Intensify Your Selling in a Turbulent Economy
The Conventional Wisdom
“The sales force needs to hunker down when the economy slows.”
“A slow market is the time to consider doubling down on sales resources.”
Robert B. Miller MHI Global
Signs over the last few months point to a slowing economy. The future outlook is murky at best, and bleak, at worst. While we’re wondering what to do, consumer confidence tumbles, the stock market fumbles, and Japan and other countries head kicking into negative interest rate territory.
In our world of sales, we are seeing prospects hoard money and put many projects on hold. And any smart salesperson has long since taken off the rose-colored glasses to reassess this dilemma.
In a climate like this, companies start to hunker down, implementing hiring freezes and even laying off staff. Then they look to cut back on resources, for instance, reducing sales training or eliminating it altogether. All this seems natural and sensible. As that old saying goes, you need to tighten your belt when times are lean. It all makes such good sense, right?
Even though the situation may seem dire, production and profits are still within reach. Most sales leaders and salespeople alike react with knee-jerk thinking that they are going to lose business in bad economic times. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Profits will go down if you allow them to. The key is adjusting your sales strategy to meet the reality of the economic times you are in now.
Here’s what you need to do to assess and adjust your sales strategy in times of turbulence:
1. Access the Sales Team and its Capabilities
How well is your sales team as a whole performing?
How many made their sales quota in 2015?
What are your top performers doing differently from the rest of the team?
Now would be a good time to access your sales teams.
Do you have individuals who haven’t been hitting their numbers?
You can’t have salespeople dramatically underperforming in times of economic hardship. Everyone must be committed to keeping the business afloat. Sales skills are not the only factors that determine sales capabilities. Sales strengths/weaknesses are even more important.
Strength factors support a salesperson’s ability to execute. When they appear as
weaknesses, they hinder the execution of skills and gum up the sales process. You need to make sure your salespeople have the right DNA. There are various testing devices that will help you determine this suitability to sales, although it is best to use these tests at the point of the interview, obviously not after you’ve hired someone.
To effectively coach salespeople, they must have a good foundation built on attitude, personality, values, skills, disposition and formal training. What’s more, the process of coaching salespeople needs to open room for an ongoing dialogue that includes, but isn’t limited to, pre-call strategizing and post-call debriefing with each salesperson. Under ideal conditions, this dialogue takes place on a daily basis.
2. Bring Real Value to New Prospects
Target new fresh, new prospects. It’s one of the keys to surviving and thriving in a down economy. While most of the prospects your sales team calls on will be scaling back what they buy right now, there are still organizations which spend money in a down economy.
Do your homework on the issues these types of organizations face. Identify what initiatives preoccupy their thinking. One of my clients sells energy efficient solutions; it’s focused on companies with high energy bills. In communicating its value proposition, it can open up new opportunities by discussing how it has helped similar companies save on their energy costs. In this cost-cutting environment, my client reduces cost energy costs by fifty percent or more.
Do your homework and look for where you can bring value. Your competition might be making poor tactical decisions in an economic slowdown─cutting back services, letting go of salespeople─so you may pick up new prospects or reclaim prospects who were difficult to sell at some point. In any recession, an account that previously seemed locked up by the competition could often be up for grabs, particularly by a company that better understands how to help that prospect, not only weather the slowdown but also prosper during it.
3. Get Better at Selling
With fewer sales opportunities and prospects in a down economy, you must do better with the ones remaining. Using a smart sales strategy has helped many salespeople improve to the point where they sold more in a so-called down economy than they sold when times were good.
For example, now is the time to improve your sales team’s process. In a market slump, it’s always tempting to try to take shortcuts, and many sales professionals will revert to bad habits. But slowdowns are when it’s most important to remember the basics.
In boom times, you can often get away with sloppy selling because of the abundance of business. In market downturns, you will pay dearly for every mistake you make. Consequently, when the economy heads south, it’s all the more crucial that you:
- Don’t try to rush a sale. Salespeople with trouble making their quota often get desperate, and the big temptation is to try to short-circuit the prospect’s buying process to push through a deal. But that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Trying to rush a sale will more than likely be counterproductive: the prospect will sense the salesperson’s anxiety and become more cautious, delaying the potential deal even further.
- Stay focused on the prospect’s buying process. Every deal remains the same no matter whether the economy is weak or strong; that is, you always need to cover all your bases at a prospect company.For example, you always need to satisfy technical “gatekeeper” (those who can veto your product because it doesn’t meet certain technical requirements), and you will never be able to close a sale without the approval of the “economic buying influence” (the executive who has the ultimate authority to sign the deal). In fact, in down markets, it becomes all the more important to cover your bases properly because prospects will subject their potential purchases to greater scrutiny.
- Concentrate on prospect results. When salespeople get into “push” mode, they can easily forget that the most important thing the prospect wants is results. This reality is especially true in an economic slowdown in which your prospect might be struggling to keep afloat.If you can help prospects improve their results, then they will be inclined to do business with you. Otherwise, you’re just adding to their background noise. Or, worse, you could be irritating or aggravating them.An example of that occurred at a former client of MHI Global─a large, multinational beverage corporation. Someone in the company’s marketing department had the brilliant idea to run a souvenir glass promotion by sending free drinking glasses with the firm’s logo to customer fast-food restaurants to help them promote the drink and sell more.
Unfortunately, the marketing folks didn’t take the time to float this idea by the sales department; otherwise, they would have learned that those fast-food stores didn’t have any room to store the glasses. Not surprising, the promotion was a huge flop, as the promotional glasses became more of a nuisance than anything else. Clearly, the marketing folks hadn’t thought things through, and in particular, they had lost sight of what customers did. And, more specifically, what they didn’t need to run their businesses better.
- Hold firm on pricing. In a market downturn, a big temptation is to slash prices. After all, if your product isn’t moving, then you need to offer discounts, right? But doing so will only open the door to additional price cuts in the future, and the huge danger is that you could eventually be cannibalizing your sales of other high-margin products.
4. Use a sales process
Of utmost importance, follow a formal, structured and optimized sales process. Without it, so much coaching time can be wasted while you try to figure out where a salesperson is in an already confusing sales process. Critical steps are often unknowingly skipped while knowledge of multiple terms and steps are needed. An effective process assures favorable outcomes and prevents salespeople from wasting valuable time on opportunities that are unlikely to close, especially in a long sales cycle. Without a doubt, a powerful sales process with clearly defined steps provides more consistent, predictable and profitable results.
I will be the first to admit that none of the measures on the list above is easy, and all are particularly difficult in a down market. But when times are bad, sales executives need to be especially vigilant about avoiding any shortcuts that might reap quick benefits yet be extremely harmful in the long run.
It’s important to remind ourselves that we can only control what we can control. Our thinking. Our attitude. Our time. Our actions. Without wanting to sound trite, we’ve got to stay positive. Watch the words you say to yourself. Watch your daily actions. Get aggressive with your goals.
And, above all, watch your relationships with existing customers. They are your source of strength during this time. They’ve already bought from you and will again, if you follow their buying process, sharpen your sales process, and deliver unquestionable value.
See you on the upside,
For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700