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Leading Sales Through a Recession With Ryan Reisert

Economic downturns are scary.

They change the dynamic of the sales markets. Internal budgets might be cut, along with the expendable cash in businesses you're prospecting. And generally, put everyone on edge with the uncertainty.

However, in times of hardship, there are always opportunities that emerge like a phoenix from the ashes. And sales leaders can be the guiding figure, championing their teams to succeed even when the odds are stacked against them.

So what should sales leaders do to protect their teams, lead them to the other side and keep morale and motivation high?

We spoke to Ryan Reisert, sales aficionado and former sales leader to find out how to lead sales teams through a recession and beyond.

Here’s what he said!

Lemonade out of lemons

We’ve said this a few times before, but it’s an important message, so we’ll reiterate.

Sales is a mindset thing.

Generally, the numbers work out in the long run. So it’s a case of continuing to pick up the phone and talking to people. The hard bit is keeping motivated when you’re having the door slammed in your face over and over and over.

It’s so important to keep a level head and drive forwards.

Now, of course, the threat of a recession on the horizon might knock your confidence. But allowing yourself to think negatively only further cements your fate - if you believe you’ll fail, well..

You’re setting yourself up for it.

Ryan believes that those times in B2B sales when you need to tighten your belt are the ones that make salespeople. He says:

“I’ve been through times like these, working in a lot of start-ups especially. Whether it's a full recession or you don’t get the funding you were expecting or maybe there are cuts in budgets for other reasons - I’ve experienced all three.”

“If you're in positions like these, I see these as opportunities for sales leaders, not issues.”


“Because most sales leaders only know how to grow a sales team by increasing their headcount. But how do you grow without adding bodies? When you don’t have the budget to add new people?”

“It’s an opportunity as a sales leader to jump in and tighten up all the little things that can end up moving the needle.”

What are the ‘little things’ that Ryan refers to?

They’re simply the fundamentals of outbound sales that everyone knows about, but sometimes forget to check up on to ensure they’re still working effectively.

For example:

  • The list of target prospects - are these still the right people to speak to?
  • The messaging - is it still resonating with your target prospects?
  • Your tools - do they still work effectively for your process today?
  • Your quotas - are you having enough conversations to get the results you need?
  • Your team - are you enabling them to do their best work?

It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride when things are good, relying on sophisticated tools and automations to do the work. But when you’re bootstrapped and can no longer justify the expensive tools, do you have the fundamentals in place to fall back on?

This is where great sales leaders are made - when you can make big impacts on the big target numbers without spending huge amounts to get there.

It’s about being efficient, thinking strategically and making progressive small wins.

Want more tips to be a top sales leader? Check out the video below! ⬇️

Get into the trenches

For a leader to be able to identify all the small changes that should be made to improve the sales org’s efficiency, you’ll have to be prepared to get down and dirty.

You can’t stay up in the lofty heights of management if you want to know the ins and outs.

Ryan says:

“You need to get into the trenches with your sales team and learn:”

  • How can we eliminate waste?
  • What’s our dial to connect rate?
  • How can we replicate our positive results?
  • Where can we cut unnecessary steps, tools or meetings?
  • What are the sales reps actually saying on the phone?
  • Do sales reps know how to handle objections? Do they give up after objection 1?
  • What are the common reasons for lost deals?
  • Are sales reps following up with the right people?

There’s a whole load more to add to this list - but the thing is, you could only know them from being involved in the day-to-day.

Ryan says:

“Sales leaders need to intimately understand every element of the sales process. They need to be willing to do the manual jobs no one else wants to do in order to keep the lights on for their teams.”

Not only does it give sales leaders the information they need to make critical decisions, it can also motivate the workforce who are grinding hard every day. It shows them they have a leader who’s willing to get stuck in.

Ryan takes this one step further, saying:

“If you fail, your team shouldn’t be the ones who get fired. Assuming they’re doing their job, of course. If you need to let people go, you should be the first one to volunteer.”


“Because you didn’t do your job properly.”

“And I’ve been there before. I’ve been at a company where it was decided we were over-staffed; some people were going to need to be let go of in order to reach company goals.”

“And I said ‘okay well the first person to go is obviously me’. And everyone seemed surprised by that. But to me it was obvious. If I was the leader, and the plan isn’t working, then that’s on me. Not on my team - provided there isn’t a performance issue.”

Ryan’s point here is that if you’re taking on the role of a sales leader, you need to be prepared to go down with your ship.

If you create a plan to lead a sales org and it fails, and layoffs are on the cards, a good leader would step down first, hopefully saving the jobs of their team.

