A crisis can arise from anywhere…
A manufacturing error, a complaint that goes viral… or a global health crisis.
All of these can leave your company spiraling downwards, fighting desperately to save face and profitability at the same time.
Unfortunately, regardless of how strong or established your business, there’s no guarantee it’s immune to crisis.
Take these well-known brands that recently filed for bankruptcy.
It is critical to prepare now for the crises of tomorrow.
You need to be ready and able to efficiently handle anything that may come your way.
To help, we’re going to cover every aspect of sales management during a crisis, starting with how to lay the groundwork ahead of time. Then we’ll look at how to respond during the crisis. And finally, we’ll show you the steps to take to recover after a disaster.
Let’s get into it.
Identifying Possible Crisis Types & Triggers
Before we look at the steps to prepare for a crisis, we need to look at the different kinds of crises a business can experience and some of the ways they can be triggered.
For our purposes, a crisis is any event that puts a strain on production, sales, or marketing operations.
It is an event that has the potential to disrupt the health and success of your company, tarnish your reputation, negatively impact profitability, alter your company structure and business model, or even put your employees and customers at risk.
All the crises that businesses are susceptible to can be sorted into 7 broad categories:
- Operational: A poignant example of this type of crisis is the current coronavirus pandemic, which has frustrated normal business operations at almost every level all over the world.
- Technological: Manufacturing errors, software crashes, hacks, data leaks, server downtime, and other system issues can make customers question their trust in your business and cause the company to hemorrhage revenue.
- Financial: If demand for your product or service drops, your business starts losing value, and it becomes harder to pay off debts or operational expenses. This may lead to budgets being slashed and staff members losing their jobs.
- Humanitarian: This can be triggered by natural and man-made disasters such as hurricanes, storms, wildfires, war, floods, tornados, and insurgencies. Your company’s proximity to the epicenter of the crisis can lead to a temporary disruption or a permanent halt to your operations.
- Human Capital: When your business loses an important member of the team or a whole crew of workers, it can shake the very foundations of your business. This could be people leaving due to misconduct, workers going on strike, or even employees getting poached by the competition.
- Legal: If your company is involved in accounting errors, accusations of intellectual property theft, or other unethical or illegal conduct, it can prompt legal proceedings. These can lead to unfortunate business consequences.
- Reputational: A reputational crisis is when a business takes actions that adversely affect the reputation of the company, the customers, or the shareholders. In 2013, Tesco and some other major retailers dealt with PR nightmares after it was revealed that beef products sold in their stores contained horsemeat.
Now that we know how to classify a crisis, let’s find out what we can do about them.
What to Do Before the Crisis Hits
As a business owner or sales leader, you won’t always be able to predict an impending crisis. In situations where you can, you need to develop a crisis management plan to minimize potential impact and help you stay on course.
There are 4 steps to preparing for a crisis.
1. Communicate with your team early, honestly, and often
Your staff and colleagues are your first line of defense in a crisis. You cannot afford to leave them in the dark if you hope to make it out of the crisis in one piece.
They need to know what to expect, so share important details with them as soon as possible. Your workplace communications, or lack of them regarding a crisis, can quickly become a crisis in itself.
Naturally, your employees will be concerned about their jobs and the future of the business, but it’s your job to allay their fears. Be empathetic. Take note of the issues they raise, and prepare them for if things take a turn for the worse.
2. Brainstorm ideas and consider the actions you’d need to take
Your business is going to need all the help it can get when facing a crisis, so let your team members help. They can identify ways a potential crisis may affect you and the strategies to use in resolving it.
Develop a response and a business continuity plan of your own, then ask everyone else to contribute ideas of their own. Discuss the pros and cons of each idea, so you can select the strongest solution.
Don’t discard every other plan yet. If your chosen approach doesn’t work, you’ll need to consider an alternative course of action.
3. Discuss resolution plans with the higher-ups
Once you come up with a plan that your company should follow during a crisis situation, you have to share it with upper management to get their approval.
