What Businesses Are Focusing On To Beat The Recession

We have been collecting lists of what businesses should be doing in a recession. Of the 20 we have seen we have ranked them in popularity and listed them below:
1. Look after your existing customers
2. Cash is critical
3. Stop unnecessary expenditure
4. Turn off lights/computers
5. Try to sell more
6. Get paid quicker
7. Don’t discount if you can help it
8. Don’t become dispirited
9. Stay focused
10. There are opportunities in a recession if you look for them
11. Eat more chocolate*
*we made this one up

The commonality demonstrates how little is practically possible that will make a big difference and, on the basis that every business will be doing this, we end up with a zero sum game. All businesses are optimised and we are all running things more efficiently.

What has become more interesting is the ‘post first crunch’ approaches that organisations are adopting in living with the current situation.

‘We are still here, we have tried to put the basics in place, what do we do now?’

Below we summarise some the emerging approaches:

    1. Positive: The green shoots are visible; if you look really hard you can see them. Next month, quarter, year will be better. Just keep going.
    1. Negative: It’s really ****. We will be bust in a matter of months.
    1. Flip-flop: Depending on the figures, forecasts, management mood, the view swings between 1 and 2. Working in this environment is worse than with 1 or 2.
    1. Coping: A more considered version of 1. We are here, the market is tough, lets get on with things as best we can. Needs a certain maturity of understanding to realise this undramatic approach isn’t the same as complacency.
    1. Complacency: We’re doing fine; carry on as before.
    1. Headless Chicken: Let’s do more, something, anything we must act, NOW, don’t panic, DON’T PANIC!!
    1. Trojan Horse: Let’s use the current situation as the motivation to radically change things.
    1. Amnesty: We should have done a lot of things before the recession hit; we didn’t. What were they? No blame, no finger pointing, let’s have a candid debate.
    1. Displacement: Every problem we have is due to external factors. Throw everything into the recession skip.
  1. Paralysis: This could be very worrying; inertia is a classic stress response, worthy of real investigation and challenge.

Please leave a comment on your organisation’s response.

Be Careful – Your Sales Mind-Set Is On Show

Is the current economic situation extraordinary, an aberration that will quickly revert to pre-summer 2008? Or is this current reality a more permanent change, a business landscape that is going to be around for some time? The reason this is more than just interesting speculation is because the way a salesforce approaches this issue significantly affects business performance.
Sales organisations who think this situation is temporary approach any new way of working with, at best, trepidation, and at worst, almost open hostility.
The most common example is around business development. Sales forces that were used to the business coming to them now have to go out and find that business. This means prospecting. However, management driven prospecting, with imposed activity targets on an unwilling salesforce is not going to deliver much of a business uplift.

In this top-down environment salespeople invest their mental energies in either complaining about what they are being asked to do or trying to ‘game’ the new system, so it becomes a tick box exercise, the whole enterprise feeling remedial and negative.

With this organisational perspective management often come across as apologetic, asking salespeople to do business development, so salespeople feel encouraged to ‘misunderstand’ their role, thinking either marketing should be doing it or they should be left alone to get on with ‘selling’.

The fundamental mind-set that informs this approach is one that says, business development is only being asked to be done because of external factors (the economy), when things improve,(as they will any day soon – constantly repeated) we can go back to being successful.

Sales organisations that approach the current situation more positively do a lot better. Firstly they don’t see the current position as temporary they see what is going now as being here for the foreseeable future. Secondly, they don’t view the challenges that these market conditions throw up as being negative, they see them as being part of the job. Thirdly, front-line salespeople and managers see what is required the same way, there is no need for activity target imposition because everybody agrees with what needs to be done.

Put these three issues together and you have a sales response that is owned by the whole sales organisation.
What is your sales organisation’s credit crunch mind-set?

The Best Kind Of Pressure To Perform Is Self Generated

What do all high performing sales people have in common? They work in the way they do, not because they have to, but because they want to. This is a hugely important truth that managers miss. They think that by cajoling and setting lots of activity and results targets, the salesperson will perform to a higher level than if these were not set. This, the manager thinks, will make the average sales performer a high performing one through the top down imposition of standards and rules.
This never applies in sport. Think of any high performing sports person; the idea that they are set targets by their coach because, if not, they wouldn’t practice or perform to be best of their ability is ridiculous. The only time coach-led standard setting might be used is if a rookie doesn’t have the maturity or knowledge to set their own. That’s the problem, right there, maturity. The best salespeople set their own targets. They forensically work out what the required activities are to meet those targets and then they measure themselves, just like high performing sports people.

