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When The Going Gets Tough, Go Back to Basics

Anne Miller

Two things are on my mind this month. The first is surviving in a tough market. The second is an unexpected sales reminder that I experienced on my recent trip to South Africa.

Surviving in a Tough Market

What goes up must inevitably come down, although none of us likes to believe that truism when we’re up in the clouds. But what do you do when budgets are tightening and buyer confidence is uncertain? Don’t panic. Instead, get back to basics, become more disciplined, and be more creative than ever:

- Review every existing account. Remember, your best prospects are your best customers. Get face time with key players at more than one level. Make sure you are up to date on their current challenges.

- Assume nothing. Don’t think that your accounts know all about you, your services, your new products, your markets, your competitive strengths. Even if they can’t buy from you right now, use this time to build your brand and to show you’re there for them in all kinds of markets, so that you are the first call when conditions improve.

- Know your own products, services, and markets cold. That way, you can be responsive to clients’ needs. It’s a good time to visit other departments in your own organization to find out what they are seeing, hearing, doing, creating, experiencing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard salespeople admit that they didn’t realize what was available from their own research, marketing, product development, or technical people. Meet with colleagues to share and borrow sales ideas and techniques.

- Play the numbers. The more contacts you have with accounts, the more likely you’ll win business. Set specific weekly goals for face-to-face calls with current clients, new business calls, and number of proposals sent — and stick to those goals.

- Leave no stone unturned. Connect with past accounts. Needs change. People switch jobs. Mergers happen. Management philosophies change. You could be the solution to someone’s problem and not know it.

- Think creatively. Network at off-beat but related conferences. Send attention-grabbing new-business letters. Read your clients’ press opportunistically. Prospect smarter; for instance, call the names of people listed as contacts in corporate ads or mentioned in articles. Skip the traditional information/benefit presentations, and add more dramatic touches to build perceived value for your product/service. (Hire me to do an “Outrageous Thinking & Other Acts of Sales Wizardry” seminar for you. Now, that’s a good idea!)

- Hone your skills. As in golf or tennis, when you stop practicing and taking lessons, your game tends to deteriorate. Your sales game is no different. It’s time to sharpen your prospecting, preparing, questioning, presenting, closing, negotiating, follow-up, and creative-thinking skills.

Over-the-transom business is history. Sloppy selling is an unaffordable luxury. The formula for surviving — and in fact thriving — in a weakened economy is this:

- Get back to basics.

- Be superdisciplined.

- Think creatively.