Almost without exception, businesses are enjoying the profitability of our current economy.  

For several years, we suffered through the worst recession on record; some are suggesting the length and depth of the economic downturn might have truly been better characterized as a depression.  Thank heaven those times are now behind us and we are enjoying the fruits of a robust economy once again. As exhilarating as it may be, there are commercial dangers lurking in the wings of your business.  This danger can best be understood through the term, complacency.

This complacency is expressed outwardly in the current performance of your salespeople, while it is hidden inwardly through management’s inability to recognize or deal with it.  In simple terms, your salespeople have become lazy and complacent in their sales activities, spending their time writing orders, waiting for the phone to ring, or losing their prospecting skills.  This dilemma reminds me of the Yellowstone bears prior to the early 70’s. They became lazy and complacent in their search for food. It was too easy to eat from the hands of the tourists or to just graze for food in the dump at the local campground.  They didn’t need to hunt or dig for food, they just went where food was handed to them. A whole generation of bears didn’t now how to feed themselves in the wild; they depended on handouts. Salespeople have become like the Yellowstone bears of past generations.  They can make a sale (write an order) if a customer walks in the door, makes a phone call, or hands them the order, but they don’t know how to find the sale if it isn’t in clear view.

Like any other skill, habit or technique, if you don’t use it, you will surely lose it.  Salespeople may not need to prospect to the same extent today as they needed to during the recession, but if they don’t continue to nurture those skills through learning and practice, the inevitable downturn in the economy will be devastating to both the salesperson and the company.  The time to prepare is not in the middle of the disaster, but long before, knowing it will happen!

Several years ago I was working with a mortgage brokerage company.  The market was fairly brisk. Lots of people were buying homes and many others were refinancing.  While I was teaching this company how to find opportunities, meet borrower’s needs, and close mortgages in a lively, yet competitive economy, the mortgage market collapsed overnight.  The Feds put an end to the under-regulated, junk mortgage market. Within days many mortgage companies were out of business, others were severely damaged and lingered for a few months before collapsing.  My client spent the next 30 days applying the principles and skills of salesmanship they had been learning, and within just a few short weeks, they were stronger and more profitable than before the collapse.  

During the past few years, I have trained many highly skilled and professional salespeople in the medical devices industry.  The market was robust, demand was strong, and this particular company was doing well. They were holding their own against other much larger competitors.  In this vibrant market, these salespeople started to increase their sales at the expense of their complacent competitors. For six straight quarters these salespeople exceeded corporate sales goals.  Company profits skyrocketed and the stock price went through the roof. Over a two-year period of time, the success of the salespeople, in part, caused the company’s stock price to double and then double again.  Salespeople need to be trained and mentored in good times to take full advantage of a strong market. They need to be coached and taught in good times, anticipating the inevitable economic downturn. Salespeople need to practice and be instructed in challenging markets to preserve and grow the cash flow and profitability of the company while maintaining employment.  Unfortunately, many poorly trained salespeople are not recognized until the market falls and by then it is too late. In good times they could write the order, but in bad times they don’t even have a clue. They will tell you that there aren’t any sales to be made. There are plenty of sales to be made in bad times, they just don’t know how to find or make them.

Don’t wait until the critical need to train and coach your salespeople is upon you.  By then it is too late to escape all of the financial pain. I’m reminded of a good friend who is a medical doctor.  He made the comment to a large group of teenagers reenacting the Mormon pioneer handcart trek. He told the youth to drink water even when they weren't thirsty because when they felt thirsty it would be too late, they would already be dehydrated.

Learn, practice and apply sales skills long before they are needed, and when the market turns, your sales won’t miss a beat.