The problem is two-fold. Managers feel it is their job to set the activities required to achieve the results set; if they don’t they are failing in their role. Salespeople want to be left alone and feel if they achieve the results, their activity is their business. These two perspectives create a reductive way of driving performance, one that sucks from the process all motivation and authenticity.

What salespeople spend their time doing is controllable by them, so why shouldn’t they own and be accountable for what they do? They should be mandated to share their activity profile because it’s brilliant and the reason why they are so successful (there is no other controllable reason). So why don’t they?

Because they feel it leaves them exposed. An Outlook calendar with no appointments in it for the next two weeks doesn’t inspire confidence that this salesperson has a plan, so management will give them one, such as you must make 15 appointments for the next 3 weeks. The salesperson now has something to work with: to either resent being given this task; to argue why 15 is the wrong number; or to do any old rubbish appointments, to say they’ve done it, without it delivering the resulting business (proving setting 15 was wrong to start with).
What needs to happen is a mature engagement around how to set performance and activity targets, which are something SalesPathways can help with.

Abandoning Coterminosity In Favour Of Success

The Local Government Association (LGA) recently published a list of 200 words or phrases that it feels its members should avoid using. They are concerned that an increasing level of jargon has made its way into local government documentation and publications, leading to confusion and a lack of understanding.
Some of the words and phrases seem unnecessarily complicated, others seem fairly straightforward if used in an internal professional rather than public communication context. What really does stand out is the number of different euphemisms the LGA has identified for people working together. More than 10% of the identified words and phrases mean, in some sense, working together. Here’s a few:

Across-the-piece, Cohesive communities, Cohesiveness, Collaboration, Coterminosity, Coterminous, Cross-cutting, Cross-fertilisation, Holistic, Holistic governance, Interdepartmental, Joined up, Joint working, Multi-agency, Multidisciplinary, Partnership working, Partnerships, Pooled budgets, Pooled resources, Pooled risk, Shared priority

It seems that when people have real difficulty working together they can spend a lot of time creating a ‘taxonomy’ for working together. We help people to become more effective teams who go on not only to achieve more, but enjoy their work and reduce the pressure they feel.

The Increased Pressure On Sales People

Over the past few months it has become noticeable that sales people are feeling the increased pressure of the current economic climate. I’ve seen the increased amount of sales training we’re delivering to two specific groups in particular; firstly people who are new to sales and secondly more experienced sales people who are, frankly, struggling to compete in a contracting market.

The first group who are new to sales, seem to be those who were in customer service roles or similar; order takers, account managers, technical specifiers and project managers. All of whom are now being expected, and in some cases targeted, to ‘sell’ their products and services. They are expected to maximise their existing customer relationships and to create new business opportunities as well.

The more experienced sales people have now come to realise that they were, up until recently, ‘farmers’ reaping the harvest of good economic times, often having the pick and choice of the crop. They are now expected to become ‘hunters’, to proactively seek and win new business ahead of their competitors. They now have to refine their skills further and look for new and stimulating ways to engage with their customer base.

In both groups, the pressure they are under is very real and needs to be addressed. Both groups need the opportunity to extend and hone their existing skills to new levels and also to explore new techniques necessary to stay ahead of the game and alleviate some of the pressure.
At Structured Training we have a range of sales courses delivered on an in-company  basis to help get your sales people to achieve higher levels of performance.

On Bottling It

So the new UK series of The Apprentice is on it’s way. Pre publicity informs us that one of the contestants didn’t make it through the first night, packing up his suitcase and heading home before the first task was announced. His reasoning – 12 weeks is a long time to be apart from your family. Well – duh!
Many people taking on new challenges and new jobs fail before the first hurdle has even come into view simply because they didn’t think through the consequences. 12 weeks is a long time to be away from your family, but it’s a clear condition of participation. An overseas posting is exciting and challenging, but it will involve living overseas. That’s something that needs thinking about, and something may need the agreement and active support of family members (whether or not they’re coming too). A new promotion with lots of extra money can sound great to everyone until the realisation that extra workload does mean hours locked in a study at home on weekends. Similarly, a downsizing move means less hours and more time with the family, but rarely does that come with more money. Look before you leap is a saying that’s lasted centuries because it’s sensible advice.

