Focus on How: Navigate Uncertainty

Inside view of London Underground, Tube Station with Moving train, motion blurred.

The evolving shifts in the economy probably feel like you are trying to board or deboard a moving train. With major tech companies like Meta and Twitter announcing major layoffs – it feels like a train trying to avoid a broken bridge…screeching halt.

As an Account Executive in the field, I have felt disoriented – especially when my company announced layoffs. I quickly realized that panic will only lead to catastrophe. The world may seem upside down, but you can learn to navigate the storm and find success.

I will be dedicating the next series of posts on:

  1. Focus on HOW you find success in your current role in the midst of market uncertainty…Focus on How is going to be zeroing in on practical ways you can calm the panic and focus on achieving your goals and providing the value your clients need. We will also diving into practical too
  2. Career preparedness – resume, job search tips, interview tips, etc…

The Tech Twister of Layoffs – How did we get to this point?

While I can debate the ‘R’ word, in spite of this I would argue we’re not in a recession or even close to a major recession, given the overall jobs reports and trends, however tech sales is in a mini-recession. This is an interesting take by UNC Economics Professor Christian Lundblad.

My hiring class at my last two companies was over 1000 people and onboarding said hiring was continuing to rise. At one point Salesforce hoped to add 12,000 new jobs (post 2020).

So while it is easy to blame the economy, I think we also have to take in a bit of what sales professionals call ‘bad forecasting.’

Too many tech and online retail companies expected their increased revenue from the Work from Home era would continue to skyrocket at the same levels as 2020. Economically this was never feasible because so there is only so much ramp you can accelerate to in rapid growth before it matures to viable longterm growth, which is much smaller.

  • A lot of companies assumed their record growth was a sign of increasing demand (which is true), but instead of scalability and targeted expansion they fell to the curse of growing too rapidly and in turn hiring way to many people to fast.
    • There hope was that growth would drive more business and if you just hired a few more people to target more accounts, more customers…statistically you’d have to increase your sales to 3x (or whatever the goal)
      • The problem is the market reach. In COVID many businesses were forced to adopt technology (say e-sig) at an astronomic rate – the rocket of work from home fueled the untapped market to respond so quickly you essentially have a situation you accelerate too quickly you reach a bottleneck in potential for growth.
        • In this situation you then anticipate slower net new growth and re-align on product development for a new go to market strategy and also expand offerings/licenses to current customers
        • This means you anticipate growth overall but not record growth – and certainly not growth to in some cases triple your workforce
          • Too many companies hired too fast – their logic ‘if we just had more people in more seats we’d hit that so-called number.’ This works when you truly have room to grow – but hiring just for the sake of anticipated growth puts the cart before the horse. It backfired for many tech giants who felt they were untouchable after their golden success even in the worst of the economic drought in the pandemic
  • Inflation spoiled the party:
    • No doubt that inflation has slowed economic growth. From an economic standpoint that actually could be a good thing long term to ensure we don’t out pace natural growth (ex: we worry about the housing sector – but truly the housing prices were getting to expensive for long term sustainable growth).
    • Inflation is no doubt going to slow spending for companies because we are all adjusting budgets due to constriction of how far our money will go.
      • This can be an opportunity for tech: technology can eliminate costly silos and processes – the problem is that instead of a quick sale of neat features – it becomes a longer sales cycle focused on scrutinized value.
        • Educating clients on value tied to cost is tedious and usually becomes a multi-vendor cycle.
  • What we’ve learned: While tech has long been a Wall Street darling because it dangles the carrot of the art of the possible and foundation of potential – tech is not bulletproof. At the end of the day, tech needs to hold itself accountable to smart and scalable decisions, with forward thinking growth that is tied to reasonable risk. Even the best and biggest tech company can struggle if it makes a wrong turn on an poor acquisition.
    • In short – tech has been given a pass of ‘valuation based on the intangile – the possible, but not seen’ even when the market would logically hold a much lower valuation. This leads to unrealistic forecasting and stumbles for shareholders when valuation is not realized.

Okay, so we get the economics – but I’m worried about my job and hitting quota!

Me too! I am in the trenches with you. After a five minute ‘aaah’ session (we all deserve that) – I want you to grab a blank notebook…let’s do an exercise…

  • Write down your fears and what you are struggling with
  • Write down what your clients are facing and struggling with
    • How can your product/service help them right now? What is the value and how can you build enough ROI that the value becomes worth the investment.
    • Who would care about the value. Think about your decision makers and who authorizing new purchases in economic slowdown. While earlier in the year you might be selling to the IT director – now you have to go through the CFO. Buyer personas are critical for success as we adjust the way we sell to business leaders
      • CFO: How can investing in your product help save the company money, time, etc…

Mind the Gap: Focus on HOW to Navigate Uncertainty:

  • A recurring expression we’ll return to on the blog is “to mind the gap” –

When I first heard that my company plans to lay off 2000 employees in the coming weeks that anxious end of the world it of your stomach feel stole my peace. In times of anxiety I always pray to The Holy Spirit to give me peace and clarity. In doing so I kept thinking about my trip to London in 2005 and the Underground intercom blasting the message ‘mind the gap between the station platform and train door.’

I marinated on the expression ‘mind the gap’ and it hit me:

We need to tune out the noise and focus on what we can control, but in doing so, we need to be aware of our surroundings – but not consumed by them. Be mindful of the challenges surrounding you and your clients, but don’t fall into the pit (the gap) of fear so you are unable to ‘board’ your next stage in your journey.

  • Be aware of the ‘gaps’ – the noise, but don’t get pushed onto the train of worry. I recommend turning off the news during the workday and avoiding message boards like The Layoff during working hours. Curate how you digest your news so you don’t wind up distracted.
  • Control what you can control:
    • As humans we hate uncertainty because we like to be in control. As sales professionals it is our job to be in control of the sales cycle – but at the end of the day the truth is we have limited control.
      • We cannot control the macroeconomic factors in our economy
        • We CAN control the way we target and educate our customers during economic changes to show the unique value we provide and use this as a competitive advantage against uncertainty.
      • We cannot control international conflicts affecting the economy and supply chain issues
        • We CAN control how we approach problem solving and look for creative and cost effective ways to mitigate factors like supply chain issues…ex: you cannot control a cyber attack, but you can be prepared against potential ransomware attack providing client peace of mind.
      • We cannot force our customers to agree to purchase (and if we do it will most likely result in churn)
        • We CAN work on mutual agreement plans/Discovery Agreements throughout the process to engage and hold your customer accountable through the buying cycle so you can:
          • overcome red flags before they become game stoppers
          • anticipate client needs and build value, etc…
          • make sure we have the right people involved in the decision making process
      • We cannot control layoffs. At the end of the day you work at your job and you can love your job, but it does not equate who you are.
        • You can create an action plan for career preparedness.
          • What are my skills? Do I want to stay in the same sector or do I want to transition to a new type of role?
          • What continuing education opportunities can I invest time in to keep my skills sharp. (I recommend LinkedIn learning and coursera)
          • Get your resume dusted off and practice interviewing
          • Start applying for other potential roles (ahead of layoff)

I look forward to starting this journey and remember to mind the gap between the storm around you and how you can get to your destination.

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