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Recessions and layoffs are the most stressful times for all companies. While the loss of business and bleak revenue forecasts are the obvious result of economic turmoil, layoffs tend to have a compounding effect that can send the bad situation spiraling further down.

A recent study of over 4000 employees who made it through corporate layoffs discovered that the survivors' employee engagement, quality and productivity took a major blow after the layoffs. Over 74% of the respondents said their productivity had dropped, and 64% said their coworkers' performance had also declined.

Layoffs in a domain such as sales which already works under tremendous stress and persistent burnout can cause a significant downturn unless the sales leaders plan it well to keep the motivation levels of the remaining teams high.

The layoff situations

It's that time of the decade when the music begins to slow down, and the markets panic. This time, the situation got exacerbated by companies over-hiring during the Covid-19 pandemic. The threat of a looming recession by the mid of 2023 or the start of 2024 is also a contributing factor for companies going lean.

Business leaders are cutting costs by pausing or halting services, downsizing the workforce, and squeezing the maximum efficiency out of what they already have. Consequently, fewer people are buying products, and the sales teams are losing leads at an alarming rate.

8 tips for sales leaders to motivate their team

With the groundwork laid for why it's important to keep sales teams motivated, we'll examine how it can be done.

1. Keep your communication plan strong

Communication is crucial during the layoffs and while moving on from it. It's essential to keep your communication channels open well before the lays off at the organization, team and individual levels. Before breaking the news, be honest and transparent about the state of the organization and the planned path for the future.

Keep communication strong throughout the whole process and be prepared to answer questions regarding the layoffs, such as who will take over the domain of the laid-off salesperson, how people are chosen for the layoff, their packages and what the future holds for the teams.

2. Continue working on building sales skills and capacity

While layoffs are the time to hunker down and keep the focus on the present, it's never a bad idea to continue working on skills and capacity building. Only when the odds are stacked against it does a sales organization's real test begin?

During these times, hardships can bring about stark differences between the capabilities of different teams. The stress of putting out routine fires often distracts sales leaders from building capacity. However, it is precisely these times that are an opportunity to lay the foundation towards long-term gains.

Working on capacity and skills is also a morale booster for existing salespeople, as sales training is an ongoing process, and tough times are when the best of them are forged.

3. Prepare to deal with the expected reactions of remaining employees

The emotional toll of layoffs is often overlooked in many organizations as it's harder to quantify. While some employees still feel lucky to have a job, others go through mixed feelings ranging from anger to hate and guilt. The "survivor's guilt" is frequently experienced by some, especially when a close work friend is laid off, and they're still on the team.

It is common for employees to go through the whole grief process: denial, shock, pleading, anger and acceptance, before settling down on their new reality. Give them their space to mourn and remember to work with each employee individually during this time.

4. Do not overburden the remaining salespeople

Rebalancing the workload can be tricky as salespeople have their groove and pace of working that could be more responsive to disruptions. Besides, laid-off employees would be nurturing leads and relationship building, which is hard to pick up by the remaining members, given their workload.

Unless you have thinned the teams to the best performers and most versatile in different domains, it will be a while before the remaining salespeople can pick up the slack.

5. Remain human during the layoff process

While it's tempting to talk as minimally about the layoffs as possible, keeping communication to a minimum on the events can add injury to insult for some employees. Although it seems better to focus on productivity for the remaining employees, keeping the process human is important and allowing some room for recoil is important.

Salespeople often leave one organization for another as they feel that they are no more than a cog in the system that is replaceable. So the first thing they do when a more enticing opportunity shows up is to jump ship. Losing a top performer can be a disastrous thing that can happen to a sales organization soon after a layoff.

6. Offer opportunities for professional development

Lack of opportunities for professional development is one of the biggest factors that steer employees clear of organizations. Layoffs are when employees are more actively looking to upskill and increase their value for the future.

Providing opportunities for professional development is a strong indicator of confidence in your employees and the best way to show that the organization values their talent. Professional development can take place in the form of new training on sales skills for a different domain, bringing in experts for training or technical training in data analysis, digital tools and CRM systems.

7. Place greater emphasis on innovation and engagement

Building on what was said earlier, layoffs are a time when resources are few and employee engagement flails with the disruptive changes happening in the company.

