10 Steps for Handling a Sales Crisis

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How would you like to make a life-saving drug and discover that your only supplier has just been shut down? Or what if the FDA just rule against your new product and brave your competition a 12 month lead in the market? Or what if the courts just ruled that your biggest selling product was in violation of your competitor's patent and you had to immediately cease all sales? These are all real events that happened to my customers. Real events that could put a company out of business. Since my expertise is in sales, I am often called in for three reasons: save the customers, save the sales force and save the future market. Companies want to save their customer's because they either have other products to sell or hope to have new products soon. Their goal is to maintain customer relationships during the transition period. Saving the sales force is important because top sales people want something to sell now and will often jump to competitors when the news is bad. Saving the market is the long term strategy that is needed to ensure that the competition does not eclipse you during this bad time and close off your entire market channel. Here are ten steps you can take in these situations that will help reduce the damage and get you back on the right track. While there are many more things you can do, I offer these as a solid place to start.

1. Have a plan B. This may sound obvious, but few of the companies I have worked with had one. Even when they had weeks of notice that the crisis may happen, few took the time to plan out a strategy for handling it. As a result, they were forced to react to the press and the market under pressure. No one looks best under pressure.

2. Think long and short. Many companies do one or the other. They either focus on the immediate problem and ignore the long term repercussions, or they ignore the immediate situation and hope it will soon be forgotten while they focus on the long term strategy. By assigning a team to each strategy, you will keep your customers happy now and have the greatest potential for a favorable exit in the future.

3. Communicate with clarity. While the legal advice may be to be circumspect about everything, this only leads to speculation and rumors which are usually worse than the truth. Remember the lessons from Bill Clinton and Martha Stewart: It's not the crime that gets you in trouble, it's the cover-up.

4. Envision the future and work towards it. What if this problem can not be resolved? What if there is no new product? What do you want your company to look like 12 months from now? If you have a clear vision, your customers, employees and stockholders can follow you. Without it, they all panic.

5. Keep your sales people in the loop. Your sales people are your face to the world and then can make or break the crisis. If they feel they are in the dark, they will relate that to the customer. The last thing you need in a crisis is your sales team telling customers that the company is all screwed up and no one knows what they are doing.

6. Stay close to your top people. Part of your survival strategy should be to keep your top sales people happy. You will need them more than ever when the crisis is over.

7. Stay the course. Make as few mid-course corrections as possible. If you are seen as blowing in the wind, you will lose credibility with all involved.

8. Redesign your compensation plan. If you have nothing to sell, you can not expect your sales team to make their quotas. The question now is, "do you what to keep them?" If you do, you many need to pay a one-time bonus for those who stay with you through the crisis.

9. Stay close to your best customers. Some of the best success stories involve CEO's getting on the road and meeting the CEO's at their major customers. This is a powerful way to engender confidence in your customers. Remember; do not have your CEO only meet the buyer. Have them meet the CEO!

10. Stay positive until they shoot you. Success has a face and you have seen it on television a thousand times. Rudi Giuliani mastered this face after the 9/11 crisis. He looked concerned but never panicked. He was confident but never cocky. When he did not have an answer, he said so. When he made a commitment, he kept it. All the time he exuded the type of confidence that said, 'We will get through this.'

A crisis calls for leadership, team work and communication. The more time you take to plan, the better job you will do for your company. Draw upon your best internal and external resources and turn your crisis into a success story.

Steve Waterhouse President Predictive Results