Managing Reduced Headcounts While Increasing Sales Targets

14 mins

Learn how to boost sales, maximise productivity, and excel with a reduced headcount with expert tips on team management, tech, and recruitment.

Whilst the economic downturn of 2022 and 2023 has impacted only 5% of active deals, an increase in the length of sales cycles and a higher rate of customer churn has meant that organisations are experiencing a higher level of turnover for their staff, making sales targets just that little bit harder to hit. 

Data from Hubspot has shown that turnover continues to hover around 35% per year for salespeople. In light of the difficulty of attracting and retaining talent, many organisations are opting to run leaner. The question is, how can we continue to smash our targets even whilst we’re navigating a downturned market and reducing our overall headcount?

This guide offers expert advice on managing teams and exceeding sales targets, even with a smaller workforce. We cover tips on maximising productivity, ensuring your team is organised to get the most from each member of staff, and discussing the potential for outsourcing and collaborating to extend your sales reach. 

We’ll also cover the advantages of external recruitment, highlighting how sales recruitment agencies can help you to attract fewer, high-quality candidates. Whether you’re looking at sales recruitment in Manchester, London, or further afield, our experts offer insights into how to leverage your relationship with a talent partner to enhance sales performance.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can inspire and motivate staff, see our recent guide on Winning Strategies to Attract and Retain Gen Z, where we go into detail on how this growing demographic can be the key to an organisation’s sales success.

The Challenge: Driving Sales Performance with a Lean Team

Sales-focused organisations seem to have remained somewhat resistant to adopting lean teams and working practices. Revenue generation is the name of the game, and the pressure to reach and exceed targets means that companies are—understandably—hesitant to reduce their headcount. Despite this, as we discovered in the 2023 edition of our Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) Challenges report, the data shows that 14% of all CROs surveyed believe that reduced headcounts impact meeting increased targets.

“I think the real answer is the obvious one - making target. The market is soft, in the UK at least with the gloomy economic forecast - budgets are being cut all over the place That said, for folks with competitive pricing, that opens an opportunity to move into other markets.” 

Vice President of Sales, SaaS

When this reduction in staffing numbers is imposed by industry, market, or economic conditions, it can be difficult to pivot your strategies to maximise sales performance. However, with the right preparation, you can make your selling process more methodical and deliver greater bottom-line profits by eliminating waste and increasing efficiency.

Implementing the processes which will enable your lean workforce to maximise productivity and hit sales targets each day, week, and month will mean preparing thoroughly for the challenges which arise when reducing headcount—whether you’ve got sales reps in the field, based in the office, or a mixture of the two. This is especially true if your staff have already experienced success with current processes—making the case for a lean workforce could be met with resistance if you don’t have the data and information to back up your decision. 

Similarly, you’ll need to ensure that your leaders are on board. A skills assessment, which will allow you to see whether certain members of your sales team are ready to take on more responsibility and push themselves towards a management position, is, of course, beneficial. 

Organisational change works best when it comes from above, and you can ensure that your salespeople are on board with this transition towards a lean workforce by leading by example, whilst simultaneously displaying that you’re willing to promote internally and champion the career mobility of your sales team.

If you’re interested in some other ways to maximise your sales team’s performance and ensure that targets are met after you’ve finished reading this guide, see our recent article on Strategies for Effective Sales Training and Development for in-depth, practical insights into how you can drive employee motivation and effectiveness, and how sales recruitment agencies are able to support a transition towards a lean internal culture with a focus on professional learning and development.

The Solution: Strategies for Sales Success in a Downturned Market

It’s clear that a considered approach is called for when we’re reducing headcount while increasing sales targets. Maximising salespeople’s efficiency requires us to consider a number of factors to address the challenge of enhancing productivity and profitability with a smaller workforce.

“There are lots of costs that are increasing unexpectedly which will obviously take budgets away from less essential areas. For example salary increases due to higher-than-expected inflation and higher energy costs to run businesses.” 

Chief Technology Officer, SaaS

So, what can we do to face this challenge head-on? As research has shown, lean workforces typically result in faster response times and greater job satisfaction amongst employees. By focusing on these strategies, you’ll be enhancing your average sale value through impactful cross-selling techniques: effectively boosting your profits and revenue without the need to increase your overall number of sales—or generate additional leads. 

But how can you ensure that your business is ready for this transition, especially as you continue to push for sales targets?

Leading By Example: Training Your Management Team

When it comes to empowering your sales staff, the first area to look at is your management team. When a manager wants to encourage their salespeople to engage in cross-selling, or any other revenue-generating activity for that matter, it’s vital that they know how to communicate that request.

“When I return to my next role in the next few weeks, it will be a big focus on staff development. That will include revisiting objection handling, rapport building, and value creation. It is also important in a market where more jobs than staff exist that career development plans and progression are documented and visible.” 

