It’s been a rough couple of years for B2B salespeople.
Tech giants Twitter, Meta, and Salesforce have laid off tens of thousands of workers, while such behemoths as Amazon and Google have implemented hiring slowdowns or freezes.
While many salespeople have been affected, it’s likely more will suffer in the near future. For those who’ve been fortunate enough to keep their jobs, market uncertainty has undoubtedly had a negative impact on morale.
Let’s take a closer look at how unstable economic conditions affect salespeople and what all companies should be doing to bolster salespeople’s morale during uncertain times.
Whenever economic conditions decline, salespeople are the first to know. They’re on the front lines selling every day so, when they’re unable to meet quota, they’re the first team in a company to feel the impact. And any time reps aren’t meeting quota, you can bet that morale plummets.
Sales reps are generally very goal-oriented people who derive great satisfaction from meeting their targets. When they’re unable to do so, and the reason why (e.g., an impending economic downturn) is out of their control, you can imagine staying positive is challenging.
What makes this even tougher is that oftentimes downturns are preceded by a high-water mark the year prior. So salespeople may be working toward a set of annual goals that had been determined in the middle of the euphoria of the previous year.
Lastly, most sales compensation plans are based on performance, with commissions and incentive pay accounting for up to 50% of one’s compensation. So not only are salespeople feeling discouraged from not meeting their goals, they’re also very possibly facing financial struggles at home, which can further negatively impact performance.
During uncertain times, most companies opt to cut travel and in-person gatherings, viewing them as unnecessary expenses. But in reality, tough times are when it’s most critical to bring teams together to strategize, knowledge-share, and feel a sense of community. Sales teams with high morale are in a state of constant collaboration with their teams – they’re sharing good news, bouncing ideas off of each other, and talking about their goals.
When morale is low and reps are working virtually (and therefore lacking that sense of camaraderie), it can cause them to retreat and hyper-focus on missed goals. So, if there’s any time for companies to reallocate their budget to support travel and team-building events, it’s now. If, however, incurring travel costs is just not in the cards, focus on virtual ways to bring the team together. Many salespeople are more extraverted and they build energy and enthusiasm by being around other people.
When the market is in a downturn, companies have to make the tough decision of whether to lower their sales goals. If you lower the goal, more sales reps will hit it, which certainly helps with morale. Should a company choose to take this approach, it’s critical that they treat that lower number as their new goal and not dwell on the fact that they had to adjust it, or speak about it negatively. Accept the change and move forward.
If you opt not to lower your goal, it’s important to commit fully to “trusting the process.” Sales – especially SaaS sales – is a process and there will always be highs and lows. Double down on focusing on the positives, and reward your team for the small successes to keep them motivated. Hone your processes and reinforce sales motions that are consistent with winning. As long as you’re doing things right and continue to do them right, the sales will come eventually.
Whatever a company decides, it’s important to take action by either making a change (like lowering the goal) or communicating that you’ll be staying the course so salespeople know there’s a plan in place.
One-on-one coaching is a powerful way to boost morale by ensuring that salespeople feel supported in their roles. Reps and sales managers alike are susceptible to burnout and dips in performance as a result of outside pressures. Coaching is great for helping reps navigate any challenges they encounter at work, but creating a positive impact on morale requires more than just coaching for work-related problems.
It’s invaluable to offer coaching that supports salespeople’s overall well-being. Perhaps more than any other function, selling in a downturn is stressful. Coaching for things like mindfulness, exercise, and productivity can have a profound effect on a person’s overall well-being, which invariably leads to better morale at work. This is especially important for people who hold leadership positions in sales, as they’re often under significant pressure from the organization while simultaneously trying to hold their team up. They need to be leading in a way that’s sustainable, and coaching is a solid way for them to receive ongoing support so they don’t burn out. With any support you offer, make sure it is simple and accessible. Salespeople are generally self-reliant, and tend to just “power through” – potentially creating vicious cycles. Make it easy for them to get the support they need.
It’s impossible to tell what the future holds. Based on the current state of the market, though, salespeople could be in for a rough ride. Companies that don’t get ahead of this by prioritizing morale risk losing their highest performers. The onus is on companies to support sales by ensuring they get quality time together, determining and communicating a plan of action, and giving them the resources they need to thrive during challenging times.
Matt Prostko is head of Sales at TaskHuman.