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Anecdotal Thoughts on Selling in the Recession: Know When to Fold’ Em

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(This column is a Sitegeist Flashback… I published it a few months ago, before our readership had increased substantially. The advice remains topical, I thought some of you might have missed it, so I’m reposting it…)As a small business owner, I am both blessed or cursed with the perspective of seeing the problems of selling in a down market from both the perspective of sales lead and salesperson. As a business owner, I’m regularly approached by salespeople for various types of equipment or services. As the principal salesperson for my company, I too am faced with the challenges of identifying leads and selling in this still-slower market we all face.

This column briefly explores some of these challenges and draws some completely anecdotal conclusions about identifying leads and bringing in new business in a constantly changing sales landscape. First, some observations from the perspective of the sales lead. My phone rings constantly from salespeople trying to get my business. Of course, many of the folks calling are trying to sell me stuff I don’t need and, frankly, those calls (or emails) either don’t get answered or I immediately put the salesperson off. However, a certain number of calls we get are from folks trying to sell us stuff which, frankly, we’d consider buying. Maybe the call is for a piece of equipment we’d like to buy or maybe the call is for an interesting benefits or insurance product. But, the bottom line for us right now is that, as much as we’re “future-oriented” and as much as we still dream about what we need to grow our business ultimately we, for the most part, are not in a position to really buy much which could be considered “discretionary” right now. This, I’ve noticed has created a sort of “trap” for salespeople which, I’m guessing, is not unique to the business of selling in any industry segment these days. The challenge, I think, for salespeople these days is knowing who really is a legitimate prospect and who, like us, might be unable to say “no” at this particular moment because, in the abstract, we’re legitimately interested in your product but just can’t buy right now. Which brings me to my counter-intuitive, counter-cultural conclusion about selling in this market. In my experience, salespeople are taught to doggedly pursue prospects like us. The thinking, I believe, is that through a full-court press of persuasion or sheer attrition, you will wear down a prospect like us and eventually get us to say yes. I beg to differ. Clients like us are in that quandary of not wanting to give up on the long term goals of their business but, if we’re smart at all, are way too focused on day to day economic performance to allow ourselves to spend beyond our means. My advice to salespeople is this: stop the relentless calling and hitching yourself to the delusional prospect that the eighteenth call you make to that prospect who won’t say “yes” but who won’t definitively say “no” will finally land yourself a sale. Concentrate, instead, on looking for clients in industry sectors that are beginning to recover or other clients within the same industry sector who might be expanding. Recovery is happening. Selling is relationship-building. Good relationship strategy involves knowing when to move on and identify others who might be better suited to beginning a relationship with. I know that, for myself, I’ve had to “move on” beyond some of the traditional industry sectors we’ve served because so many of our clients in these areas are still struggling. For Splat, I believe we’re better served by identifying other, less recession-plagued businesses who will value from our services and thinking. One good thing about recessions is that they do force businesses to reevaluate and rethink flawed or outdated ways of doing business. I’m going to try and remember that blessing the next time I’m turning down an offer to purchase a service or product we just can’t afford right now.

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