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Sales Survivor: Three Strategies to Help You Meet Revenue Goals Even in the Recession

By George Ludwig

If you’ve spent the last couple of months wringing your hands, wondering how you and your sales team are going to survive the recession, it’s time to man up. Here are some strategies for helping your team hit your revenue goals even in the worst of times. 

It’s a tough time to be a sales manager. 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 goods and 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, don the paper hat, and practice asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

Don’t cry “uncle” yet. 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. 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.

There are 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. 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 a few strategies for finding sales success in a down economy: 

Strategy #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 ten 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. 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.

Strategy #2: Be a Time Management Master

• Sort out their selling funnels and create a short list. 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.

• 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 department 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. Email, 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.

Strategy #3: Coach ’Em Relentlessly

• Stick to your salespeople like glue. Now is not the time to let salespeople fly free. 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. 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-t
ravel and coach salespeople vary from one company to the next. Still, 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 purchase order, 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. 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.

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About the Author:

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.

Though it’s George’s strategies and processes that help corporations increase productivity and performance, it’s his tremendous energy and dynamism that spark the transformation. Again and again, clients remark on his amazing ability to unleash human capacity and inspire men and women to break out of their comfort zones. The result is a whole new type of salesperson.

His customized presentations teach achievers to make stunning advances in their lives. From helping salespeople realize cherished dreams to helping corporations exponentially accelerate revenue streams, George Ludwig leaves audiences and individuals empowered, emboldened, and clamoring for more.

George is the best-selling author of Power Selling: Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code and Wise Moves: 60 Quick Tips to Improve Your Position in Life & Business. He’s also a columnist and frequent contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, Selling Power, and numerous business radio programs. Having gained a reputation as a thought leader in his industry, he is frequently interviewed for trade publications and newspapers.

About the Book:

Power Selling: Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code (Kaplan Publishing, ISBN: 0-7931-8571-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and from all major online booksellers.

Kaplan Publishing, a Kaplan Professional Company, is the nation’s premier trainer and information provider for business and financial leaders committed to profiting from breakthrough ideas. Kaplan Professional provides licensing and continuing education training, certification, professional development courses, and compliance tracking for financial services, legal, IT, and real estate professionals and corporations.  Kaplan Professional is a unit of Kaplan, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO).     

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