Tim Huffaker 2017

The current economic environment is difficult.  It is more challenging for some industries and less challenging for others.  However, every business has been affected in some way.

Every business is presented with three choices; the culminating result of the choice you make will surely mark the difference between the success or failure of your company.  This may come as sobering news, you should understand the impact of your choice at the beginning, instead of wishing you had chosen by being better-informed after the fact.

Each week I write about sales and this week will be no different.  However, one of the three choices management will make in these challenging economic times involves sales.  I will address that choice in a moment.  These are the three choices every company will ultimately choose from as they face the challenges of the current economy:

CHOICE #1:  Do nothing – business as usual.  Continue as before and turn a blind eye to what is taking place in the economy.  Hope against hope that what you are experiencing is not real and things will be the way they used to be when you awake in the morning.  Maybe everyone else is overreacting by believing changes need to be made when in reality, the current market is underrated.

CHOICE #2:  Accept that you are truly experiencing unusual times and it is time to pull in your spending and reduce your overheads. Cut back in all areas, reduce all budgets, eliminate all waste, and let everyone go that is not adding value to the bottom line. Eliminate those salespeople who are not producing and make do with the rest.  You believe that if “lady luck” smiles in your direction, you will have cut deep enough to ride this one out.  All indicators suggest that this strategy would be akin to being set adrift in the ocean and realizing you will never be able to make it to shore; you take a deep breath, sink into the water and hope you can hold your breath until someone can drain the ocean to prevent your drowning.

CHOICE #3:  Believe in your heart of hearts that even though the economy is worse than you have ever seen, that you do have the ability to turn your business around and even perform more profitably than before the economic crises.  With that belief, you will focus all of your resources and energy on increasing your sales revenue, bringing more profit into the business, and looking for ways to improve overall costs.  Never in the history of your company have sales been more important to your survival.  Your salespeople need to be at the top of their game in order to find every profitable sales opportunity instead of waiting for someone to walk in the door ready to place an order.  In today’s market, people are not walking in the door.  However, people have not quit buying either.

To survive the current market you must be proactive.  If you had ten salespeople before, you need fifteen well-trained, highly motivated, proactive “selling machines” now.  Most salespeople do well in good times and poorly in challenging times. Why?  Simple!  Most salespeople are order takers, taking credit for sales that your company would make even if you didn’t have salespeople.  In good times, you need someone to answer the phone and write up the order.  In challenging times, salespeople will tell you the sales are not to be had.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Sales opportunities are still there.  There are plenty of sales to be made.  They just require digging to find them and your salespeople don’t know how to dig.

This dilemma reminds me of Yellowstone bears in the early ’60s.  They became lazy and complacent in their search for food.  It was too easy to eat from the hands of the tourists, or just graze for food in the dump at the local campground.  They didn’t need to hunt or dig for food, they just went where food was handed to them.  A whole generation of bears no longer knew how to feed themselves in the wild.  They depended on handouts.  Salespeople have become like Yellowstone bears of the past.  They can make a sale (write an order) if a customer walks in the door, makes a phone call, or hands them the order, but they don’t know how to find the sale if it is not in clear view.

TRAIN YOUR SALESPEOPLE TO SELL!!   Don’t be satisfied with their excuses that the market will not support past performance.  Therefore, as a company, you’ll just have to accept whatever they can get.  Think about it.  Has your market become so small due to the current economic situation that if you had one hundred percent of the market you wouldn’t have enough?  There is still so much opportunity in this current market that if you increase your market share a few percentage points, you wouldn’t be able to handle all the business.  How can you expect your salespeople to do something they haven’t done in the past, just because the current economy requires it?   If they didn’t know how to sell when the market was strong, they still don’t know how to sell in today’s challenging market.  The market has changed but your salespeople haven’t.  

To increase sales, you have to do something different than you were doing in the past.  Train your salespeople to do what you now need them to do.  They need to be proactively finding new opportunities and closing at a higher ratio.  They need to be accessing needs, presenting solutions and becoming part of the answer that prospective customers are so urgently seeking.  Don’t expect the phone to ring, and don’t wait for someone to walk in the door placing a large order; it won’t happen.  As difficult and challenging as the current economy is, there is still all the business your company can handle if you have well-trained, proactive salespeople who are working harder than they have in the past.  Don’t accept any excuses from your sales department.  There is no reason your sales can’t be better now than before.  Increased sales can be a reality if you apply the correct formula discussed above in CHOICE #3.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.