Crisis Communication – On the Front Lines

By Lain Ehmann

When the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan – the company’s entering Chapter 11, the CEO’s been indicted for insider trading, the entire product line is recalled – many employees simply stop answering the phone, preferring instead to hole up until the bombs stop dropping. But for the sales force, playing ostrich often isn’t an option. Instead, salespeople are out there taking their lumps and answering customers’ questions as best they can.

A company’s sales force should be seen as more than foot soldiers doing the dirty work during a crisis, says Ed Moed. Moed is managing partner and cofounder of Sales Shield, a company that provides guidance for sales teams during corporate crises. To ensure your team functions at its best during a crisis, Moed offers these tips to sales managers.

Communicate. Because the whole company – and its customer base – is in limbo, no one knows whom to trust, what’s rumor and what’s real. Solve this problem by providing both formal and informal ways for salespeople to check in. Weekly conference calls are great, but on-the-fly communication is essential, too. The quicker you can squash rumors and get out the real story, the better.

Provide adequate training. Distributing cheat sheets with key Q&As is a must, but nothing can substitute for role-playing with your team. Give them plenty of opportunities to try out the messages and get used to their role as company spokesperson.

Solicit feedback. The sales team is an invaluable source of frontline data, says Moed. Managers should “actively solicit their perceptions on customers’ reactions and uncertainties,” he suggests, and then pass this information up the chain to the folks involved in setting strategy.

Watch your back. Competitors and headhunters might see this crisis as the perfect opportunity to raid your organization, taking your best performers. Safeguard against that happening by giving as much reassurance as you honestly can regarding the company’s future, says Moed. Reassure your sales team that they are an important part of getting through the crisis.

Reassess performance measurements. Old quotas and goals were based on pre-crises factors. To the extent you can, adjust these goals based on the new status quo, says Moed.

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