There are three key priorities for chief sales officers (CSOs) in response to high inflation and recession risk, according to Gartner, Inc. They include: adopt flexible planning techniques, retain/retrain high-performing sellers and embrace strategic cost management.
“Economic headwinds require sales organizations to take bold, preemptive actions that strengthen the core of their business and point the organization toward growth — that’s still the CEO’s top strategic priority,” said Noah Elkin, VP Team Manager in the Gartner for Sales Leaders Practice.
Adopt Flexible Planning Techniques
The first priority for sales organizations is to fully incorporate greater flexibility into their strategic planning activities and outputs. CSOs should routinely reassess the organization’s ability to respond to economic disruptions and develop a communication plan to keep every part of the sales organization aligned on strategy changes.
Key CSO planning actions include reviewing data on key sales talent and productivity metrics to ensure the team is tracking toward growth targets, and requiring the sales leadership team to build an action plan that reflects the urgency of preparation in the face of inflation.
Retain and Retrain High-Performing Sellers
Frontline sales managers play a significant role in not only developing and managing sellers to have the right conversations with customers about potential inflation impacts, but also being clear about addressing sellers’ questions about inflation before they become distractions.
An August 2022 Gartner poll of 74 sales and business leaders found 54% cited “meeting quotas” or “customer retention” as what worries them the most about an economic downturn. CSOs can cater to their sellers’ concerns by clarifying any common misunderstandings about inflation and offering accurate facts about any adjustments to quotas.
CSOs should proactively develop a strategy for talent management that encourages managers to promote recession-proof skills and encourage innovation and ideation in customer interactions. The goal is to boost sellers’ business acumen and listening skills by ensuring they are capable of uncovering vital information about how customers are preparing — if at all — for a downturn.
“Sellers need to know how a downturn would affect customers’ needs and their relationship with the organization,” said Elkin. “By doing so, sellers can uncover new business opportunities and provide more meaningful services to customers.”
Embrace Strategic Cost Management While Protecting Key Investments
“Cost-cutting is always an option to weather an economic storm, but it tends to focus on short-term results,” said Elkin. “Instead, strategic cost management offers a way to balance cost cuts with targeted spending increases on growth areas. CSOs should focus on protecting talent and technology investments that are essential for achieving long-term growth goals.”
A key example of a CSO cost-management activity is evaluating the “must-protect,” longer-term investments that should outlast any period of budget pressure, particularly revenue technologies that will enable the team to achieve growth targets efficiently and at scale. Decrease sales technology expenses by eliminating low-usage platforms.
“Those who continually and proactively manage sales costs can better avoid the disruption that urgent cost reductions bring,” said Elkin.
Gartner clients can read more in “Quick Answer: 3 CSO Priorities in Response to Economic Headwinds.” More information is available in the “Recession Playbook for Sales Leaders.”