Sales Leader/Senior Vice President/Vice President of Sales, SaaS

Think about your senior staff’s management styles. 

  • Do they embrace and encourage a more directive sales culture, a top-down approach in which they play an active role in setting clear objectives and ensuring employees follow through on them? 

  • Do they handle matters democratically, inviting staff to weigh in on the decision-making process? 

  • Do they have not a well-defined management style at all, or are they experienced sellers that were promoted but lacked the fine-tuning to drive their team to meet their targets? 

In any case, it’s important to clarify whether your management team can help your staff reach their full potential. By fostering a sales coaching environment that encourages your senior staff to engage in leadership and management training, you can help your leaders develop a robust style of coaching and feedback that responds to the unique challenges your business faces and the goals you wish to achieve. 

With 75% of salespeople hired internally, ensuring that staff are managed effectively and offered opportunities for growth and development is vital to reducing turnover and driving engagement.

Using Tech to Master Account Management and Hit Sales Targets

Over half of salespeople recognise that technology is at the heart of their ability to build robust, professional, and long-lasting relationships with key accounts. 

Of course, it’s likely that you’re already utilising a customer relationship management tool—such as, for instance, Salesforce—to administer the large volumes of data you’re collecting on buying patterns, contact information, and follow-ups, but it’s crucial that all of your staff are offered training and support to embrace digital tools to hit their sales targets.

Whether they’re utilising social media to connect with prospects via another heavily-frequented channel, machine learning to produce forecasts and data-driven insights, or AI-empowered large language models to generate personalised email templates, your staff need to be shown how these technologies can help them to consistently hit their targets and enhance profitability. 

Using technology to master account management and hit sales targets not only makes your sales team more effective, but more efficient, too. All of the aforementioned tools and software will enable them to free up time to spend with customers, allowing them to gather feedback on products, services, or their overall experience, which can go on to help your business determine whether your sales team are meeting key accounts’ needs and expectations.

Outsourcing and Collaboration: Extending Your Sales Reach

Sales recruitment agencies can support you if you believe that outsourcing and collaboration will extend your sales reach. For instance, if your current workforce can’t support a bilingual market, you can utilise an outsourcing solution to discover talented salespeople that can speak to your overseas customers, enabling you to expand your services into foreign markets and improve your ability to hit sales targets. 

Alongside this, you can also choose to collaborate with freelance sales executives—bringing them in to consult on a specific pain point for only the necessary length of time rather than as a permanent employee. 

This allows you the advantage of flexibility, supplementing your lean workforce with the specialised skills and expertise a specific project demands. 

Creating a High-Performance Culture Driven by Sales Targets

Cultivating a high-performance culture within your organisation can signal to all staff that challenges will be faced. By setting clear goals and establishing ambitious sales targets, you can provide a sense of direction and a focus for your salespeople, ensuring that they’re all aligned on the same mission. 

Of course, it’s important to ensure that any goals or targets you set are guided by the robust tracking of metrics and KPIs, which will help you measure and assess your team's performance in a data-driven manner. Some of these KPIs could include: 

  • Conversion rate. Your conversion rate is a crucial measure of each sales agent’s leads that have resulted in a closed deal, allowing you to identify and reward particularly effective members of the team, or recognise representatives that may need additional assistance. Calculating this is done on a per-rep basis, looking closely at the deals they’ve closed during the quarter divided by the amount of leads in their pipeline during that period. When you multiply this figure by 100, the result is your conversion rate.

  • The average age of leads. By dividing the total length of time all leads in your pipeline have spent there by the number of active leads, you can understand the average age of your leads, which can help you to minimise the risk of stalled or stale leads, which can be a drain on your personnel and resources. 

  • New leads. Measuring the number of new leads that are provided to your representatives each quarter can help you understand whether they’re being offered enough potential business to hit their sales targets. 

  • Annual Contract Value (ACV). ACV allows you to understand whether your staff are aware of opportunities for up-or-cross-selling, ultimately driving a positive trend in company revenue. Measuring it is as simple as understanding the value of your total revenue accrued by contracts over the course of a year, and dividing that by the number of contracts you currently have in place—resulting in the average contract value of your business.

  • Customer retention. By measuring your customer retention, you can better understand the percentage of accounts that continue to leverage your solutions to their pain points. Understanding this figure can help you to identify opportunities where your sales team can up-sell or cross-sell, and it requires you to remove the number of new accounts won during the year from the number of customers you have by the year’s end. When you divide the resulting figure by the number of customers you have at the start of the following year, and multiply that figure by 100, you have your customer retention rate.

