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Strategies for Surviving the Economic Downturn
A number of the very successful sales reps that I coach have a strategy for winning that is worth considering. They do what entertainers, sports figures, and politicians do-they brand themselves.
This is what an economic downturn sounds like: "Although we believe
there continues to be strong demand for our solutions, several new
customer contracts that we anticipated for the quarter were delayed
due to the current economic uncertainties." Those were the words
of the president of a company that provides supply chain software
to manufacturing companies. The company's stock, which had already
been lagging, along with the rest of the technology sector, dropped
an additional 73% upon this news. But the real story for us is that
one or more sales professionals didn't deliver the contracts that
they had forecast. And unfortunately for us this is quickly becoming
the rule, not the exception.
Salespeople Are Optimists
We salespeople are, by nature, optimists. Since our success depends
partially our ability to paint a vision of success for our customers
and clients, we tend to look at the glass as being half full, rather
than half empty. That is not necessarily the best way to deal with
what we are all facing right now, when our customers are hunkering
down, sales have slowed, and no one really knows how much longer
this situation will continue.
What's a sales professional to do?
Here are five strategies for surviving as a sales professional
during these tough economic times.
1. Tighten Your Belt
The good news is that things are going to get better. The bad
news is not right away. In general the securities analysts and
press have not done a great job figuring out what is really going
on. That means it is extremely unlikely the situation will improve
before it has a negative impact on your commission check, if that
has not already happened.
I hate to butt into your personal life, but I have been through
this economic downturn thing before. We called it a recession.
What you have to do just what your customers are doing. Reduce
your expenses where you can, right now. If you are not on a budget,
now's the time to create one.
The pressure is on, but you will be able to deal with it slightly
better if you have taken whatever actions are possible to protect
yourself and your family.
2. Dig Deeper into Your Customers' Business
Your customers are most likely focusing on expense control. That's
what companies do during times like this. Their investments in
new products and new revenue sources have likely been curtailed
or will be shortly. Projects and initiatives are being scaled
back or eliminated entirely. Organizations are being downsized.
You need to explore what it is that your offering does that can
help them reduce their expense line, be more efficient or retain
the business that they already have. If money is going to be spent,
that's where it will go.
So the big question is, do you know, in specific and quantifiable
terms, the contribution your product or service will provide your
customer and by when they can expect those results? If you do,
you could be in the right position to make a sale.
3. Track Multiple Industry Sectors
If you are lucky enough to be selling a horizontal product or
service, ones that are applicable across multiple industries,
you may be able to find customers that are not suffering the same
level of economic insecurity. For example, as of this writing,
companies in the health sciences sector are holding up rather
well. They may be somewhat conservative going forward but may
not be as unapproachable as companies say in the software industry,
which has been hit hardest.
Another benefit of broadening your view is that you can keep
tabs on the industries or consumer markets that your customers
service. This will provide you with early indicators of where
you need to be focusing your time and what the short-term revenue
prospects might be. If your customers markets are going soft,
so likely will they.
Watching the technology sector is a good thing to do right now.
Some of your customers will continue to invest in technology going
forward to control expenses or keep their customers. Others will
wait until economic indicators start to show positive trends again.
When technology projects start reappearing, you can interpret
that as a good sign.
4. Make Sure Your Skills Are Fine Tuned
The fittest will survive. That not only goes for companies, but
more importantly for individuals as well. How do you get fit?
Make sure you are as competent at your job as you can possibly
be. That means knowing your customers' businesses, their industries,
your competitors, their competitors, their customers and their
people. Your business skills need to be current, especially understanding
where they are being affected by the economy and how badly.
Do you possess any wisdom about areas of their business where
improvement or efficiencies can be achieved? If so, you could
have a chance to provide products or services to help them along.
If your products or services are not a fit for their immediate
needs, staying close will provide you with the knowledge of when
the timing will be right for you to sell them your offering.
My clients tell me that competition is fiercer than it has ever
been. They say that due to the economy the pie is smaller, and
because of a proliferation of competitors, there are more pieces
being cut from that smaller pie. What a perfect time to really
dig into learning about your competition. How do they sell, what
are their strengths and weaknesses, how do they position themselves
against you, and what can you do to beat them? If money is being
spent, why shouldn't you be winning those opportunities.
5. Keep Your Customer Relationships Alive
Some of your customers may not be doing very well right now.
They don't feel good about their own businesses and they are likely
very uncomfortable about disappointing you. Whether it was an
order you were promised that has been postponed or outsourcing
your company provides that they have now decided to do in house,
taking a call from you might be make them just too uncomfortable.
Sales professionals who have survived and even thrived during
economic downturns will tell you that it is often the relationships
with key people in their accounts that got them through-an order
here, a referral there. Stay in touch, commiserate, and be patient-to
the extent that you can.
Stay the Course
Most of us have had a pretty good run. Any many of will have that
again. The challenge for us now is even while it is tougher to get
an order than it has been in the last decade, we need to get better
at what we do, stay close to our customers, become more effective
competitors and keep a positive attitude.
, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering
his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers
independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and
the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports,
online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to www.ESResearch.com
or call 508.313.9585
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