You’ve heard the saying “tough times don’t last, but tough people do” and when it comes to sales, you must be tough to survive in the profession…it’s a given, but what happens when events seem to conspire against you and how do you find that ability to keep going, no matter what?
Let’s face reality here and it’s not easy to survive in the best of times and let’s take the technology boom of the 1990s when everyone wanted a piece of the action and was going to be the next Internet millionaire, amongst other opportunities.
People were starting companies left, right and center and in my industry, technology staffing, it seemed like we had companies starting almost daily with many simply using discounted pricing to win the business, without a thought for service delivery.
The resulting “bust” which usually follows the boom cycle, straightened out an over-hyped industry and as companies went, it sorted out the “men for the boys,” if I can still use that phrase in today’s world!
I have survived 3 recessions and some other “events” that would have tested many an entrepreneur and here I am going to share with you 7 simple strategies that will help you retain the focus to maintain and even increase sales, during the most extreme and toughest times.
What I have learned over the years is that in both good and bad times, there are opportunities and it is just a matter of staying calm and looking for them — not easy when your back is up against the wall but nevertheless you have to find a way to do so.
In reality, though, you should be following these strategies at all times!
#1 — Always remain sales focussed no matter what
You may think this is obvious, because us salespeople, business owners, and entrepreneurs are always sales focussed right?
Not always and in good, booming times, it is easy to become distracted by success and then to take our eyes off the proverbial ball.
It happened to me a few times in my career and I would drive myself hard to create revenue, then coast along until the sales dried up and then put my foot back down hard on the gas to get back on track.
I lost so much focus during these “coasting” times which has probably cost me a small fortune over the years and certainly frustrated a few sales directors!
Not so when I started my own company.
Now it was about everything I stood for and success had a direct impact on me…not any employer.
So I developed the mindset to stay hungry — even after signing multi-million dollar deals.
It didn’t matter.
I made sure that I was always intently focussed and committed to my goals of being the best I can be.
Takeaway #1 — never lose the hunger and when you feel you are, go back to that feeling you had when you started selling, or started your business and re-inject it into the present moment, no matter how successful you are.
#2 — Re-evaluate your sales value proposition
Your customers only ever buy the value that they perceive you offer and notice here the word “perceive.”
Perception is reality and when you enter tough times, it is essential to re-evaluate exactly what you are offering your customers because they certainly will be evaluating you.
As I said at the beginning, you should be doing this constantly anyway!
You are looking to make sure you have a “no brainer” value proposition, where your customer is compelled to buy from you, rather than you having to work hard and sell.
When times are tough, you have to adapt and in the post technology boom recession in the early 2000s, when my staffing company was suffering hugely because our customers were not hiring, I had to shift the focus to the benefits of hiring temporary workers, that could be used to keep operations running, but without the financial commitment of permanent employees and the fact that they would not appear on the balance sheet as headcount.
I was now selling to the finance department, rather than the senior executives that were responsible for finding scarce talent to meet their growing project demands.
The “deliverables” of our customers had changed.
Your value proposition must be clear. concise and have a tangible outcome for the person or company you are selling to.
No fluff, no BS, just a clear proposition that makes them want to buy.
Takeaway#2 — make sure your value proposition is a “no brainer” and compels the buyer to buy, rather than you having to “sell.” Most importantly, make sure it is finely tuned to your customers’ commercial commitments.
#3 — Tough times demand tough pricing
Customers always demand the best possible service and/or product at the best possible price.
It’s their dream.
The market dictates the price and you have to be in tune with the market, which again is something that should always be done, so you can learn to work in anticipation.
That’s what I learned from the financial world, especially the thought process of the investment community and hedge funds in particular.
In simple terms, these funds are able to make money from both good and bad times and use a number of diverse strategies to grow, constantly managing risk and reward and they are always working ahead…in anticipation of events.
They are constantly analyzing and predicting trends.
But many salespeople and entrepreneurs are out of touch and they fail to even look for trends.
Make sure you are always looking at the big picture and keep your research up to date and start to predict — you may find yourself being able to predict the next downturn, or better still, high growth opportunity.
Tough times put even tougher pressures into the world of business and that means that you must constantly be aware of what your competition is up to, as well as delivering the best in class service, with the best pricing.
I struggled with this over the years and I have been caught flat-footed by some competitors who could really deliver an equal service to mine, but cheaper.
No matter how hard I tried to counter their value proposition, my customers were confirming to me that it was true and my lack of invoicing brought home the stark reality.
If you are in this situation, you must act quickly and ignore the advice of the guru’s and advisors who tell you to stick to your prices and simply re-articulate your value proposition.
In my experience, which is based on real-world and real-time events, you will be watching your competitors gain market share, while you lose yours.
Remember also that your customers have access to a ton of information thanks to the Internet and they are more informed than ever.