By providing your lean sales team with targets backed by robust, data-driven, and logical KPIs, you can offer them a sense of direction and foster an environment of training, learning, and professional development—especially as staff look towards mentorship and coaching to continue to hit their targets and enhance their knowledge in business-critical areas. 

Retention and Motivation in a High-Pressure Sales Environment

At the root of all of these solutions is staff retention, engagement, and motivation. By working closely with sales recruitment agencies—or your internal sales recruitment team and HR professionals—you can identify opportunities to reduce staff turnover and increase well-being and motivation. 

Fostering a positive, supportive culture within a high-pressure sales environment can be achieved by rewarding performance, encouraging collaboration between staff, and providing stress management resources. 

Whether you’re leveraging learning and development and bespoke training initiatives to find your teams’ skills gaps—whether that’s in negotiation, closing, or another technique—and ensure they’re able to realise their potential, or you’re working with a sales recruitment specialist to understand what engaged and talented salespeople are looking for in terms of competitive remuneration and benefits, implementing strategies to ensure that you’re building a friendly, inviting, and diverse workplace can help you to achieve continued success, even within a downturned market. 

At the same time, revisiting the way that your organisation incentivises and rewards top performers can also be a valuable facet of the cultural development that occurs when you shift towards a learning and development-focused culture. 

Ask yourself, when was the last time you questioned what your team wanted? Of course, we can provide examples that have been effective, such as the following: 

  • Gift cards

  • Travel vouchers

  • Food delivery credit

  • Additional annual leave

  • Salary increases

  • Cash bonuses

However, it’s always worth going directly to your sales team and asking them what they’d like to see as a reward for their hard work and perseverance.

The Advantages of External Recruitment for Lean Sales Teams

Whilst it might seem counterintuitive to engage sales recruitment agencies when you’re looking to reduce your headcount, in reality, there are a number of advantages of external recruitment which lean organisations can leverage to ensure their success. Regardless of your location, whether you’re searching for sales recruitment in Manchester, London, or further afield, a reputable and effective talent partner can help you to connect with the candidates that will make a positive impact.

Indeed, a recruitment partner is going to have an extensive network of talented active and passive candidates to draw upon—meaning that even if you’re only hiring for a handful of roles, you can be confident that you’ll be meeting with the best and brightest high-achievers. Specialist sales recruitment and training providers such as Pareto can offer the top 20% that drives 80% of your results. 

One of the major advantages of external recruitment partners is that you can ensure that your needs for the role are clearly outlined and aligned with your urgent and long-term needs, meaning that the specific skills and experience you require on your team will be a priority during the hiring exercise. 

As we’ve already noted, the business transformation required to move towards a lean workforce can be disruptive. This is particularly true if your long-serving staff have experienced success using formerly established processes and practices, which is why a change of this nature requires an overarching cultural transition within your company. 

Sales recruitment agencies are well-acquainted with the principles underpinning growth and transformation, meaning that you can leverage their expertise to navigate an otherwise tricky situation. This can help you to filter information about this transition down through your leadership team, increasing the likelihood of buy-in for your vision from staff on the sales floor. 

“In summary, invest like hell in your team, and you will get the rewards back in spades.” 

Sales Leader/Senior Vice President/Vice President of Sales, SaaS

Similarly, an organisational transformation of this nature can help to increase diversity and inclusion within your business, bringing in candidates with unique experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge to enhance your team’s problem-solving ability and innovation. 

As the figures show, teams that lead on diversity, equity, and inclusion practices are 54% more likely to convert leads to opportunities, enhancing their ability to hit their sales targets compared to less-diverse competitors.

Closing Remarks

Effectively managing reduced headcounts while increasing sales targets requires a strategic approach, particularly within a downturned market. By adopting a lean workforce and leveraging technology, businesses can enhance their efficiency and productivity, enabling them to meet their goals. 

Partnering with reputable sales recruitment agencies can streamline the hiring and onboarding process, ensuring access to top talent in all locations. Indeed, the advantages of external recruitment are significant, allowing organisations to foster a cultural transformation which prioritises effective staff, a culture of learning and development, and the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

With the embrace of KPI-driven sales targets and a renewed focus on staff retention and motivation, companies can create a high-performance culture that drives profitability, even in high-pressure environments, allowing them to navigate challenges, excel in their business endeavours, and achieve continued success. 

Sales Recruitment in Manchester, London, and Beyond

At Pareto, we’ve developed a robust and industry-leading reputation amongst sales recruitment agencies. For over 25 years, our consultants have helped organisations to enhance their workforces through training in cutting-edge leadership and management techniques and sales enablement technologies, whilst our staffing services have allowed market-leading enterprises to continue to outdo their sales targets year-on-year.

Contact us for a no-nonsense discussion about your needs today, and continue to drive your success by investing in your lean workforce. 

Looking to strengthen your Business?

Let's Talk