Sales – Selling Through Tough Times


This article has appeared in numerous publications.

Experiencing a selling slump? If you are, it’s a tough situation indeed. It can not only hurt you financially, but it can damage your ego–especially if you feel you’re doing everything right and you still can’t see a breakthrough. It can also cause you to worry about job security and make your company vulnerable to the competition. What to do?

First of all, if your sales have been down lately, you are not alone. Current economic conditions and outsourcing to foreign competitors have caused sales to drop dramatically for businesses in many industries. So it’s very easy to place blame there. But can you afford to? Not if you want to move forward. So what should you do? Sit at your desk and hope the phone will ring? Go through the motions and wait for things to turn around? Worry yourself to the point where your lack of confidence is written all over you when you’re interacting with customers? Obviously, none of these will work. Action will.

Below are methods to put you in the right frame of mind and get you back on track when sales are down. If you have been fortunate and have been meeting or exceeding your sales goals during this tough economy, you may still wish to review these to be sure you stay on the right track.

-Become a Chameleon – Accept Change.
If there’s one word that captures our arrival into this still very new Century, it’s change. These are challenging times! We’re experiencing an unstable economy that is taking far too long to turn around. There are mergers, acquisitions, restructuring, downsizing, hiring freezes, and more fierce competitors who are chomping at the bit to swipe customers. Every company is in a race for growth with no finish line in sight. There’s new ultra-sophisticated technology to implement and learn. And, many of us must now “think-global” and learn how to do business overseas. Under these conditions, you can be sure: Change will be continual, but then again, it always has been. It’s just never been quite so “rapid.”

When a company institutes change, it can make you uncomfortable, challenge the way you view yourself, disrupt your life, and force you to deal with uncertainty. It can seem to come through your organization like a breeze, but these days, it hits like a tornado and you may wish you could simply take cover until it blows over. Unless you want to look for another job, you can’t—even though you may feel alienated, stressed, or estranged by executive and managerial calls to embrace it.

You may even not be sure if the change is for the better. And, if you work for one of many companies who have cut budgets and benefits, you KNOW it’s not for the better for you. You may experience insecurity, and personal resistance. You may observe those around you who seem to be passively going through the motions of their job while trying to cope with underlying feelings of uncertainty and the pressure to perform.

When its environment changes, the chameleon’s biological process enables it to adapt readily to its environment. Unfortunately, for human beings, it’s not quite so easy. Nevertheless, if you want to drive sales growth, and get yourself out of a slump, you must become like a chameleon—adaptable to your environment. If you agonize over the changes that are occurring around you and consider yourself to be a “victim,” it will take much longer for you to get back on track. Become a chameleon.

-Stop Fretting and Take Action
Recently, I had dinner with a client who is a small business owner. When I asked him how he was doing, he stated: ” I’m not going to spend my precious time worrying. That won’t accomplish anything. I’ve focusing on developing relationships with my existing customers and putting a great deal of effort into building relationships with potential customers. Right now I’m holding my own, but when things open up a bit, I have every confidence my sales will soar. I’m encouraging my sales people to do the same.”

Smart guy! Fretting and worrying will not help you when your sales are down. These behaviors will hold you back. You cannot excel at anything unless you keep yourself in the right FRAME OF MIND. This requires balancing your ability to be realistic and objective, and not over-worrying about things you can’t control.

Excessive worry will block you from functioning effectively and keep you from putting your best foot forward. It will also block your creativity–something you need more than ever when sales are down. Consider this: Will worrying change the outcome of what will ultimately happen? What if everything you’re worrying about will work out fine? What if you will have an abundance of opportunities to win new business if you were to take a stronger and more creative approach to sales? What if the efforts you make today are going to pay off for you in the near future? Channel that negative habit of worrying into action to drive business growth. Remember: “Worry is like a rocking chair. It keeps you going but gets you nowhere.”

-Eliminate Negative Thinking and Sound Confident
If you’re experiencing a selling slump, tune up your mind and your tone of voice. If you are stuck in a rut thinking you won’t make a sale, you won’t. Think about how you SOUND when you’re talking to customers. If they sense your apprehension or pessimism, they’ll be more likely to give their business to someone who does sound confident.

