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How The Hell Do I Sell In This Environment?

September 17 2020 | by Ron Zayas

We now know why the Mayan calendar ended their cycle at 2012: they did not want to deal with 2020.

  • Pandemic.
  • Recession/depression.
  • A presidential election between a blowhard and a shut-in.
  • Bad hair days and Zoom meetings.

If it gets any worse, we will be waxing romantically about how quaint 2008 was. But let’s stay focused.

Right now a lot of people are in panic mode with some justification. But while selling in a recession can be challenging, it can be done. As a business owner and a salesperson I know there are techniques that work in tough times. Start with these three strategies: Sell more, build relationships, and be flexible (but don’t be stupid).

Sell more

There, that was easy. What more needs to be said?

Understand that every successful salesperson works harder during downturns. Instead of looking for reasons not to call, they call more people, they call more prospects, and they call their own customers more, because they know other salespeople are doing the same. During a recession, you have to play defense and offense: protect the clients you have, and take away business from others who are not as diligent.

Keep calling and contacting clients and prospects on the same schedule you were before the downturn and then add a few more every day. Not sure what to say? The next two sections will give you some solid strategies. Also, if you rely on other tactics like direct mail, email and social media marketing, keep an eye on the response rates because habits changed this year. Direct mail may be less effective since no one is in the office to receive the mail. People are spending more time online, but not all emails and posts are created equally. Change up your game to ensure that you aren’t destroying all of the air cover you need to make your direct selling more effective.

Build relationships

Sales are about relationships, and successful relationships are never one-sided. So how do I build relationships in sales? You ask good questions.

Instead of calling and trying to sell something, try leading with asking about your customer or prospect and how she and her business are doing. Ask about the challenges facing them, and then ask what you can do to help. This is also a good lead in to finding ways to make your business more flexible.

When you understand what your customers and prospects are going through, it will also give you a better idea of when your market will start to come out of the recession, which is a great thing to know.

Another way to build a relationship is to serve as a knowledgeable font of information. We have a lot of clients in the electronics industry, so we have been reaching out to help them engage with clients when tradeshows are non-existent. We have contacted our school district clients and provided white papers and podcasts to help them navigate reaching out to parents and students. When we find a success story – especially in non-competitive areas – we ask our clients if we can share those stories with others. The vast majority says yes, because they understand that helping others makes us feel less stress.

Is this actually sales? Of course it is. It builds relationships and creates opportunities. It also makes us better positioned when this ends to sell more. And it will end.

Be flexible (but don’t be stupid)

When things get bad, we tend to focus on what is wrong: people getting laid off, idle production lines, and slumping sales. But being flexible means looking at opportunities that emerge in tough times. Remember that prospect that always wanted impossible delivery times? Maybe now is the time to reach out and see if you can meet those demands, since your production schedule is less impacted.

Is there anything else you can make/produce/resell? A sign maker client of ours compensated for nose-diving signage sales by creating plastic sneeze guards for businesses. Same materials, slightly different process. They went from bust to boom, increasing margins while lowering costs.

Have a difficult prospect that wouldn’t give you a trial order before the pandemic? Maybe you can make them an offer they can’t refuse with a one-time price or turnaround that will get them using you.

Deep discounts and waiving fees can be effective in a recession if you use it to build trial, or as a one-time offer to surgically help good clients who need the help. If you act out of desperation, you may erode margins at a time when you can least afford it.

If the worst should happen

If you can’t get back into your groove, and sales continue to slide, try looking for partners. As any married person will tell you, two can live as cheaply as one. Look for opportunities to share rent, expenses and employees to help get you both through this situation. Split marketing costs with non-competitive businesses that have the same general clientele as you. Ask your landlord, vendors and lenders to help in any way they can. You would be surprised how helpful people are when they know we are all suffering.

Ask for our help if you need it

I hope these strategies work for you, but if you have an individual situation that needs more help, reach out to us. We are not going to charge you or upsell you – we’ll just listen and help you find a way to the light. It is in all of our best interests to see every business succeeding right now.

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