Selling is tough work. Selling in hard times can be a nightmare.
But it’s a reality.
You’ve faced it. You will face it.
Whether it’s a once-in-a-century pandemic, once-in-a-lifetime natural disaster, once-in-a-decade recession or an annual industry downturn, every sales professional will need to forge through hard times.
“I actually go back a long way in economic history and I can confirm that whilst downturns are inevitable, so are the upturns that follow them. It never rains forever,” says Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World and Editor of Top Sales Magazine.
Accept the hard times with optimism – and overcome them with these eight proven tactics and strategies.
Visit the fundamentals
Many salespeople figure they need to try new things, take on different strategies or embark on uncharted territory when the selling environment goes to hell.
One expert says the exact opposite is the better approach.
“Think about when you were new to sales. What did you do each day? Probably not much compared to your activity when you were at the highest point of you career,” says Tom Hopkins, author of Selling in Tough Times: Secrets to Selling When No One is Buying. “However, the foundation laid then by gaining product knowledge, talking with others who were doing better than you, attending meetings and training classes, and making tons of calls to potential new clients set the stage for the growth that followed.”
Try Hopkin’s suggestions:
- Dig deeper. Pick up your product manuals or service features. Read, try and experience your solutions to gain more knowledge.
- Talk to colleagues, friends and retirees about your fears and the challenges you face. Don’t complain, though! Everyone is there. Instead, open the conversation for best practices, sound advice and some morale-building.
- Go to class. More time on your hands? Attend webinars. Watch inspiring TED Talks or inspirational videos. Find MOOCs on subjects that interest you or provide insight on an untapped market. Study your sales enablement material for areas to brush up on information and/or identify outdated information.
- Make more calls. Prospecting always seems hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible during a crises. In fact, some may be more reachable because their gatekeepers are doing other work or are off. Find new lists. Capitalize on old lists. Contact customers and ask for referrals.
Stay in motion
It’s so easy to get distracted in a crises. We tend to focus on what’s going on instead of how you need to respond and react to what’s going on.
“The better (sales professionals), despite the circumstances, are not likely to hunker down,” says Stephen Haines, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Centex Homes Houston. “They’re almost always out there thinking of a new way to generate sales.”
Part of this strategy is preparing somewhat before hard times hit – building partnerships and offering expertise that helps customers succeed in life and work.
But once a crisis hits, consider customers’ most critical needs and add immediate value in that area. For instance, if it’s an economic crisis, can you offer or direct them to resources to shore up finances or find cash flow. If it’s a natural disaster, just showing up to help clean up might be the most valuable thing you can do.
Limit your exposure
It’s practically impossible to ignore a crisis and the commentary and analysis that goes with it – especially in today’s 24-hour news cycle. All of the media and some of your colleagues, customers, friends and family focus on gloom and doom. Very few look for silver linings and bright sides.
That’s why sales professionals need to reduce exposure to constant negatives. You might have to limit the amount of time or number of resources you allow for news. Or maybe you need to step away from people who panic or always look on the dark side.
“The professional pessimist has a full-time job being negative,” says Tom Reilly, Chairman Emeritus of Tom Reilly Training. “Don’t give this much time and attention. Consider the source.”
But remember to be realistic: Times are tough, and you won’t be as successful as you’ve been … but it will get better.
“View success in the long term and failure in the short term. You are working diligently toward your success,” Reilly suggests. “That is your long-range goal.”
Know and review your strengths
If you don’t already keep a list of the reasons customers say they bought, turn to you for help and continue to buy from you, start that list now!
Review it – especially before you prospect or get into a discussion with a new or potential customer – as a reminder of what you do well.
You don’t have to brag, but you do want to talk about what makes you more valuable as a sales professional and business partner.
Stay in contact with current customers
Salespeople sometimes assume current customers are under great stress in a crisis and don’t want to deal with sales. But if you’ve already established yourself as a strategic partner, you most definitely want to reach out to current customers even more.
They might not be ready to buy more, but they likely appreciate your expertise for guidance through the tough times. And it can work both ways: They might have ideas and insight on how you can help your other customers who are harder hit than them.
Now’s the time to cement their loyalty.
Identify and help those in greatest need
In a crisis, some customers will need more help keeping their noses above a the water line. Try to identify those who most need help surviving the short-term. Then look for unique ways to help them get through this.
Try to connect your customers to solutions for their problems whether it’s something you sell or not.
For instance, you might identify joint ventures or partnerships between compatible companies you work with. Is there potential for one struggling organization to open up its idle resources to companies that need more capacity? Perhaps you see ways they can lower costs or areas where they can grow so they can weather the storm.
If you can add value now – even if you aren’t increasing your sales – you will create goodwill that will be rewarded when customers are thriving again.
Rethink your goals
In tough times, sales goals often get soft. When last quarter was bad, and the outlook is worse, sales leaders might lower goals to match the realistic conditions.
Voss Graham, Senior Business Advisor and CEO at InnerActive Consultion Group Inc., says, “Don’t be satisfied with goals that are passed down to you during this period. Challenge yourself to stretch your talent to new heights of goal achievement.”
- Spend more time planning how you’ll manage your pipeline and grow sales.
- Focus on emerging needs and companies. Identify new industries or companies that will explode because of the crisis – and how you can serve them.
- Create new selling plans and techniques to reach the new customer segments you envision.
Salespeople already put in a lot of hours. The new norm during and after hard times will likely call for a different kind approach to work.
It doesn’t necessarily mean working longer than you already do. But you might need to work differently – perhaps more early and late hours, and not so much during midday. You might want to adapt to more online, digital interactions and fewer in-person visits. Or, in some cases, you might need to make more personal visits and fewer email check-ins.
Check – and recheck – with customers on the best ways and times to keep in touch. Adapt to their new needs, and you’ll likely become the resource they need throughout and after the crisis.