I read an interesting Associated Press article recently, which reported on the results of a recent survey conducted by the National Association for Business Economics. The summary is that business economists, by and large, are more pessimistic about their firms’ future sales and profits than they were last fall. And there is a generally gloomy view of expected economic growth for 2016. Bummer. But this made me think about what a company and their sales team can do to counteract the sluggish economy.
We get the opportunity to work with so many great companies because leadership is frustrated by insufficient growth in the boom times. But, we seem to get an extra jolt of interest in our services during economic slowdowns. Typically, that is because the lack of sales effectiveness has been masked by the growing market. And when the economy turns sour, these imposters are revealed. And, too often we see that leadership is accepting the salespeople’s excuses for slowing sales. As if a slowing economy is justification for lower sales. It isn’t. The smartest, most adept salespeople and managers generally know that during an economic slowdown, there lies tremendous opportunity to pick up market share. If well-executed, this strategy should buoy sales some now, but will boom when the economy turns back around.
The Economy is No Excuse to Give Up On Sales
While it is a fact that your industry or your market might suffer when a segment of the economy is not growing, there is rarely a time when purchasing activity stops completely. These occasions take leadership to drive the right behaviors in your sales team. While the Fed seems to believe that all is hunky-dory, the business economists are concerned about stagnation or, at least, slower growth. Therefore, now is the time to strategize about how you will lead your team to execute repeatedly even during slow times.
We have seen companies that are negatively impacted by the sluggish economy, and their leadership feeds the problem, by broadcasting only the state of affairs with respect to the economy. What they ought to do is provide a roadmap for what the sales team should be doing during these slowdowns. The timing is right to strategize about exactly what behaviors and activities you want from your team towards a specific end goal. Maybe it is to increase market share by a certain amount. Maybe it is to take market from a specific competitor. Unfortunately, in the absence of a game plan that is articulated to the sales team, some may believe that they have no influence over their circumstances. They may believe that they are just subject to the poor economy. Therefore, they get wrapped up in who isn’t buying, or what they can’t do. Then they fall into bad habits. To magnify the problem, too many mangers and leaders accept their excuses as the norm.
What is needed is some creative thinking about how the sales team can attack the market with the specific intention of winning market share.
Here are two specific strategies for sales during an economic slowdown:
- Be more focused and in tune with what your current clients and customers are doing. Who IS buying? Also, be focused on who ISN’T buying. But rather than just trying to “sell” them your product or service, take the time to get to know how the slowdown might be impacting their company and them personally. Now is the time to get empathetic and personal. Now is the time to double-down on figuring out what problems you can solve for them. Now is the time to provide extra value to them. Be present with them and engaged. (See our post on the Elements of a Quality Sales Conversation, here).
- Because your competitors are made up of inferior sales teams, they will be facing the same problems with complacent salespeople and lack of leadership. They will likely be LESS present with their customers (the opposite of what I suggest in #1, above). Oh sure, they might be visiting their customers — but they will be doing it just to hang on and won’t likely be going deep with them because they are concerned about being too personal, too pushy or too probing. They are afraid to do that for fear the client or customer won’t like them. You have to act differently if you want to be treated differently. Focus in on those non-clients where you can articulate a differentiated value. Operate as a consultant and provide value, even when they might not have a big budget to spend now. Lay the groundwork for future business. Set the covenant that they will consider your services when the budget comes back because you have been there helping them now when they don’t have one.
Sales Leaders Show Up Even in Economic Downturns
During economic slowdowns, leaders must be present with their teams. They must guide their thinking with regard to what it means for their approach to sales. They must NOT accept excuses; rather they should help the team members problem solve and devise an actionable plan of attack. I am not saying turn a blind eye to the market environment. Rather, accept the market as it is and then ask your team members what they are going to do to counteract the ill effects of a sluggish economy. It might take extra effort to continue to produce adequate sales, but the payoff will be exponential when the market turns around. Leaders will lead during these times. Imposters will be exposed. Provide the appropriate leadership by strategizing, motivating and rewarding the right behaviors.
How concerned are you about the sluggish economy? Has it already changed your approach to sales for 2016?
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