side businesses while still in employment since
they were the most trusted employees and also prided themselves as top producers.
We helped the firm hire three new sales people. Previously, the firm hired from within its industry.
These new people were from outside the industry. The owner was not convinced this was right decision
but, with some persuasion she reluctantly allowed it. One of the candidates was a fresh diploma
graduate while the other two were from retail banking sales. They adapted easily into the results
oriented culture we were creating.
As part of the recruitment we put in place a sales programme on board that would help new sales
people start producing within the shortest time possible and achieve Kshs 1 Million monthly sales within
6 months. The industry average of a great new sales person achieving this production was then
We devised a manual system to record and tract every person’s daily activity. All potential prospects
were captured and every quotation was tracked to conclusion. Every month every sales person had a
performance evaluation-cum- coaching session with a sales consultant.
Initially the employees were scared of the moments but one year after we stopped this programme the
sales people demanded for its re-introduction. They attributed this performance management
programme to their great improvement.

After one year of engagement the client had experienced the following results:

  1. Sales Growth
    The firm’s annual sales grew from Kshs 70 Million to Kshs 98Million. This was 40% growth
    compared to the 10% we had targeted.
  2. Productive Sales Force
    Of the Ksh98 Million turnover the owner was responsible for only Kshs 29Million which was
    about 30% of the total revenues. The sales force was generating over 70% of the revenue.
    The sales force had grown to 7 sales people with 5 of them having joined during our
    engagement. Of the 2 who were there their sales had grown by over 300%. The new ones had
    achieved a combined performance of 70% of their consolidated target.
  3. Enduring Sales Structure
    There were clear sales management structures upon which to build future success for the
    Although our involvement with the client remains, we are called upon to assist in specific areas
    such as strategy development, selection, management coaching and training since the building
    blocks for a sales success we put in place years ago are in place.
    The business is no longer reliant on the owner to generate and grow its revenues, it has sales people
    who have been performing at high levels over the last four years and new hires start producing within
    the shortest time.

Growth Partners is a firm that provides sales growth solutions through holistic approach that
encompasses sales management structures, sales strategy and people.
Growth Partners Sales Development Services include:
 Sales Training
 Sales Recruitment
 Sales Planning
 Sales Aptitude Testing
 Sales Personality Profiling
 Sales Processes Development
 Sales Management Structure Design.
Growth Partners is dedicated to delivering results oriented solutions. We are willing to be held
accountable for results and offer MoneyBack guarantee for most of our services. In some of the
services you have pay for it if only you like it arrangement.

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