Takeaway # 3 — beware of people who tell you to “hold your price” no matter what and remember that the market will take you where it wants to go. Try to get there quicker than your competitors.
#4 — If you want to sell, then sell to the top
Growing sales in any economic climate requires that you deal at the top and nothing else will do.
You need to engage with the people who can make decisions fast, sign the checks and more importantly, give you the ability to work strategically.
But to get engaged at the top, you must do your homework and I talk about this in more detail in this article:
Many sales hours are wasted by talking to the wrong people who simply cannot make decisions. In tough times, financial decisions are scrutinized and will more than likely fall into the hands of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
In reality, every decision will fall under the scrutiny of the CFO and the team, because money is being spent, but in challenging times, the level of scrutiny increases.
I always tried to engage at this level as a matter of course, because my compelling value proposition would have a financial benefit to the company, no matter whether I was selling staffing, outsourcing or software, which were the offerings of my companies at the time.
But those benefits varied — some allowed the customers to save money, others increased the cost to the customer, but those costs were re-couped because they were subsequently sold on to their own customers and there were situations where money needed to be spent to optimize operations.
It is always a matter of talking to the right people and I had one customer in Latin America that actually wanted to invest heavily during the banking crisis of 2008 as they had built up a “war chest” to do so.
I was engaged at the top with this company and was able to be involved strategically with the decision-making process at the time, which of course, was a huge benefit.
As I said at the beginning, you should follow these steps whether you are in tough times or not and it is always a good idea to connect with the top.
Takeaway #4 — If you are not engaged at the top then you are allowing others to influence the sales process and it is never a good idea to let someone else sell your own story — get to the top, in tough times or good! and remember, the people at the top have the best interests of their company at heart.
#5 — Don’t waste valuable presentation time
Once you are engaged at the right level, many good things can happen and if you have done your initial homework then you will be able to secure an appointment and here is where the magic can happen, or not.
You will have a limited time to make a first impression, so don’t blow it.
The goal here is to get in front of the audience and deliver your “no brainer” value proposition in a clear, concise manner and not to waste time.
People talk about overcoming objections in the world of sales, but for me, the phrase applies to amateurs.
The professional salesman already knows the objections and will have overcome them, at least in their heads — the presentation should do this in a very subtle and engaging manner.
Don’t be an amateur and your homework will give you all of the information to anticipate the objections and overcome them with ease, providing your value proposition is sound.
Also, make sure you are respectful of people’s timescales and never take up more time than you need — it is about delivering quality, in a “solution” manner rather than subjecting your audience to a mountain of PowerPoint slides.
Takeaway # 5 — Everyone is far more focussed in tough times, so make sure you match that focus. When you are engaging at the right level, you will find that decisions are far more “fact-based” than reliant on fancy presentations. Less is more.
#6 — Double down on your marketing efforts
It doesn’t matter what you are doing, re your marketing — online, offline or both…but you must double down on your effort.
Notice I say “efforts” because it does not mean cost.
If you are a traditional offline enterprise, then pick up the phone and if you want to learn more, then look at this article:
If you are using digital marketing strategies then make sure you are doing everything to promote organic growth before spending any cash.
Look deeply into those strategies.
You are only as good as the leads that come into your business and in tough times, leads tend to dry up, which is why you need to put more effort into your sales funnel.
Takeaway # 6 — You must work harder in tough times and forget about the “smart.” Smart comes later and it is when the hard work meets opportunity and in tough times, you simply need to outwork competitors.
#7 — It’s all in the mind
The video below resonated with me nearly thirty years ago and it still does today:
Boxing is a tough and brutal sport and there is a lot we can learn from sports and events with regard to selling and the world of business.
I will talk about me here and I was a shy, timid schoolboy who broke out of his shell through the practice of martial arts. My first teacher Kevin Brewerton was the man responsible for bringing me “out of myself” and I never looked back.
Never underestimate the power of the mind and in my nearly forty years of business and martial arts experience, I can tell you that it all rests in the mind.
My friend Fernando Raymond who is twenty years something my junior constantly amazes me with his resoluteness with regard to the power of the mind and meditates daily before embarking on a work ethic that would challenge the hardest working people and entrepreneurs.
It’s a journey that he dedicates himself to 24/7 and that is because it is also his passion.
You must learn to believe in yourself and it is not easy, as I know personally…but you have to learn to push and test yourself.
I am going to write a lot more about developing the right mindset because to me, it is more important than anything.
Takeaway #7 — You have to dig deep, remain focusses and put in the hard work with no excuses — this is what will make you tough, and being tough is one of the key secrets of surviving tough times.
But you already know that!
These strategies should be followed no matter whether you are in good or bad times, but if you do have the misfortune to suffer the bad, then they will help you get back on track!
Last modified: May 29, 2020