Think about your priorities before you climb up on top of a wall with the opportunity to leap or climb back down again maybe isn’t catchy, but it’s still good advice. Sir Alan seems to have taken the departure in his stride, claiming it makes his job just a little bit easier. But even Surralan isn’t immune from pulling back from an overstated position. Watch the title sequence to this year’s Apprentice. The claims of vast wealth and extravagant spending have been left out this year.

Reward Is Important To You

Chances are your pension pot is currently not as large as that of Sir Fred Goodwin. There’s every chance that the people in your team earn less than £1m a year too. So it’s likely that the fairness of your reward and recognition scheme is not the subject of debate on news shows and in the newspapers.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t the subject of debate in lunch queues, at the coffee machine, in the pub or over the kitchen table. People get passionate about how success is rewarded and the consequences of failure, as well as how people who coast are recognised as coasters. It’s not about the size of the payouts, although that does make reward newsworthy, for most people the important factor is the perceived fairness of reward.

Designing reward and recognition systems, particularly in sales teams, can be a minefield, and often causes as much resentment and frustration as it does motivation and enthusiasm. Some are carefully thought out and meticulously planned but fail to recognise that people need to quickly understand what they need to do to succeed.

Others make success criteria really clear but remain vague about how many jelly beans will be available if people jump high enough to grab them. Some are highly transparent, but perceived as unfair if certain territories or customer groups mean some people will always be rewarded whilst others have little hope.

The Practical Application Of Leadership Behaviour

Leading in troubled times is a common business theme at present, with the usual emphasis on charismatic, hugely successful entrepreneurs telling us (it’s always telling) how we should be doing things differently.
However, we thought we would offer a different perspective on how anyone in your organisation can add significant value by demonstrating leadership behaviour.

  1. Taking responsibility is a leadership behaviour. Whether that’s for a problem, for a customer issue or for a particular situation by taking responsibility you make the first step towards improving things.
  2. Being Pro-active looking for what needs to be done rather than waiting to be told what to do is showing leadership.
  3. Admitting mistakes accelerates learning and avoids repetition of the same problem. Hiding mistakes creates the opposite effect. Leaders own up.
  4. Being positive about change Nothing will improve if things don’t change. Leadership behaviour is at the heart of any effective change process.
  5. Representing the culture So many people talk about ‘the culture’ as being the problem, without realising they are the culture. People who say the culture can be changed, one behaviour at a time, are showing real leadership.
  6. Owning their circumstances. Leaders do not recognise the victim complex. They believe their circumstance, good bad or indifferent, are of their own making. Either accept them or change them – whinging doesn’t cut it. This makes them very pleasant company. Leaders improve morale.
  7. Developing their role into something more than the job description. Trying new things, challenging orthodoxy, volunteering and supporting others are all deeply connected to leadership.
  8. Learning new things. If your own rate of learning is just ahead of the amount of change going on around you, you will automatically start leading. Why? Because you will have a point of view that other people (customers, colleagues, senior managers etc.) will want to listen to. You become an interesting person.


Everybody can behave along these lines and so demonstrate leadership characteristics Organisations where a significant minority are deliver significant competitive advantage over organisations where leadership if left just to senior managers.

Managing Tough Times With an Eye on The Future

With news of lay-offs, redundancies and business closures rising, it’s not surprising that Businesses need to be aware of the mood within their organisations, and managers need to be aware of their influence on morale and their responsibility in keeping it high. Motivating people in tough times is harder than motivating a team that has easily accessible opportunities, but this is the time that managers earn their salary by keeping their teams focussed on the right things, and build their confidence and sense of employability.
Over the years we’ve worked with a number of organisations who have made restructuring decisions and as a result, redundancies. One defining characteristic of how successful those organisations are after any such restructuring is how retained employees feel their colleagues who left the business were treated. Where they feel the treatment was poor:

  • people were unfairly selected
  • payments were handled incorrectly
  • promises were broken
  • employees were seen off by security with a signature, rather than by managers with a thank you

the level of subsequent attrition of talented employees was high and the morale, and therefore productivity of remaining employees was low. Where employees felt that everyone had been treated with dignity and all administration was handled efficiently, company loyalty was higher along with motivation.

If you’re in the position of making redundancies, make sure you think through the effects of the small decisions around goodbyes and administration with an eye on future motivation. Work hard to ensure that people leave your business ready to recommend it to another potential employee and where possible help people to make a positive fresh start, with a programme like Marketing Yourself Effectively.