Sound optimistic and convincing. You need to think, act, and sound like a winner, even if you haven’t won the race for a while. Just like a thoroughbred that wears blinders to keep his or her eyes on the finish line without getting distracted, you must forge ahead–sometimes even on “blind-faith.” Remember: Fretting and worrying will not get you where you want to go. Opting for optimism and taking ACTION will.

-Talk Smart
Business experts have stated that eighty-five percent of your overall career success is in direct proportion to your ability to communicate. I disagree. I believe eighty-five percent of your overall success in LIFE is in direct proportion to communicate your ideas and needs to others. If you are in sales, you must be a master communicator, especially when it comes to your ability to:

  • Convey the VALUE of your product/service.
  • Ask questions and LISTEN
  • Sound empathetic to your customers’ problems
  • Convey that you genuinely want to help them
  • Respond to objections and handle problems
  • Sound DIFFERENT from every other sales person
  • Be knowledgeable and have industry expertise
  • Convey honesty, professionalism, integrity
  • Deliver an engaging presentation while sounding conversational in your delivery (Don’t forget the CONFIDENCE.)
  • Adapt your selling style to the customer’s personality

Sit down and write down words and phrases that convey these. Experiment until you find what works. Then, here’s the key: MEMORIZE them to the point that using them in your every day interaction with customers becomes second nature to you. The sharpest sales people I know do this.

– Go Back to Basics
You remember what that means–it’s doing those same activities you did so willingly when you first got started to get yourself up and running. One of them was staying on the phones. Great sales pros instinctively know they must always have the discipline to keep “dialing for dollars” to existing and potential customers to get out of a negative sales period. If there aren’t enough incoming calls, there must not be enough going out! So if your phone’s not ringing ask yourself: How many calls am I making? If your phone is quiet, it’s because you’re not making enough calls.

Muster up the discipline to spend several hours on the phone each day to help generate business to get you out of the quicksand and onto solid selling ground. The best business development and salespeople know that whether business is down or whether they’re soaring high, they always need to sustain the discipline to get on the phones and hustle or for sure it will fall off.

-Tap into Your Creativity
It’s not uncommon to get stuck in a rut when sales are down. So, if you’re hearing, “I’m not interested,” become interesting to them! Talk in terms of what’s important to them. Think about changing your approach when interacting with customers, and in your methods of developing new business. Bring creative ideas to your existing customers. They’ll thank you for it.

Make an effort to apply creativity to help drive sales. Consider these: What more can you do for your potential and existing customers? What can you offer that other competitors are not? Who can you contact that you have not contacted before? How can you show existing customers that you appreciate them? How can you entice them to visit your exhibit at your industry trade show? What creative incentives can you offer them NOW to convince them to buy?

-Get Visible – There’s No Substitute for Knocking on Doors..
Here’s something I’ve often heard: “I used to visit a lot of customers and attend events, but I don’t have time anymore.” Physically calling on customers and attending business events are likely activities that helped you get established. You may need to do go back to those practices to get up and running again. If business is down, make more face-to-face appointments, attend networking events, meetings, trade shows, chamber of commerce functions or association functions where you can meet potential customers, learn about your industry, build relationships and form strategic alliances. Be selective where you spend your time and money, but remember: Visibility in your industry and community is important.

-Reconnect with Advocates
When sales have been down for a long period, visit friends, suppliers, contacts and existing customers who know you and love you. (Okay, visit those who simply like you!) Ask them for referrals and more business. The efforts you have made in the past to maintain strong business relationships can pay off for you now when you need it the most.

-Spend Increasing Amounts of Time Forming Relationships
As mentioned previously, developing relationships will help you get out of a slump move you toward long-term profitability. Slowly but surely, even in a tough economy, if you keep calling customers and work hard at building relationships, when the time comes for them to buy, you’ll be the one that will get their business. Don’t neglect to keep calling on potential customers you believe are loyal to your competitor. I’ve heard countless victory stories from participants in my sales seminars that persistence and patience combined with class and professionalism have won their biggest accounts.