They’ll need to know:
- How your approach will impact sales forecasts
- The short-term and long-term benefits of your strategy
- The potential risks or losses that may arise from implementing your plan
- Whether the goal of your strategy is to ensure survival or maximize profits
- The resources required to set the plan in motion
4. Assign responsibilities
Determine who the key players in your resolution plan are and what actions they will carry out. Carve out battle stations and assignments based on the specific situation you’re dealing with and the expertise of different team members.
Everyone should know what the crisis could mean for their role in the chain of command so they can adapt accordingly.
Review KPIs and objectives to reflect any changes in direction for sales activities.
Provide support and training to everyone with an active role in your crisis management strategy to ensure they execute their jobs properly.
Any team members who will be impacted by the crisis but aren’t involved in resolving it should receive clear directions on what they’re expected to do to prevent the situation from worsening.
How to Act During the Crisis
Now it’s time to act.
As soon as you recognize the crisis situation, you need to mobilize your team and begin implementing your crisis management plan. This is the stage where you’ll see the pay-off from all your hard work planning ahead.
However, you’ll still need to stay on top of the situation. Managing a crisis is all about minimizing the impact of harmful events. When everything hits the fan, there are six things you can do to deescalate the impact of the situation.
1. Release initial crisis management messages
Instead of hiding away and waiting for the crisis to blow over, directly address the issue at hand. If you don’t control the narrative from the beginning, people will make up their own assumptions to fill the vacuum. Before you know it, you’ll be dealing with a crisis of misinformation alongside the actual emergency.
Gather your team and contact external stakeholders to inform them about the situation. Tell them the measures you’re putting in place and how you intend to keep serving them through this difficult time.
Be as transparent as possible. Keep reassuring your team, shareholders, and customers. Leverage tech to help management, marketing, and communications teams spread the message across all essential platforms.
When you engage honestly with people, they’re more willing to advocate for you during a crisis.
2. Don’t stop fighting until it’s over
Dealing with a crisis can be incredibly tough. You may be tempted to throw your hands up in defeat and let whatever happens happen — but you shouldn’t.
A crisis doesn’t have to spell the end of your business. If you make the right moves and keep moving forward, you will emerge on the other side.
3. Gather accurate data and information
During a crisis, it is important to establish the facts quickly and accurately, so you can inform your response strategy in real time.
To do this, you need the right communication tools to interact with internal and external stakeholders, track progress, plan projects, accomplish your goals, analyze current trends, and continue to improve your sales strategies to maximize effectiveness.
4. Pay attention to outside concerns
When you’re dealing with a situation that will probably take months to blow over — or one where you’re expected to give press or market updates every few hours — you may begin to rely on one-way communication and drown out the rest of the world.
This can seriously undermine your crisis management efforts. Listen to what your customers, distributors, and manufacturers are saying. Listen to their concerns so you can better calm their nerves.
The way an external audience sees and feels things will be different from the company’s internal perspective. If a good number of your stakeholders are asking the same questions or expressing similar views, that’s something the crisis management team should be working to address.
5. Keep motivating your team
Experiencing a crisis can bring out the best or worst in your company and its people. It’s crucial to frequently check in with your teams and do everything in your power to improve your workforce and keep them emotionally and mentally healthy.
Be a role model. Inspire them to keep pushing, so you all emerge victorious at the end of the crisis. Anxiety and demotivation can send the company into a tailspin it may never recover from if allowed to take root.
In the First World War, between field exercises, officers would instruct their soldiers to dig the same trench again only a few meters away to keep them busy and focused. The same tactic can be applied to your salesforce using tasks that are valuable to them.
Fill the extra time they have with value-creating activities or tasks like learning a new skill, optimizing customer lists, or discussing future strategies with customers that can’t order your products or services at this time.
Data also suggests offering your team some time off to rejuvenate and come back stronger. For instance, recommend your team fit in quick power naps within their work schedules. A recent study by Amerisleep has shown how sleeping at work has helped boost productivity.
