By Tim Searcy

In the last month, I’ve visited with 75 CEOs, and there is a universal understanding of undeniable truth: things are tough out there.  Now although this is obvious, the varied responses haven’t been so obvious.

Most reactions have come in three forms:

1. Self-denial – “Everyone else is having a tough time, but we prepared for this in advance. If we make a few cuts, I think we’ll ride this out just fine.”

2.  Panic – “We’ve pulled back on all spending, and we’re going to wait for the market to turnaround.”

[Note: I have not found one person that can tell me what the trigger point will be so that they or any of us will be certain that the turnaround has arrived.]

3. Change – “We see this as an opportunity to re-evaluate all the initiatives that we engaged in during the strong market to determine what was worthwhile, and what was truly an unsuccessful gamble.”

Big Sales-minded organizations are thinking like the third guy quoted…

I live on a lake, and because it’s manmade, the water level is lowered from time to time.  During these times, those of us that have torn up our boats on unseen stumps, trash or other debris get a very clear look at what was just below the surface.  During the economic upturn, most firms were the beneficiaries of rising tides. Because the market rate of growth in their businesses was strong, it was difficult to determine whether the company strategy was successful, or if the market just made positive results for everyone.  With the decline in the market, it is time to examine your strategy from the perspective of “what things are we doing to just be doing or based on hope, and from a financial perspective, what is actually working?”  In short, it is time to remove some stumps and debris from your lake.  Where to start?

A.     I suggest looking at expectations.  What are the expectations of the sales organization in terms of geography, product lines and industries pursued?  Eliminate all initiatives which have less than an 18 month payoff.  You don’t have the resources to chase the hope of a future yet.  Instead, invest in those markets in which expansion of your brand and its promise will yield a large share of the market.  In essence, by managing to your strengths, you will hold off the desperate competitors and at the same time secure your foothold in the safest part of your business.

B.     Manage your process.  Now is the time for diligence.  If you have been following the techniques Hunt Big Sales has been espousing, you know that focusing on the ideal prospects to the exclusion of the irrelevant opportunities and the “wish we were a good fit for them” targets makes sense.  Force diligence in your salespeople to focus on only 20 complex opportunities, each of a greater size than last year’s average deal.  Do not become despondent and open up what you are willing to take as business just to keep the shop busy.  This is short-term thinking, and will lead you to abandon your strategy not just for the short-term, but for the long-term as well.  Fear has a nasty habit of causing you to walk away from what you know to be true and to embrace what you know to be false, but wish was true.

C.     It’s time to take a long look at your people.  Is it time to make some cuts?  Maybe.  This is hard stuff, but across the board cuts are a coward’s way of addressing difficulty because it makes their efforts look to be vaguely noble.  If you are going to make cuts, do it based on performance and the promise of success that your process will bring.

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