Blogs Sales Development

How to make sure results don’t slide – even in a downturn

As I write this blog, the FTSE 100 index has experienced its worst day in over a decade, wiping £124bn off the value of its companies. In a clear sign of their fears of a recession, the Bank of England has slashed its rate from an already record low of 0.75% to just 0.25% in a move designed to bolster the economy in a pre-emptive response to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Such a challenging economic environment spells trouble for sales professionals, and sales leaders. In a thriving economy, determined but average salespeople can just about meet their targets by playing the numbers game; the more clients they meet, the more chance they have of making a sale. Their conversion rate may not be massive, but they make up for it through sheer determination.

But when times are tougher, we know that’s not so easy. Customers are scarce and each opportunity becomes more critical to convert. Those ‘average’ sellers can’t find enough customers willing to talk to them and those targets that they barely met in the good times become unattainable. So who, if anyone, is selling?

Well luckily, if you can call it that, we’ve been here before, so we know exactly what to do and how to tackle the coming months with confidence. In the last big downturn, the global financial crisis of 2008/09, researchers set out to find the answer to just that question – Who is selling when everyone else isn’t?

What the researchers found was that during this uniquely challenging economic period, in a B2B solution-sales environment, more than 40% of high performing salespeople shared very similar characteristics [1].

What’s more, by monitoring sales performance over a four-year period that took account of their performance as the economy returned to health, they were able to show that these very same characteristics are just as valid whatever the circumstances. They are high performers not because of how they respond in a downturn, but because they have mastered how to sell complex solutions in any economy.

Whilst this research certainly caught our eye, we felt that it still didn’t provide the full picture. Why is it, for example, that among high performing salespeople there is still a significant proportion (the other 46%) who do not appear to demonstrate the behaviours described in the research?

We decided to dig further and undertook a wide-ranging and comprehensive review of sales studies and business literature, together with more academic psychological and behavioural research to gain a thorough understanding of the why, what and how of successful salespeople:

  • Why an individual enjoys sales activities in the first place, and the extent to which they will seek to perform at a consistently high level
  • What they do to understand the client context and relevant industry drivers to provide the customer with insight in order to seize opportunities and create momentum in the sale
  • How they interact with others in the sales process, appreciating the other parties’ perspective and modifying their own behaviour to develop deeper connections that ease the sale.

We have identified areas of startling synchronicity between researchers and academics, based on years of replicable research, plus some new insights, that apply to today’s challenging landscape. The result is the Acuity® for Strategic Sales Model and it’s ready now to make sure your salesforce is at least two steps ahead of your competition.

Discover how the Acuity 360 Talent Audit identified the opportunity to deliver a 23% uplift in sales performance at broadcasting giant, Global, and download our whitepaper to reveal the 9 key capabilities that drive sales success.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

[1] Dixon, M. and Adamson, B. (2011), The Challenger Sale. How to Take Control of the Customer Conversation. Penguin.