Industry veteran offers advice on managing through a downturn

After the economic crash of 2008-2009, retailers that successfully weathered the storm may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. However, John B. Heroux, president of Colonial Lumber Management in Bedford, N.H., and 48-year veteran of the wholesale building materials business, warned managers not to let their guard down.

It may seem like the worst is over, but Heroux cautioned against what he calls “‘we made it through the worst, everything’s fine’ syndrome.” Instead, Heroux advised that sales managers continue to evaluate the performance of their salespeople, particularly when it comes to seeking out new businesses off the beaten path. Thinking about ways to keep salespeople motivated, especially those who may be underperforming, is key, according to Heroux: “How many new accounts have your salespeople opened? Do they treat their territory like a series of bus stops, and make the same calls every day? ... If so, motivation needed.”

Investing in IT upgrades may not be the first thing on anyone’s mind in these economic times. Still, Heroux suggested that in addition to evaluating and motivating salespeople, it is important to keep in mind the IT system and its ability to provide information about whether all products are being sold.

Above all, Heroux suggested that managers continue to actively ask themselves a number of questions about their company’s performance, and how sales might be improved: “What do you do with the salesperson who can’t sell an account in his/her assigned piece of geography? Is this an account that your firm has never sold? How do you get that customer to at least listen?" 

Failing to ask such questions, and growing complacent when it seems as though things may be looking up, should be avoided at all costs. “We’re not out of the woods yet by any means,” Heroux said.