RISMEDIA, Nov. 17, 2008-It’s a tough time to be in sales. And if that’s not the understatement of the year, it’s got to be the runner-up. With consumers and businesses alike clutching their wallets in a death-grip, persuading them to trade their dollars for your services seems near impossible. You probably feel like you and your team have been treading water for months, trying not to drown in the anxiety that comes with trying to meet revenue goals when customers are slashing expenses. It’s almost enough to make you concede the fight.
But don’t cry “uncle” yet, urges sales strategy and peak performance expert George Ludwig. You can be successful in a tough economic climate. You simply have to reevaluate your sales strategies.
“If you and your sales team are struggling in this economy, giving up isn’t the answer; changing your course of action is,” says Ludwig, author of Power Selling: Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code (Kaplan Publishing, ISBN: 0-7931-8571-8, $19.95). “Managers must adapt to the current economic downturn and find sales strategies that work in the here and now rather than trying to rely on the same strategies that were working when things were going well.”
Ludwig offers three fundamental strategies for reaching sales success in today’s down economy. One, make sure your sales team has a positive psychological mindset. Two, laser focus how and where your team will spend their scarcest resource: time. And finally, coach your team to skillfully execute the critical sales “best practices” necessary to reach success and your revenue goals.
“A bad economy is not a sufficient excuse for not making sales,” says Ludwig. “A good sales manager will quell the attitude within his team and himself that it’s okay to come in under revenue goals in a slow economy. It’s not okay! With the right strategies, you can be successful, but first you have to have the right attitude. Once you’ve gotten that in order, you’ll be on the right path.”
Here are Ludwig’s strategies for finding sales success in a down economy:
1. Make Believers Out of Them
Give salespeople your best “I have a dream” speech. Pull everyone together (in person is best, but use the phone if necessary) and talk from the heart about your belief that sales success is possible. This is where you must convince people that you can lead them to victory. Your speech must highlight all the specific company and marketplace beliefs that are necessary for success. This speech doesn’t need to be more than 10 minutes long, but it must speak to the emotions and values of the team in a way that fosters commitment.
Reinforce the message with some one-on-one coaching. “Sales managers must encourage individual salespeople to kick some serious booty and take no prisoners in their pursuit of business,” says Ludwig. “Look for the good in your salespeople, catch and reward them doing things right, and help people feel absolutely superb about themselves.”
Fire them up-but don’t fire them. If you have a salesperson (or people) whose performance is dismal, don’t get rid of him or her (or them) just yet. Plan to take the issue up in the first quarter of 2009 and don’t discuss it at all right now. You must keep the positive energy at a peak level and have your salespeople as emotionally committed as possible in order to stack the deck in your favor so the company can sell, sell, sell during the down economy.
2. Be a Time Management Master
Sort out their selling funnels and create a short list. Ludwig says the sales management team, with the involvement of their salespeople, must evaluate each individual’s sales funnel to determine which opportunities he or she should pursue. Come up with a short list by looking at factors like:
1. What’s the size or profitability of the sale?
2. What’s a realistic evaluation of where the potential sale is in the sales
process and the probability of closing it by year-end?
3. What resources and actions are necessary to close the sale by year-end?
4. Are there any specific adverse customer behaviors as a result of economic conditions that may preclude them from being a hot-targeted prospect?
5. Are there any previous buying patterns the target has demonstrated as it relates to price, value, and purchasing urgency that might affect the opportunity?
“Once the short list of opportunities for every seller has been developed, have your salespeople prepare a brief strategy position (an assessment of where you are in the process) for each of the opportunities included on their short list of targets,” advises Ludwig.
Aim for the fruit closest to the ground. Consider a selling promotion targeted toward your current customers. In hard economic times, customers want to make safe choices with their limited funds, so they look to companies and products they know and trust. This is a good time for the sales and marketing to team up and offer one or more specific price promotions targeted to hit the sweet spot of your current customers who are in the best position to purchase right now. It also costs less and is considerably faster to sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new ones.
Grease the skids with quick communiqués. Now is the time to make quick wins. You can save precious time reaching out to your customer and prospect database, especially your identified targets, by using a variety of time-saving communication tactics. E-mail, snail mail, faxes, and telephone will all complement your direct sales efforts and keep you top of mind, which is extremely helpful when trying to close business as quickly as possible.
3. Coach ‘Em Relentlessly
Stick to your salespeople like glue. Now is not the time to let salespeople fly free, insists Ludwig. Instead, the entire sales management team (C-Level, too) should be co-traveling and coaching salespeople as much as possible. They should be there not only to encourage salespeople, but also to make sure that the company’s specific sales “best practices” are being executed with the customer at every interaction. “Coach and teach salespeople to improve key skill sets and you’ll help make sure every sales call ends with as positive an outcome as possible,” he says. “Sometimes this involves a diplomatic intervention to help advance a sale that would otherwise be stalled or stopped.”
Help them cut reluctant prospects loose. If you think a salesperson is courting someone who probably isn’t going to sign on the dotted line during a weakened economy, it’s up to you to help him or her disqualify the target. Salespeople are by nature optimistic, and so it often takes a gentle, caring sales coach to nudge them to move on to another target with a greater probability of closing.
Keep the “best practices” checklist in front of your salespeople. The “best practices” sales managers should focus on when they co-travel and coach salespeople vary from one company to the next. Still, says Ludwig, the following list outlines the most common “best practices” necessary for accelerating an individual sales opportunity as rapidly as possible toward closure:
1. Is this really an ideal target for quick closure?
2. Has the salesperson done the “due diligence” to be prepared for advancing this target to closure?
3. Has the salesperson identified all key buying influences?
4. In complex selling environments, has the salesperson cultivated a customer “coach” or “champion”?
5. Has the salesperson identified the pain or desire for gain the target is experiencing to a degree that closure can be facilitated within 90 days?
6. Is the salesperson prepared to open every sales call in a customized manner for each target that will generate curiosity and create a desire by the target to want to advance the sales process toward closure?
7. Does the salesperson have a list of well thought out questions designed to expand the relationship, establish credibility, diagnose the pain, and advance the sales process leading toward a quick closure?
8. Does the salesperson present and prescribe the product or service benefits in a way that leads to mental and emotional buy-in by the target?
9. Does the salesperson present and prescribe the product or service in a way that creates a sense of urgency by the target to proceed?
10. Does the salesperson repel and overcome objections in a way that doesn’t delay the sales process?
11. Does the salesperson always seek commitment and closure to advance the sale to the next logical step?
12. Did the salesperson get the sale, contract, etc.?
“With a few quick wins with current customers and some great new leads, you and your sales team can be successful in this recessionary economy,” insists Ludwig. “In fact, I’ve found that having such an uphill battle can be a factor that energizes people and helps them focus. Good salespeople love a challenge. Harness their competitive spirit and channel it in the right way and you’ll be amazed by what your team can accomplish even in the worst of times.”
George Ludwig is a recognized authority on sales strategy and peak performance psychology. An international speaker, trainer, and corporate consultant, he is currently the president and CEO of GLU Consulting. He helps clients like Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Northwestern Mutual, CIGNA, and numerous others improve sales force effectiveness and performance.
For more information, visit www.georgeludwig.com.