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Winning Sales in a Losing Economy:
Success Tips From a Higher Altitude

By Don Schmincke

No one knows stress better than a salesperson who is trying to close deals during a global financial collapse. How is the retrenching affecting your resources to deliver? Is the competition hiring newly unemployed sales talent – those who are extra hungry… and extra talented? What is your customer really thinking about now – your features and benefits, or saving his job? And, as if it wasn’t stressful enough, you’re under pressure to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

What can a sales professional do? Sales 101 methods like better closing techniques or prospect management strategies are important, but experienced professionals want more. Climbing out of bed to sell in this economy becomes easier by studying … well, climbers. Climbers in death zones – that altitude above 26,000 feet where lack of oxygen makes long-term survival impossible – also surmount seemingly impossible goals; and they bear an uncanny resemblance to salespeople. Some are deeply humble, while others are psychotic narcissists. They come with all levels of competence, from naive wannabes to elite athletes. And when put to the test, they react like all of us: sometimes like heroes, other times self-destructively. But when they “close” the summit, how do they do it? And how can we use these lessons to push sales higher?           

Take Smaller Steps: When climbing you don’t break any land speed records. But all climbers succeed doing the same thing – taking just one more step. A small step, one foot in front of the other, gets you higher. But many salespeople leap too far too fast in a recession. It’s much better to follow the advice: “Never try to cross a chasm in two leaps!”

Today, customers want to take their time. They are fearful and uncertain about what’s next. So, in turn, you must slow down to increase your sales. Are you running to a solution too soon when you haven’t yet taken the next small step to understand their new challenges and anxieties? What may have been a five-step sales cycle may be a 10-step journey now. Re-assess and tune up your sales strategy for a different route to the top by doing the following:

  • Write down your current sales process steps.

  • See where you can break apart each step into smaller ones (“Build rapport” can be broken into “send article,” “get a meeting on the calendar,” “mail handwritten thank-you card for their time,” etc.).

  • Put the new list to work by creating a spreadsheet with the steps as column titles and then list each prospect down the first column. Assess where you are for each prospect and notice missing steps or areas to redefine your approach.

Sell Passion Not Product: Passion drives climbers to “buy” into the sport. A passion also drives your prospects. A resistant client in the high tech industry shocked the salesperson when he admitted, “we like your product, but we just don’t get your story.” They needed vendors who added to the brand, mystique and “remarkablility” of their products. When the stunned salesperson returned with a new presentation of their product direction, innovative philosophy and company culture, he were able to close the deal. Are your prospects looking for more than just a shallow pitch?

  • List your top prospects.

  • Identify at least three things that excite them or cause them great pain – and explain how your product or service addresses these issues.

  • Create a “story” about your offering using the themes and phrases in Step 2. What’s passionate about your product or service? And don’t fall off the cliff because you think you sell a commodity product. Just look at the stories created around commodities like coffee and tennis shoes!

Unbundle: If the load is too great, climbers separate out the gear and move it in smaller loads. You should, too. One business deal was being stifled because the salesperson had the whole package, but the recession was driving price into the equation. The client only needed pieces of the solution for now to get through the year. Unbundling the offering delighted the client, and they closed the deal.

  • Collect and categorize the main customer complaints, objections or other reasons for not buying.

  • Schedule a meeting with relevant company functions that can impact the customer end-product (manufacturing, design, R&D, service delivery, field maintenance, etc.)

  • At the meeting review the categories you created in Step 1 and brainstorm innovative ways to help the customer (what can be unbundled, repackaged, re-priced, delivered differently, combined, etc.).

As a salesperson, now is the time to go in, play harder and take some innovative risks. Climb higher in sales during turbulent times by applying better climbing techniques. What do you have to lose?

Read other articles and learn more about Don Schmincke.

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