Doom and gloom! It’s often the message given regarding the economy in the newspapers and on the television and when it is, if you are not careful it may be what you’ll end up thinking too. Before you go into your own version of a depression though here is a positive thought for you to contemplate; cometh the tough times, cometh the hour of the professional salesperson. Rather than being something which we should all be worrying and panicking about, tough times really present a golden opportunity for you as a professional salesperson to prove your worth and whilst it may be more difficult to win business, you need to remember that it is possible. In fact, tough times are actually a professional salesperson’s opportunity to remain consistently successful (even to increase their levels of success) whilst lesser mortals around them fall by the wayside.
To help you succeed where others fail here are some quick tips to abide by:
- Be proactive – keep on prospecting
- Keep moving projects through your sales pipeline
- Get more focused on your customers, prospects and suspects
- Differentiate your offer
- Justify and demonstrate your value for money
Let’s look at these individually in more detail:
- Be Proactive – Keep On Prospecting. Regular prospecting activity is the key to continued success, and it is never more important than when an economic slow down is predicted. Dedicate a period of time each week to finding new prospects to speak to. Discipline yourself to do this. In tough times this is not an option … it is a must. Set a target for the number you will find. The age old rules apply; look for prospects who are similar to your existing customers (their competitors perhaps?) or who are located in similar geographical areas, share the same demographics (i.e. size, turnover, application for your products &/or services, circumstances, etc…). then take the necessary action. Ask for referrals whenever you are speaking with your existing customers, make the phone calls, write the introductory letters or knock on the doors, however you do it … just do it! The lesser mortals I mentioned earlier are too busy worrying about how bad it is, or will be to be doing this!
2. Keep Moving Projects Through Your Sales Pipeline. With new opportunities being sought and identified ensure the ones you have are being moved through your sales pipeline. Identify the steps you take to progress an enquiry through to becoming an order and create a sales process (structure) which you can use to identify where you are, see where you need to go to next and what you need to do to ensure you get there. I developed and use a generic sales process model called The 7 Steps from Interested To Sold which are simply; Reason (for buying or at least talking to you – which is generated by a prospect who has identified a need and makes an enquiry with you (a reactive opportunity) or by you contacting the prospect with something you believe can help them (a proactive opportunity)) – Investigation (of their current situation – and of where they will be with your help) – Benefits (of your solution – to create differentiation (see point 4 below for more detail) – Verification (that this is a live opportunity that can become a sale) – Generating Your Presentation (matching your benefits to their needs) – Objection Handling (if needed – and too often it is because too many of us do not always cover the first three stages as well as we should do or because our prospects may not have told us everything we needed to know) – Yes (asking for and obtaining commitment).I would advocate you break down the steps involved in your sales process against this 7 stage process and then against each identify the actions you need to undertake and the tools or information you need to use to best achieve a successful outcome from the action. This can be represented as a process map on which you can monitor your progress and prepare for the next stage (as demonstrated below). You can write down the actions you need to conduct at each stage, identify the information you need and the questions you need to ask, etc… and use this to set objectives for your sales calls and activity to ensure projects keep on moving through, so you keep on turning prospects into customers and opportunities into orders. The diagram below shows the 7 stages mapped out and highlights a few pointers we need to consider when contacting a prospect and instigating the conversation (an outbound proactive sales call). We have this completed for every stage and also identify what tools we need (i.e. on the reason stage we would use names of other clients, testimonials, referrals and measures of success to make the opening message more powerful).
In tough times your prospects will need you to be; thorough in terms of understanding their needs, capable of demonstrating you have understood them, able and willing to fulfil them and will need to feel even more confident and secure that you are the ideal supplier / partner for them than in easier times. They may also need more assistance in making a decision which in less challenging times carries less pressure.
3. Get More Focused On Your Customers, Prospects and Suspects. Know as much as you can about the people and the businesses you are working with. Spend time researching them and understanding them. Who are they? How do they operate? How much do they turnover? What do they spend and with who? Who makes the decisions and how do they make them? Recognise the value you bring to them and make sure they recognise it too. Research over the years has identified that a supplier usually can increase it’s business with its customers by around 20% by taking a fresh look at them and what they buy (and understanding why they buy it) – yet too many businesses do not do it because they are too busy doing what they do already. They spend lots of effort (and money) chasing new business and yet are not maximising their existing customers! Wherever we have worked with a client on this a 20% increase has been achieved through simple sales monitoring and management tools.
You may get away without knowing as much as you could know in easier times, you won’t in tough times. You need to know who they are, how you can help them and prove the best case that you genuinely have something to help them (after all it will be tough for them too) and you can only do that by having the knowledge and applying it – and that is the sign of a true professional.