A client asks, "This summer almost my entire sales staff requested vacation time in August. Normally, I try to stagger their time off but this year they needed to attend events like weddings and family reunions with inflexible dates. Because of this, August will be our worst sales month in years. How do I make up for this shortfall without having the staff feel as if I am penalizing them?"
Though situations like this often occur in the summer, there are many other times during the year when members of your sales staff all need time off during the same period. It can be deadly for sales revenue. Here are some tips for dealing with a skeletal sales crew and the resulting slow sales month.
Look at the Shortfall
Find out exactly how much revenue was lost during August. Were your expectations reasonable in the first place? Remember, customers take vacations too, and decision-making processes often stall as a result. Take a look at each individual and how August affected their sales. You'll probably notice that some salespeople are more impacted than others. In some cases, it might not have made much of a difference; with others there may be quite a shortfall.
Schedule Individual Meetings
Regardless of what transpired over the summer, the early fall is a great time to meet with salespeople and get them back on track. Discuss the August sales revenue directly, but don't be overly gloomy or intense about the situation, leaving the sales staff feeling guilty about taking vacation that was due them. Say something like, "Boy was it quiet around here in August. We didn't set any sales records!" Then discuss their overall sales performance and begin strategizing for the fall.
Hold a Group Meeting
After you have met with everyone individually, schedule a staff meeting and talk about the overall group numbers. Discuss year-to-date figures, take a look at both the strong and weaker months, and then talk about August specifically and objectively. Again, avoid being overly negative because it can backfire on you by making your staff feel that the year is already lost and there is no way to salvage it. Brainstorm as a group to come up with suggestions on how to increase revenue.
For an inside sales force that calls into different time zones, offer to buy pizza for dinner once a week if they will put in a few extra hours calling their West Coast clients. For a field sales force, offer to do the same if they will stay late one day a week to try and catch some hard to reach decision makers at their desks. Sales representatives who alter their typical calling hours on occasion are often surprised to see that the effort yields some unexpected sales revenue.
Remember the Little Things
Put up posters that chart the progress being made. Make sure and "catch" everyone on the staff contributing to the success of the sales effort and acknowledge them in group e-mails and voicemails. Keep movie tickets or gift certificates on hand to surprise the sales representatives who make a big sale or speak with a hard to reach buyer.
Being short-staffed is every sales manager's nightmare and it happens to all of us despite our best efforts. The important thing is to remain calm and strategize your way out of the slow sales. Your staff will remember that you let them take an important vacation, even though it was inconvenient for the company, and that you led them to a successful sales year despite the summer slowdown.