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How to Sell in Tough Times

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RISMEDIA, March 11, 2009-In a ravaged economy, salespeople are on the front lines, working harder than ever to keep sales moving despite vast reductions in spending and dwindling lines of credit.

Sales training needs have changed drastically due to the faltering economy, said Executive Professor Randy Webb, Director of Undergraduate Studies in The Program for Excellence in Selling at UH Bauer and former CEO of Uncle Ben’s Rice. The conference will address that landmark shift, with an emphasis on leading-edge issues in the theory and practice of sales management during a downturn.

“If you are a salesperson, you want to be well-prepared in a recession so that you have the knowledge, experience, determination and resilience to succeed,” Webb said.

Webb and Stephen Haines, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Centex Homes Houston, recently spoke about some of the strategies they advocate in difficult times. “Before, it was pretty much just keep people lined up and take orders,” Haines said. “Now is when you need real sales people to be successful. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.”

So, what constitutes a pro, as opposed to the “order takers,” sales people who are out in full force when the economy is great but who struggle in times like these?

“The better ones, despite the circumstances, are not likely to hunker down,” said Haines, who has managed sales teams for nearly 20 years. “They’re almost always out there thinking of a new way to generate sales.”

He and Webb recommend sales people get back to basics, offering these pointers:

• Accept, acknowledge and deal with the drastic change in the sales environment. “Face it head-on,” Webb said. “You can’t deny there’s a problem. People are going to be very wary about what they buy. First, they don’t have the money. And second, there’s fear. Look at the amount of wealth on paper that’s been lost.”

• Check your attitude if it’s negative and/or anxious. Attitude, more than ability, determines whether a salesperson will be successful, Webb said.

• Listen, then be a problem solver. This is not the time to market wants and wishes. “Your job is to uncover real needs. There has to be a real mutual benefit,” said Webb. Haines agrees, offering this perspective: “Don’t prescribe to your customer; discover the problem they’re having and come up with the solution.”

• Pay attention to details and don’t be afraid of repeating key points numerous times. Don’t assume a potential customer will remember what you say. “They can never hear it enough,” Webb said.

• Stay informed. “Read the Wall Street Journal; pay attention to what’s going on in Congress,” Haines said. Keep up on current local events such as company relocations, consolidations and other business activity, Haines noted. The information can then drive the way you or your customers do business.

• Conversely, don’t over-analyze all the negative news to the extent it keeps you from doing your job. One of Webb’s colleagues summed it up this way: “Close the newspaper, turn off CNN and go sell.”

The Sales Excellence Institute is a global hub for sales, sales management education and research, encompassing the Program for Excellence in Selling, the MBA Program for Sales Leadership and the Global Sales Research Center. SEI provides a link between UH Bauer and business, providing access to students, research and executive education.

For more information, visit www.salesexcellence.org.

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