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Selling In A Tough Economy

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In late 2008, the economy started to take a turn for the worst. People were uncertain about what was going to happen. As we all know, the financial collapse took us for a downward slide into the abyss of fear, doubt and insecurity.

Now that 2009 has hit, we are dusting ourselves off and facing the abundant challenges ahead. Unemployment is at an all time high due to layoffs... It has been compared the dirty 30s.

In short, both consumers and companies are being extremely conservative until they wait and see what happens.

Anyone can try to predict what will happen. The pundits can look at their crystal balls, analyze their charts and come up with their best guesses. In reality... nobody really knows. It is also unclear how long our economy will be in trouble. The only thing we are certain of is what we are prepared to do to improve our odds for success. What is my prediction?

As sales professionals, this is both good and bad. It is good because the best sales people will come out of this better and stronger than ever. They will have earned their way to the top by further strengthening their relationships with their clients and keeping them for the long term.

It will be bad because the companies and their sales people who are not ready for the challenges and changes ahead will be cleaned out.

As mentioned, businesses are tightening up on their spending. They are in survival mode. The sales that were given to us just a few years ago have all but dried up. There are few freebies that can be expected.

We are about be tested. So strap on your battle armor, pay a little homage to Darwin and get ready for a feast of humble pie.

Be adaptable to change: In order to stay in the game, we will have to adapt. This is the most important consideration we will have to make. It's easy to play trial and denial...to hope that business will remain strong if the same things are done that worked before. Then be in denial when it doesn't work.

Survival of the fittest applies to business and sales. Figure out your challenges and adapt your strategies to win business. Measure what is working and tweak as necessary. Most importantly take notice of what is going on around you. Try to be an innovator or early adopter.

I truly believe these ideas for adaptability will certainly help you stay above water as we all ride the economic waves of uncertainly. Adopt the latest technologies that apply to your business.

If you don't you might end up like the newspaper industry in the United States.

Circulation rates are way down because people can get their news for free online. Advertisers know this, so they are not buying news print as much as they did before. Since advertising has been cash cow for newspapers, and the publications cannot persuade them to buy, the business model is drying up fast.

Newspapers are folding at an alarming rate because they still have huge overhead costs, such as staff salaries & printing presses, debt etc. They can no longer rely on the past advertising to pay their bills. The inability for them to adapt their business model and monetize the internet is killing them. Just look at the Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C. They filed for bankruptcy protection a month ago. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is done after146 years. This is sad, but true.

Stay true to your core principles: Having the resolve to stick to your core ideals will put you in a position of power.  It will be hard, but seek creative solutions to attract business by being different and better. Buyers will be drawn to those companies who are firm and consistent with their values. They know that you are stable and reliable.

Sales people who avoid the temptation to deviate from their core values will emerge victorious following this economic unrest. There will be many sales people willing to change their values to survive. This will only confuse the buyers and result in lost sales.

For example: Dropping your prices to get business. If you have done well at a fair price, it is a mistake to drop your price due to economic pressure. Why? It could turn into a domino effect. Your competitor will see the price drop and reduce his price. Then the next guy will drop his price and so on.

What started out as a $5,000 purchase may end up as a $2000 purchase. This price reduction sends 2 really bad messages. 1) Your product or service offering carries little value. 2) Your price was too high in the beginning so it appears that you were robbing your existing customers.

What eventually happens is terrible. The loss of business will leave many battered and beaten, left to lie there licking their wounds as the casualties pile up all around them.

The strong sales people will find a creative way to emerge victorious. They may end up with fewer, yet better qualified clients willing to ride along side for the long run.

So what ever your core values are, don't compromise them. Instead, use them to your advantage as a competitive edge to show how stable you are in this tough economy.

Improve every part of your sales game: As companies tighten their purse strings, you as professionals must look at all of your sales tools and sharpen them. If they are sharp, try not to lose the edge.

Some of this might sound like common sense... well it is. However, just because we know we should be doing something does not mean we will. It seems to be human nature. Many people start smoking even though they know it's not healthy. See what I mean?

Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges sales people have is appropriate follow up. It is no longer acceptable to follow up later when you have the time. Instead, make it a priority to follow up when agreed upon.

Take a look at the 5 stages of the sales process. There are a variety of names given to theses stages. But for argument sake, let's call them:
  1. Prospecting (Looking for new business, follow up)
  2. Qualifying (Determining if the business is appropriate for you and the client)
  3. Covering the bases (Clarifying the details of the agreement, covering objections)
  4. Closing (Gaining commitment
  5. Nurturing the client (Ensuring client satisfaction & selling ad on products and services)

If you are part of a sales team then find out which one of you is the "super star" in each stage. Pick each others brains on the topics and test one another. If additional outside training is required, then arrange for it.

At one point, I offered a service where I called the customers of my clients to evaluate their sales experience. By having an outside service do this, my clients gained valuable insights for improvement. It is usually easier to be honest and critical to those we don't know. So if you chose to go this route, your clients might be more open to speaking to a 3rd party rather than your company.

If you have earned your way to solid relationships with your clients, call them and ask them how your can better serve them in relation to the 5 stages.

Perhaps you could work with the customer service people at your company to launch a survey to determine your challenges.

The challenges in this tough economy are just beginning. As the wave rolls in it will do what it is going to do regardless.

The impact we make as individuals is the difference that will set us apart as we move forward. In my opinion, the way to stay in the game is by being truly honest about the sales practices we adopt on a daily basis. We need to continually seek ways to better our current situation.

How ever we choose to interact with our clients, we must try to be better, faster and smarter than before. We can look beyond the norm for creative ideas to implement...be different.

Be true to your core values and make it known that you won't sell out because the "other guy" did.

Most importantly, try to keep focused and resilient as the economic storm makes its way across our business landscape. All the best to sales success!

Feel free to let me know what you think.

Comments are welcome.
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