I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Less than half of today’s business-to-business sales professionals have ever weathered a true economic downturn. These folks learned how to sell in the nifty ’90s, which was one of the longest business expansions in U.S. history. Hey, it’s not that hard to hit quota with double-digit market returns and huge growth in the number of new jobs. But what should you do when the economy starts to tap the brakes?
Rule one: Don’t blame the economy. Companies still have to buy goods and services no matter what the economy is doing. They may buy different, they may buy less, but they still have to buy. If you can’t convince prospects that what you’re offering is a solid investment with meaningful return, then maybe the problem lies closer to home.
Let’s look at this a different way. The major objection most reps face during slow times is, “I have no money.” How is that possible? If your customer has no money then they’re out of business. What they are really saying to you is, “Your ideas stink.”
What can you do to close more business in a slowing economy? Start by answering these three questions that will put you back on the path to success. I can’t guarantee that they will work for you, but I can guarantee that they work.
How much energy are you wasting on insignificant activities?
You’ve probably been told that business will improve if you just make more appointments, increase the number of demos, give more presentations and ramp up your number of cold calls. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing incorrect with increasing these selling activities; especially if you sell low-value products to one time customers.
Experience tells me that chasing everything that looks like an opportunity keeps you busy but makes you very ineffective. You’ll be working hard, but you won’t be working smart. Eventually you’ll burn out your prospects and yourself – toast for two!
Start today by requalifying every prospect and work on cleaning out your funnel. Focus on your best selling opportunities and put your energy there. You’ll create more success by investing the right resources into ten solid opportunities than you will by chasing 25 half-baked leads.
Are you making every conversation count?
Clients and prospects should be impressed with your preparation for every sales call. When you demonstrate that you’ve done your homework it becomes easier to have an open and honest dialogue with you. When the economy slows down, people get nervous. They don’t want to waste time meeting with sales reps unless they see some potential value.
The “smile-and-dial” mentality of simply pounding on more doors with the same pitch may produce extra appointments. But it also creates the fear that you’re going to sell them something that they don’t need.
Open your next client conversation with this simple phrase, “In preparing for this meeting I took some time to…” Then simply highlight the two or three critical things that you did to prepare and watch what happens to the atmosphere of the call. You will blow away the last rep that opened their meeting by announcing that they were just “checking in” to see if anything new was going on.
The goal is to stop “educating” your customers. They don’t care unless they are engaged. Talking about your company, your products and your reputation will not engage customers. Talk about them, ask about them, provide ideas for them and communicate in terms of them.
Who are you talking about – you or them?
Do you have any questions?
Knowledge is a key ingredient to sales success, especially in a slowing economy. The more you demonstrate knowledge, the more prospects will take time to listen. And the best way to establish expertise is not by pitching features; it’s by asking questions. Questions that can differentiate the value you bring to every call.
Many reps fall into the common trap of asking questions that are self serving. “What does your purchasing process look like?,” is a mind numbing, self serving question that doesn’t create new insights. Your customer hears these types of questions every day and they bring zero value to the dialogue.
Instead ask questions that get customers to stop and think. Ask questions they haven’t been asked before. Ask questions that get the customer to pause and say, “That’s a really good question.”
Creating high impact questions takes extra time. But it’s worth every minute. Start investing sixty percent of your time doing research, forty percent of your time making calls. I know this contradicts traditional wisdom, but this isn’t a traditional selling environment.
Don’t pick up the phone or walk into the lobby until you’re absolutely ready to engage in a meaningful dialogue. You’re not going to get a second chance in a slowing economy, so make sure every one counts!