On the health front, make sure to raise awareness on healthy work ethics. After all, the last thing you want is to exhaust or overwork your team by trying to keep up with the crisis.
The health of your team should be just as important, if not more, than any quota.
6. Focus on controlling what you can
No one saw the COVID-19 crisis coming, and we’ll likely be dealing with it until a vaccine is developed. There’s not a lot you can do to avoid or change most of the effects that the crisis has had on your business and the economy.
To survive the crisis, you need to prioritize the metrics and assets that matter.
While you might not be able to acquire as many new customers, you can focus on managing the biggest asset in your possession — the customers you already have.
Your existing customer base is an opportunity to generate more sales. Show them they are valued, and keep them happy. Find ways to incentivize and reward their brand loyalty by focusing on customer acquisition strategies.
One example of this is Userpilot’s swag-based customer retention strategy where they give their customers hoodies:
Post-crisis: what to do now that the storm is over
This is the final phase. If you’re at this point, it means you have moved out of crisis mode into recovery. However, just because the crisis is over doesn’t mean your work is.
As you ease your team back into normal day-to-day operations, it’s important to take steps to avoid a similar crisis in the future, or at least be better prepared to tackle the situation if it arises again.
1. Perform a thorough analysis and create a report
As soon as you’re out of the woods, you will want to debrief. Go over your crisis marketing plan and the results you were able to achieve. Discuss what went wrong, how you feel the situation was managed, and where improvements could have been made.
Don’t rely on your own views. Gather insight from your team about how the crisis response fared, and seek their input on how to adapt your crisis management strategies for the next time around.
Use the knowledge gleaned from the report as a catalyst for positive change across the board. Crisis doesn’t just present a threat to your business. It’s also a learning opportunity.
Don’t waste it.
2. Remember the things you wish you had during the crisis
There are realizations you will arrive at when in the midst of a crisis. It could be tools or technology that could have helped your company achieve its objectives better. Or maybe it was structures you wished you had in place.
Now that you’ve reached the end of the crisis, you need to go about making them a reality.
Incorporate those structures, activities, tools, and whatever else you thought up into your work processes, so you don’t have to deal with the same obstacles when crises arise in the future.
3. Modify your strategies and goals
There is a chance the crisis will have altered your industry and the way you do business forever. Instead of going straight back to normal, adjust your operations and objectives to suit the new climate.
Keep an eye on your values, identity, and the vision you want your brand to be associated with going forward.
Use what you learned during the crisis to inform your sales strategies — how you establish and reestablish connections with your customers.
Stay flexible and err on the side of authenticity and compassion.
Review, Regroup, Reset
According to PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Survey, 42% out of 1400 companies surveyed who had faced a major crisis reported being in a better place after the crisis. Some even experienced revenue growth as a result of how they managed the crisis. 36% reported being in the same position as before, and only 19% were in a worse position.
Crises are unexpected and can leave you feeling confused and helpless, but they don’t necessarily signal the end of your business.
As long as you act quickly and implement strategies to cushion the effects, you will be back at the wheel soon enough.
To summarize, the key to effectively managing sales during a crisis is to…
- Communicate clearly, honestly, and frequently with all essential stakeholders — staff, customers, shareholders, distributors, and clients.
- Devise a crisis management strategy. Decide who will be involved in the actions you take and what responsibilities will be.
- Investigate the root cause of the crisis, listen to external concerns, and stay the course all the way to the end.
- Focus on customer satisfaction rather than customer acquisition.
- Create crisis reports after the situation blows over to learn from your mistakes and give you the confidence to address future threats quickly.
Crises are a fact of life, and they will always play a role in shaping business outcomes. But if your company takes strategic action before, during, and after the crisis, then you can survive almost any storm and come out the other side even stronger.
Were you ready for the COVID-19 crisis? Looking back, what would you do differently?