Scary Times Needn’t Stall Selling


By Julie Thomas

Even in this uncertain economy, it's still very much possible for your reps to make the sale. While some things may have changed, the bottom line is that companies are still in business and work is still getting done.

So the real question becomes, what can sales professionals do today to position themselves for success during these turbulent times? Here are a few keys to making and even exceeding your quota in a down economy.

• Focus on the positive. Right now, it's very easy to be overwhelmed by negative messages and bad news. Bad news is always more interesting than the good—that's just human nature. But to be successful during this time, attitude is very important. Tune out all the information that is not helpful to you. Turn off the 24-hour news cycle and the minute-by-minute updates from the pundits. For sales managers and sales representatives alike, there is quite a bit going on in the market that is outside of everyone's control. Thus, it's important to focus on those things that can be controlled. This doesn't mean hiding your head in the sand, but rather, finding opportunity and positive news even in the most difficult times.

• Focus on your customer with empathy. The best salespeople in any industry are the ones who know how to solve customer problems. The problems facing your customers and prospects are not going away and, right now, they may even be magnified. But things may be changing for your customers that will impact your sales cycles. In difficult times, people become much more risk-averse. Our jobs will have to become focused on risk mitigation for our clients. This risk aversion may manifest in multiple ways, including longer time to make decisions and more people involved in each of those decisions.

• Focus on real value. Now, more than ever, real value must be understood by your customers and prospects. Soft-dollar ROI may no longer be enough to justify the decision to purchase. In difficult times, clients expect the time-to-value to be short. In other words, in good times it may be okay to realize ROI in 18 to 24 months. Now, the ROI expectation may be six months in order for the project to get funded. Clients will be focused on real monetary gains as a result of their investments. Are you positioned to save them money or grow revenue?

• Focus on preparation. The top 20% of sales executives will not be affected by this economy. They will outprepare and outsell their competition. Sales executives do not have the luxury of just showing up for a sales call and hoping that they stumble across an opportunity. They need to be purposeful, customer focused and ready to execute. More time needs to be spent understanding your clients, their industries and markets and building creative solutions with them.

• Focus on activities. Increase your activity by 35%. Yes, 35%. The trap many sales executives fall into during a down economy is to reduce activity and cling to their pipeline. More prospects and more sales calls will be needed to meet quota and objectives. Ditto for new business calls, as well as calls to engage current prospects and qualify them. Your reps should leverage existing relationships and referrals at every opportunity where they interact with someone.

• Focus on qualification. World-class sales organizations make the most of sales methodologies and sales processes. These top companies have customer-centric processes that leverage best practices and repeatable strategies. Mastering prospect qualification is a multidimensional process. Many sales executives only focus on who has the budget—but just because someone can, doesn’t mean they will. Your prospect qualification process is reverse engineered from how your prospects will make decisions:

Should I buy this?

Can I buy this?

Is it worth it?

Am I convinced?

These are questions that need to be answered with prospects before investing time and resources in a sales cycle. If the prospect is not qualified, better to let them go and find someone who can be qualified in this economy.

Remember, your competitors are facing the same difficulties that you are. Stay calm, stay focused and look for their vulnerabilities in the marketplace. You should be playing both defense and offense with your current customers to defend your position. By staying focused on the customer, you will not be outsold and you can win the customer's business and loyalty.

November 12, 2008 from Sales & Management Marketing Magazine

by Julie Thomas, president and CEO of ValueSelling Associates (