Without question, most salespeople recognise they are now experiencing “the worst of times,” but with the right strategy, skills and effort, this can also be “the best of times.” Ireland and the UK are very challenged economies now.
A chance conversation with a sales representative for a medical equipment manufacturer helped me gain a deeper understanding of the frustrations that many salespeople, especially business-to-business salespeople, are facing at this moment in a very tough economic environment. I didn’t take notes, but the conversation went something like this:
“How’s business?” I asked.
“Non existent,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean no one is buying anything. Everyone’s budgets have been frozen or cut. Purchase orders are being cancelled. And I’m lucky if I can even get a face-to-face. No one wants to talk to a salesman right now, except maybe to re-negotiate or cancel a contract. That’s what I mean by ‘non-existent.’ There is absolutely no business to be had.”
Now, over the course of a plus-10-year career coaching and training business and salespeople, we’ve heard versions of this lament hundreds and hundreds of times. And to be frank, most of the time it was simply a case of the salesperson not having the skills, knowledge or expertise to sell in a particularly challenging situation. And our job was to help them acquire the needed competency. Or occasionally to help them find a new (non-selling) career if they weren’t able to develop new capabilities.
So natural skepticism prevails when we hear a salesperson say “There is no business to be had,” but we also know we are facing one of the toughest business environments ever, the greatest economic downturn of many of our lives in the UK and partucularly in Ireland.
A week later I was having another conversation with a salesperson whose market was among the hardest hit – property – yet surprisingly, she is having a pretty good year. Naturally I was interested to learn what she was doing to drive sales growth, and it turned out that she had a very specific strategy. She isn’t comfortable with me sharing too many of the details but the important point here is that she didn’t just assume that a tight economy had to result in a financial downturn for her personally.
She decided to out-think, out-strategise, and out-sell her competition. And that is exactly what she is doing.
Of course the truth is that the majority of salespeople one speaks with are having a very tough time. And among the few who are experiencing good sales growth, many of those are not actually driving the growth – they are either benefiting from a unique product niche or some other business strategy that does not really involve them.
But there are a number of salespeople who were truly driving sales growth upstream, against a harsh economic back current.
I have become convinced that any salesperson, in any market, can drive sales growth. Even in the very toughest economic times, it is possible to make it happen. It is hard but it can be done. Of course it does mean that you have to be more creative, innovative, and aggressive in your sales approach.
Most salespeople try the “work harder” approach, but while working harder may be part of the answer, it isn’t the most important part. Focus, Focus, Focus !