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Sales Leadership Through Adversity

Sales leaders are struggling with two types of economic adversity as the pressure to increase revenue rises, forcing companies and consumers alike to pull back on spending. Navigating these two categories of adversity, best described as macro and personal, are key to driving growth and employee retention.

To overcome these challenges, it’s best to acknowledge that every individual in an organization is experiencing adversity through a different lens, and the extent to which that is realized, can be a huge turning point in one’s leadership strategy. Understanding what motivates individuals and what they’re struggling with creates effective leadership. Let’s dig deeper into macro vs. personal adversity and the role it plays in your role as a sales leader during turbulent times.

Macro Adversity

Macro adversity accounts for things we can’t control such as the 2008 recession, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and the potential recession we’re facing now. During the 2008 recession, Xactly was only a 3-year-old company with a small amount of revenue when all of a sudden the world went to chaos. As a CEO, I was confounded with the questions of “what do we do?” and “where do we go from here?” After a round of tough decisions to keep us afloat, I determined that not just focusing on the now, but looking ahead at what is on the other side of the storm, was the best approach.

Learning to view crisis as a critical inflection point that allows us to reassess business and discover opportunities for change is something I quickly came to terms with as a leader. Today, we are experiencing once-in-a-lifetime challenges regularly – the pandemic, unprecedented inflation across the globe, and much more. As a result, we are seeing spiking prices, individuals leaving their jobs in droves, and plummeting stock prices.

2020 data found that over 2,000 sales and revenue leaders left their job over a 12-month period, with voluntary sales departures being highest among technology and software companies. This further demonstrates that industries, like software, that were once rewarded for accelerated growth are now the most vulnerable to devaluation as spending slows.

Soon to be released Xactly data shows that 88% of sales leaders are likely to change jobs even if the country’s economic situation does not improve in the near future. In a world where this kind of economic volatility is out of our control, where do we go from here? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and change direction entirely – the answer lies within the understanding of how personal adversity can be the defining factor for making it through the eye of the storm.

Personal Adversity

Personal adversity encompasses a range of challenges that has more to do with one’s internal monologue and is not defined by outside circumstances. This type of adversity is inclusive of representatives being in the wrong mindset, having a lack of motivation, or not believing territories are fair. I recommend working with individual sales reps to fine tune the way they operate on a team and reassure them that their experience is more than just about how much they sell.

Changing the way sales reps operate at a foundational level, altering the way they sell, shifting the narrative for how they are supported are all ways to march through personal adversity. As a historically demanding job, those that work in sales are looking for a strong culture, flexible work environments and opportunities for growth. Moreover, nurturing your company culture and connecting top employees around a shared purpose will drive them together, ultimately uniting individuals in the face of hardship. Our data shows that employees are looking for a complete experience that considers their wellbeing as well as their talent, with compensation ranked six out of nine on the list of reasons why sales leaders chose to change jobs in the last two years. Employees want to feel connected, understood and heard through times of extreme adversity.

How Other Sales Leaders Are Leading Through Adversity

While some companies will prosper, many will scale down or belt-tighten significantly, and others will completely cease to exist. The difference will be in the decisions that executive teams make. Far too often, sales leaders become too consumed with old school ways of thinking and have yet to pivot and adjust to the current macro challenges that face them today.

Right now, everyone is experiencing the same storm but in different boats. Too many leaders – and especially sales leaders, paint with a broad brush and treat everyone as if they’re dealing with the same issues. But we should remember that sales and account executives in particular are susceptible to weathering the storm in smaller boats.

No industry will be resistant to the effects of an economic downturn or other challenges, especially in the go-to-market, sales realm. Salespeople may be particularly affected due the nature of their job, and timing of commission payments, varying pay levels, and Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFFs). By acknowledging macro and personal adversity, and the fact that challenging times may look different to everyone on your team, you can play a huge role in helping your team captain their ships through the eye of the storm.

Author

  • Christopher Cabrera is the founder and CEO of Xactly, which provides cloud-based enterprise software services to help thousands of companies and millions of sellers around the world beat their revenue targets. He is a seasoned executive with senior management experience at both early-stage and public companies where he has managed sales, operations, marketing and business development.

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Christopher Cabrera
Christopher Cabrerahttps://www.xactlycorp.com/
Christopher Cabrera is the founder and CEO of Xactly, which provides cloud-based enterprise software services to help thousands of companies and millions of sellers around the world beat their revenue targets. He is a seasoned executive with senior management experience at both early-stage and public companies where he has managed sales, operations, marketing and business development.

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