You can encourage them to think creatively, prioritize tasks, and develop new strategies to generate and nurture leads or drive more prospects through the pipeline.

Although it's easier said than done, it can increase engagement in the short term by offering quick-hit incentives. Salespeople need small and frequent rewards to keep their motivation levels up, and these incentives can get that job done.

Quick-hit incentives are offered frequently and on reaching small milestones or completing important tasks. They can be in the form of cash over their base pay or additional bonus to their commissions, gift cards or vouchers, extra vacation days or anything that puts a smile on their face and keeps the wheels spinning.

8. Work on building the resilience of your sales teams

Resilience is the ability to perform consistently, even under disruptive circumstances such as layoffs and economic downturns. For some, it comes naturally, while others have to learn it over time. Having resilient employees is essential to regain the rhythm lost during the layoffs and return to productivity quickly.

One of the foundational principles of resiliency is looking forward to the future and working without losing sight of it for personal and organizational development. To build resilience, you can start by setting short-term goals for teams and individuals that are attainable.

Encourage growth and career development activities at every stage to build the confidence to carry them through hardships and challenging times.

Qualities that can help sales leaders to stay at the top

While motivation keeps your sales reps on their toes during the day, their morale helps them persevere through hardships. Their morale determines their satisfaction and is the condition that shapes their attitude. It's essential to build a team more in ways such as:

1. Effective communication

For effective communication, you must talk to smaller groups of salespeople to show them that they are important and closer to the leadership. Explain the current situation precisely and the rationale behind the decisions. Have a one-to-one talk with all your sales rep to let them know what is expected of them and that they are valued employees.

2. Acknowledgement

Explain to your salespeople that you understand the responsibilities and the additional stress they will undergo in the upcoming weeks and months. Describe your plans to deal with the changes and how you will attempt to prioritize the additional tasks they must take up. Acknowledge the impact of your actions so they understand that you're not treating them like a disposable asset.

3. Empathy

Building on what was said earlier, show empathy with their concerns for the future and those who were let go. Inquire every person regarding how they felt about the layoffs and what specific queries they have. The one-to-one conversation here is to allow employees to vent their thoughts and emotions and get clarity so they do not become susceptible to rumors and false information.

4. Focused attention

While discussing the layoffs and the difficult times ahead, always keep the undertones positive and oriented towards the future. In the short term, the salespeople will face more difficulty landing leads and converting prospects. However, it's also their chance to hone their skills in the toughest times and develop as a salesperson.

5. Supervision

Your sales reps must know that the management-level people are always available to discuss their concerns, questions, performance and the future. They can also interact freely with the management to learn how to overcome their obstacles to success.

6. Appreciation

Show appreciation and sincerely thank all your best salespeople who have kept the business afloat. Express your belief that their association with you is highly valued and their efforts will be well rewarded.

Few examples on how big companies managed to stay afloat during layoffs

Here are some examples of how different companies are motivating their employees in the middle of the dynamic job market:

1. boAt Lifestyle

A maker of consumer audio products and wearables, the boat is one of the most popular brands in the world. The company understands that to have an engaged and motivated workforce, their need to feel connected to the mission and purpose of the company.

They have extra hours for employee conversations so the leadership listens to what the employees say.

2. upGrad

upGrad is an online platform for higher education. It provides rigorous industry-relevant training for freshers, experienced workers and even those looking to start new careers. The company keeps their young workforce motivated through appropriate challenges and innovative peer-to-peer learning processes rather than regular training.

They believe visibility into the space of opportunity for fulfilling work is key to retaining their talent. Building strong communication with the employees is also their mode of motivation.


As the world slowly slips into a recession, your employees will eventually come face-to-face with an existential crisis in the form of layoffs. It's imperative to have a disciplined and humane approach to layoff employees and communicate with the ones that stay. While there's no silver bullet to remedy all the hurt, anxiety and frustration existing employees feel, your honesty and empathic approach can make all the difference.

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Nagma Nasim

Nagma Nasim

Nagma is a content writer who creates informative articles, blogs, & other engaging content. In her free time, you can find her immersed in academic papers, novels, or movie marathons.