One of my greatest frustrations with salespeople revolves around the notion that sales performance is mysteriously tied to trends in the economy. In other words, if the economy is good, sales are good; when the economy is bad, sales are bad.
Nothing could be further from the truth, yet sales results typically parallel the trends in the economy. Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you believe you can, or believe you can’t, you’re right.” Salespeople need to believe in themselves, not in what others think or believe. Let your competition believe there will be fewer sales during a challenging economy and then you dig deeper and work harder than ever before. You will not be disappointed with your sales results.
A few years ago I was working with one of my clients who was a paving contractor. Times were tough. It seemed there was not enough work to keep those in the industry busy and profitable. Several paving companies laid off crews, sold equipment and priced what work they could find, at cost, just to keep their remaining employees working. My client stayed incredibly busy and profitable during this difficult economic period. In order to handle the increased workload, they hired the paving crews laid off by their competition and purchased their competitor’s equipment at auction, for pennies on the dollar.
The work was not easy to find, and it was not found in the usual places as when times were good, but it was there. These skilled and hard-working salespeople didn’t concede to a declining market, but found opportunity amidst difficulty. They had their best year ever while their competitors were experiencing their worst. Their margins increased by eight percent and their total volume of work expanded by more than two and a half times. I’m reminded of the poem entitled, “Now Let’s All Get Down to Work”.
Said the Little Red Rooster, “Believe me, things are tough,
Seems that worms are scarcer and I can’t find enough;
What’s become of all those fat ones is a mystery to me;
There were thousands through that rainy spell, but now where can they be?”
Then the Old Black Hen who heard him, didn’t grumble or complain—
She had gone through lots of dry spells, she had lived through floods and rain.
So she flew up on the grindstone, and she gave her claws a whet,
As she said, “I’ve never seen the time when there weren’t worms to get.”
She picked a new and undug spot; the earth was hard and firm.
The Little Rooster jeered, “New Ground! That’s no place for worms.”
The Old Black Hen just spread her feet—she dug both fast and free.
“I must go to the worms,” she said, “The worms won’t come to me.”
The Rooster vainly spent his day through habit, by the ways
Where fat round worms had passed in squads, back in the rainy days.
When nightfall found him supperless, he growled in accents rough,
“I’m hungry as a fowl can be. Conditions sure are tough.”
He turned then to the Old Black Hen, and said, “It’s worse with you.
For you’re not only hungry, but must be tired, too.
I rested while I watched for worms, so I feel fairly perk
But how are you, without worms too, and after all that work?”
The Old Black Hen hopped to her perch and dropped her eyes to sleep,
And murmured in a drowsy tone, “Young man, hear this and weep,
I’m full of worms and happy, for I’ve eaten like a pig. The worms were there as always—but boy, I had to dig!”
Here are ten solid principles and skills salespeople can apply to increase their sales in a challenging market.
- Change your thinking. Believe your sales can increase even when the market is declining.
- Work harder than you have ever worked before. Difficult times require extreme effort.
- Put in the time. Plan and schedule a full eight-hour sales day. That means eight hours finding and developing sales opportunities.
- Set very specific daily, weekly and monthly goals with activities directly focused on achieving those goals.
- Define your sales process and focus only on those specific activities that will generate sales. You don’t have time to do “stuff”.
- Do not error in believing you are getting one hundred percent of your current customers business. Make contacts at all levels and within all departments, groups, and subsidiaries, to be certain you are not leaving anything for your competitors.
- Make a habit of telling everyone you meet what you do for a living. If they need your product or service, then sell to them. If they don’t, then ask for their help in introducing you to those who may need your products.
- Contact every company or individual who has purchased from your company in the past ten years.
- Ask every current customer for leads and referrals. Define for them precisely what you are looking for in a lead or referral. Everyone knows someone; don’t take “no” for an answer.
- Review your performance and success daily, and recommit yourself each day to following your plan, regardless of how difficult it may be. Remember, a difficult economy requires rising to the challenge.