Five Strategies for Selling More in Tough Economic Times

The Canadian economy has been unkind to many sectors over the past few years. The mining, oil and gas, forestry and manufacturing sectors are all down, just to name a few. In tough economic times, you have two choices: You can choose a doom-and-gloom perspective, trimming staff and pulling back efforts in preparation for “inevitable” set backs. Or you can restrategize and refocus to go after opportunities in this new business context. Smart companies focus on building new business, creating new opportunities, opening new clients and closing more deals despite the declining markets. They turn the economic times to their advantage and manage to increase their market share by following these five strategies:

1. Keep prospecting when others have stopped.

When the economy is poor, your competition decreases, since some of them will no doubt choose the doom-and-gloom path and begin operating with smaller teams and a deficiency mindset. The most successful companies never stop prospecting for new business. Now is the time to build business with existing clients, lost clients and new clients. With existing clients, work to protect your business, increase your share of business and open new divisions. With lost clients, demonstrate change, fix problems and regain business. For new prospects, go after the most ideal clients and competitors’ clients. Successful companies broaden rather than narrow their view; they find opportunities for opening new territories, new industries and new products/services.

2. Reframe your value proposition to reflect current realities.

The most successful companies have a clear value proposition or unique selling proposition: an indisputable statement of what sets them apart. In tough economic times, these companies reframe that value proposition to reflect the sector’s economic challenges. Prospects and clients will be keenly interested in any product or service that will help them weather the poor economic conditions. Successful companies communicate this new value proposition in the following ways: (1) They speak first to what they can do for the client, including the problems they will solve or the opportunities they will enable. (2) They clearly differentiate their product/service from the competition’s. (3) They outline in bold terms the direct value they bring—such as lowering the client’s costs or increasing their productivity. (4) Most importantly, they prove it, with testimonials, case studies, project overviews, performance data and/or demonstrations. The proof gives every other statement its power—without it, the rest is just words.

3. Build client relationships based on trust.

The key to long-term success is building client relationships. What clients need most in tough times is a provider they can trust, an ally rather than someone simply looking out for their own bottom line. Now is the time to focus on strengthening relationships and growing your market share. It may even be worthwhile to lower the cost/margin of your products/services so that you can meet clients within their means and win or retain their business during the downturn. Building trust means putting clients first—listening more than talking, helping them avoid potential traps, educating them on new issues and outcomes, and above all delivering on your promises. Also central to building trusting relationships is following a defined sales process with both current and new clients. In simple terms that involves (1) preparation, (2) learning about and diagnosing the pain, (3) providing alternative solutions, (4) validating with a go-forward plan, and (5) providing follow ups and ongoing consultations.

4. Succeed through follow up and persistence.

Successful companies know that follow up and persistence win new business. When your client/prospect is cash-strapped and stressed in their own ways, they may not respond to your calls and emails immediately. Remember, they have other priorities on their mind—don’t take it personally. Gentle persistence is key in all follow-up activities. Prioritize sustaining your connection with clients and prospects, trusting in the eventual gains. This means any number of actions, including regular calls and emails, emailed meeting summaries and next steps, quotes and quote follow ups, or deliveries and after-sales support. It means taking control of the sales process, closing the sale, and most importantly, retaining the customer. The biggest failings of companies are poor follow up, no follow up, and giving up. As we all know, the work does not end with the sale.

5. Have a winning attitude and share it with your team.

Companies with a winning attitude and a focus on success sell more, no matter what the market conditions. In tough economic times, they know the competition is hurting and how that leaves the way clear for driving new business. They know that clients have new and greater needs that they can meet. They know that a positive outlook wins every time. It starts with the executives, who then share this winning attitude and strategy with their team by providing them with ongoing motivation and support along the path to success.

Mel Sauvé, PEng, MBA, is the president of Global Growth, a sales and marketing consultancy with rare frontline experience for supporting highly engineered, Canadian manufacturing and service companies that want to expand across Canadian, US and international markets.

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