The Agendaless Meeting Imbalance

Although I abhor the circularity of talking doom and gloom, I must face reality and reflect the current selling environment.  I know of a company that, despite seeing growth in 08 and enjoying strong positioning in place for 09, has just endured a round of cost decimation in preparation for harder times ahead.

Gallows humour ensured that the one-on-ones occuring as a result of this drive were christened “the agendaless meeting”.

Many in and around the salesforce (there’s as many “managers” and support staff as actual quota-carriers) are grateful merely to keep their jobs.  Consequently, once told that their role is one “at risk”, they’ve been happy to accept a significant reduction in remuneration for 09.

I’ve sought some glimmer of positivity from all this and have yet to find any at all.  What impact this is having on morale, well, in terms of revenues it is too early to say.  Yet if you extrapolate out from the canvas I’ve been shown, it’s difficult to imagine anything other than a nosedive.

And herein lies the problem for management.  In times like this, they’re notorious for looking out for their own survival.  You can hardly blame them.  But surely there’s a limit on how much better off a cost-cutting drive can leave you.  Empricism suggests that it is relatively easy to ask people to shave say ten percent from their costs and maintain productivity.  Yet there are not simple shaves going on here.  The machetes are out.

I recall an electric speech a few years ago now by a CEO callled John Spencer to a team of over 100 sellers.  He explained the annual practice of cutting costs by ‘x’ whilst also putting up prices by ‘y’ were over.  They’d just lead to a bigger demon, namely increased customer attrition.

I cheer when I see insane costs reined in, but not when swingeing cuts are made for the hell of it.  My experience is that they only work when, like anywhere in nature, an action in one place creates an appropriate reaction somewhere else.  In other words, an equilibrium must prevail.  Such balance can be thought of in similar terms to an accounting statement, where every debit must be countered by an equal credit on the other side.

So when you take an axe to a sales-related cost, there must be something that offsets it in some way.  Are you going to allow bigger price incentives to be offered, such as larger discounts for higher bulk buying?  What product or package innovation can you introduce to generate brand new revenue streams, with an associatedly higher commission value attached?  If you are ordered to freeze all fixed costs, then what can you do with the variables (like bonuses) to make accelerators attractive, or which other benefits lend themselves to creativity in the light of good performance (non-financial rewards, leave, promotion)?

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