Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Selling in a slowing economy

5 strategies for growth in a tough market

I’ve often said to sales teams I work with if you can’t really sell you should get a job in the post office, or perhaps the library.

When the economy is bubbling along the old adage about being in the right place at the right time will always ring true.

This blog shows you 5 strategies that will ensure you can weather the storm as the economy rapidly slows.

Who wouldn’t be able to make a few dollars as a mortgage broker in a strong housing market? What about selling real estate in the same market? Not too tough. When the stock market is hot and everyone is trading it must give you a sense of comfort to know that the calls and the orders will keep coming in. How about being a financial planner when people are flush with funds and the superannuation laws change every 3 years?

You’ve probably noticed in the past 6 months that the economy is shifting. Customers are becoming more demanding. Purchasing decisions are taking longer to make, even avoided. Your customers will still need to buy products and services but perhaps not as many as last year.

They may not be as flush with funds now as they were over the past 10 years.

Now is really a great opportunity to try and ascertain if you really are cut out for selling. Get through the next few years and you know you are in the right profession.

At NRG Solutions we sell a service, primarily its professional development. You could argue it’s a non-essential spend in a tight economy. Many of my prospects and clients are doing a good job of positioning this with me at present! Obviously I beg to differ, but I’ll cover that in more detail in my next article.

Selling and surviving in a tight market – 5 strategies you must apply

1. Focus on selling additional value

You’ve probably recognised that your customers will have become more discerning. They are on the lookout for discounts and deals. I’d argue they still need to purchase your products or services, although probably in smaller volumes.

In a tight market they may be more inclined to push harder for discounts or extended trading terms. By all means consider those options. Over and above sell value. If you are nothing more than a talking brochure then your time is limited. Buyers have a multitude of purchasing options that didn’t exist in the past. These include buying on line, 1800 numbers and purchasing through resellers. You need to offer real business value. The best way to do this is to try and understand your customers. What are their real needs? Where are their issues? Ask questions, observe, listen and take notice of how they operate. It’s the best way to provide real value.

Examples of additional value would include:

v Additional in-office or in-store training at no additional charge
v Email and telephone support included as part of the initial project or purchase
v Providing on-site support and access to specialists
v Upgrades to later versions as part of the initial purchase
v Add on services (seminars, related products, etc) bundled into purchases

2. Widen the top of your funnel

Depending on what you sell, you will notice in a tight market that your conversion ratio will be dropping. In a strong economy you may win 70% of the projects you quote on. Pitch for 10 jobs and you’ll win 7. To win 7 new jobs in a tough market, you may need to pitch for 20. Your conversion ratio will almost certainly be a lot lower.

When the going gets tough, you will need to take more shots to achieve the same results.

Michael Jordan argued that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. You will need to take more shots in a tight market.

Consider how you can use technology to help you take more shots. Change your phone plans so you are not paying excessive amounts to make more calls. Refine and improve your database. Create email newsletters of value. Make more quality calls more often. Ask existing satisfied customers for referrals.

3. Develop some great objection handling techniques

You know you will be hearing plenty of these comments:

v “Now’s not the right time, money is tight”
v “Things have slowed down a bit at present”
v “We’ve actually got a freeze on non-essential spending at present”
v “We’re cutting back in that area”

Like a boy scout, a true sales professional will always be prepared.

Plan well in advance how you will be responding to these sorts of comments. I’ve been trying a few of the following responses and have been having some success.

“That’s ok – let’s only do a smaller part of the project at this stage”
“I’ll do the work now and invoice you next quarter”
“How can we find funding for this? What other budgets could be accessible?”
“What do you suggest we should do to get things started?”
“Have a complimentary place this time. It’s the least I can do”

4. Focus on strengthening existing relationships

The reality is that when the market gets tight your best opportunities will exist with the clients who are already purchasing your products or services. Spend time with these accounts and focus on how you can further strengthen the relationship.

This could involve extending terms and conditions, drawing up a preferred pricing agreement, perhaps collectively sitting down together and working out the best way to work together in this economy. The chances are they are feeling the pain as much as you are.
Recognise their loyalty and reward it. These are the accounts you cannot afford to lose so don’t let your competitors get under your radar. Invest appropriately and put enough bricks in the wall to stop these accounts from escaping and to ensure against competitor activity.

5. Invest in yourself

I’m probably biased on this one as this is the core of our business. I’d say the 2 best things you can invest in would be:

1. Yourself
2. The key relationships in your life

By investing in yourself you will remain in touch with fresh ideas. Keep yourself sharp and focused by reading widely, attending relevant programs and continually working on strategies for business and personal growth. Transfer these ideas back to your customers and you start to create real business value (see point 1).

If you are not growing and developing as an individual, then I’d say you are of limited value to your customers in the long term. Pablo Cassals (Google him) was asked at the age of 95 why he was still practising the cello for 20 minutes a day.

His answer? “Because I’m still making progress.”


Stop talking about how it’s getting tougher. Do something about it. Get busy with lifting your activity levels and deepening your relationships with your best accounts. Be prepared and be creative about how you deal with standard objections. You need a plan and you can’t expect to achieve the same results in this market by applying the same approach you took in a strong economy.

“If you change nothing, nothing changes”

1 comment:

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