-Bring Reinforcement
Does your company have an “Everyone Is In Sales” philosophy? If not, it should. If possible, bring your executive vice-president, national sales manager, top technician, or a customer service rep along who can reinforce your words and help you convince new customers to buy. Why? It makes the customer feel important. For example, if a potential customer has had problems with shipping or customer service with their current supplier, bring those individuals along from your company and introduce them. Yes, I know they’re busy and have too much to do, but consider this: if sales are down, they, and others in your company may not continue to get a paycheck.

-Maximize Your Productivity – Organize or Agonize!
Here are a few hard questions to ask yourself if you’ve been in a slump: Have you been working efficiently but not effectively? Have you been very busy and working hard during a slump, but haven’t been getting results? Then you haven’t been effective.

Remember the 80/20 Rule: “20 percent of your customers will generate 80 percent of your business.” Have you failed to concentrate your efforts on customers who can give you the biggest commission check? Have you been spending too much time going after small accounts, without consistently striving to get business from larger accounts? Do you manage your territory as if it were a “milk-run?” What I mean, is, do you keep calling on existing customers because you know they will keep ordering from you repeatedly, and not go after the bigger fish? If you did, did you throw in the towel too soon with any of them? Would just a few more times at bat give you the home run?

Have you been making the best use of your time? Have you prioritized your to-do’s each day and done them first? What percentage of your day have you spent in non-sales related activities? Are you ORGANIZED? If you don’t have effective organizational skills, get them. Your alternative is to AGONIZE over why your sales are down. Take a good hard look at yourself and be honest: Have you been procrastinating on taking appropriate action to get out of a slump? Procrastination is a negative habit.

-Set, Reset and Work Toward Your Goals
Not your style to set goals? Even the most sophisticated business professionals set goals. Write them down and LOOK at them each day. Then, DO them. Setting goals is a way of making things concrete. It’s a sure way to focus your energy if sales are down.

Get into a non-business setting where you can think clearly and there will be no distractions. Sit down and write down what action you’ll take. Establish your priorities, and set goals so that you’ll move forward. For example, “I will make 10 phone calls per day to existing customers, and 20 to potential customers.” “I will study my industry and check out my competition on the Web at 1/2 hour each day.” “I will try this new approach with these customers.” “I will apply one concept, theory, or selling skill each day, until it becomes habit. Then, I’ll move to the next one.” “I will meet with John Smith to discuss his ideas on how to tap into new markets.” “I will book three appointments per week.”

– Outshine Your Competition
Ask your customers how you can help them. Give more. Care more. Be better. Work with your customer service staff and others in your company to help them prevent any service problems. Portray a higher level of service in every aspect of the business process. Develop an obsession for delivering your best performance with every encounter, with every customer, every day!

-Invest in yourself
Spend more time and energy on learning new skills and self-improvement. Take a refresher course on sales training, or enroll in an advanced sales training program. Don’t be too proud. Consider working with a sales coach. Make it priority to continuously sharpen your skills.

-Learn to love what you do
Have you lost that lovin’ feeling you had when you first started? Do you remember how excited you were when you got that first big deal? Through all the uncertainty and instability, if you can learn to love what you do, you’ll be more creative, and sound positive when interacting with customers. And, you’ll simply make it better for everyone around you.

-Alleviate the pressure
Lighten up! Being in a selling slump it can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life! Laugh a little. And, chances are, if you can get your customers to laugh, your chances of making that sale will be tenfold.

All of these are methods and mind-sets that can help you overcome a selling slump, but remember this quote from yours truly: “There is no mystical magical secret to sales success. It comes from your ability to be like a chameleon- adaptable through change. And, it comes from your enthusiasm and belief in your company, its products/services, its people, and YOURSELF. Then, making the CUSTOMER feel that same enthusiasm and belief.”

Photo Courtesy of (Chris Potter – Flickr


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About Christine Corelli

Christine Corelli is a motivational, keynote, business, leadership, sales, and customer service speaker, sales trainer, and author of six business books. As a keynote speaker, she is known for her high energy and interactive speaking style.

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