No excuses

If you hit hard times, for example like in the beginning of 2020 when everything was turned on its head, it’s probably fair enough that you missed target that month, maybe even that quarter.

Because during unprecedented moments like the pandemic, you made assumptions and set targets in different times, before things changed.

But Ryan believes that as you readjust your targets in line with your new world, you can’t continue to make excuses for why you miss your new targets.

Because that’s when your mindset starts to slip, and everything starts to follow suit.

Ryan says:

“If you’ve adjusted your targets, taking the recession into account, then you had better do whatever's in your power to make that number.”

“And as I said earlier, if you can’t - that's on your head. It’s your responsibility.”

“That’s why it's so important for sales leaders to get in among the fine print and details, working out where the low hanging fruit is to keep the machine moving.”

“You can produce results pretty quickly if you’re motivated. If you have something the market needs, and you do the work, sales will happen.”


During any period like a recession - well, okay, realistically, during any time period, but especially during a recession - efficiency is key.

There’s no point putting in loads of work in one area if everything falls out the sales funnel somewhere else.

So this is one of the ways a sales leader can make a huge difference to the performance of an organisation.

Ryan says:

“A sales leader should know their sales maths like the back of their hand. They should know exactly how many conversations need to take place in order to get the number of deals they need to close, closed.”

“And how many dials need to be made to book enough meetings and go on.”

“And if you’re not getting those numbers across the board from every person or area of your team, then you’re not ready to add to the headcount. Your priority is fixing those areas first, making them efficient.”

“Nail it before you scale it.”

Sales leadership step by step

So far, we’ve discussed the importance of:

  • The sales mindset.
  • Nailing the fundamentals.
  • Getting into the trenches.
  • Leadership accountability.
  • Reassessing and hitting targets.
  • Prioritising efficiency over headcount.

But what other steps can you take to ensure you’re leading your team to success?

1. Education and communication

It’s basic human behaviour. You’re never going to work hard and stay motivated when you feel there’s information being kept from you, or you don’t understand what you’re working towards.

During recessions, people are scared. They’re worried about their job security. They’re worried about paying the bills. They’re worried about what this might mean for their futures.

So do what you can to communicate the plan:

  • Explain why you’re making the decisions you’re making.
  • Demonstrate how you’re going to execute.
  • Reassure them about how you’re going to try to conserve the business and keep their jobs.

The more you share with them, the more they’ll buy into and trust your plan, and in turn the better they’ll work with you to achieve it.

2. Incentives and compensation

Of course, in times of recession, budgets might be a little tighter so handing out big bonuses might not be very realistic.

That said, you still need to incentivise the right behaviours; incentives are key motivators for SDRs and keep morale high.

What resources do you have at your disposal that you can use to incentivise?

What benefits will the reps who positively influence targets receive?

What long and short-term incentives can you implement to keep your teams’ eyes on the prize?

3. Team culture

One of the amazing things about sales teams (if they're managed well..!) is the effervescent culture and buzz.

If you instil a culture of teamwork, hard work and camaraderie in the early days, that means when the hard times come, there’s a support network prebuilt.

Hosting regular team training is important, but so too are the natural social bonds that are formed outside the (sometimes awkward!) compulsory team bonding.

Creating space for people to form their own connections, while fostering a culture of working hard for the team, is a good way to ensure a positive workplace culture.

4. Training

Training is always important, but especially during times when reaching targets are more crucial than ever.

Training can help bring your sales reps onto the same page, such as:

  • Keeping them up-to-date with industry trends.
  • Sharing knowledge, especially new tactics and techniques.
  • Raising issues and problems early.
  • Building their confidence and upskilling them in their roles.

The bottom line?

The more you invest in building the sales team you need to succeed, the better.

5. Champion the wins

Recognition and appreciation for hard work and good performance should be in the fabric of any working environment.

Whether it’s the top performer for the day, the week or the month, or even someone who goes out of their way to help a colleague with something.

Whatever the circumstances, as a sales leader, you should be leading the charge in championing and recognising good performance. Make a song and dance of the people who are working hard, helping the company and going above and beyond.

It’s another way to show your appreciation for your employees and motivate them to carry on working for you.

The last word

Recessions are tough; they’re scary and they’re uncertain. But there will always be people buying and selling things.

Your job as the sales leader is to be the guide. Set the goals. Create the sales plan. Define the vision. Build the culture. Communicate that to your team. And lead them to success.

Don’t miss the latest and greatest sales insights! Sign up for Cognism’s Sales Leaders’ Digest. It’ll hit your inbox every other week with brand new expert advice 👇

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