Hard Sell

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2008

Last month I wrote about some local businesspeople who’ve shown grit during our recession. They’ve each dug deep within themselves and found the toughness and creativity to help them move forward in a marketplace that seems to be going the other way. Their efforts are smart and noble. Today’s successful salespeople are finding that same inner toughness and creativity. Success is relative; measuring it needs to be realistic, and factors beyond any salesperson’s control must be considered.

I’ve often said some of the brightest, most talented people I’ve ever met are great salespeople. Their work begins with prospecting based upon strategic decision-making. It moves to scholarship involving client research and then goes to adept communication: getting the appointment, making the presentation and following up, while using persuasion skills to get the order. After securing the order, they need to care and provide outstanding service. Throughout it all, salespeople must have the smarts to accurately read people and situations. They also must be likable, interesting, creative and highly organized. And let’s not forget committed, credible, competitive, tenacious and resilient. How many other professions warrant that skill set while being as result-oriented as professional athletes?

Unless you’ve actually spent enough time in the sales trenches, you can’t really know how challenging it is to get up every morning in today’s economic downturn, stay positive and tackle another day of fielding customer pessimism and—too often—rejection. Staying upbeat is imperative. To this point, Gary Duncan, writing earlier this year for the Denver Business Journal, offered good advice for salespeople during slow economic times. “The important thing to avoid is using the slowdown as a reason to fail,” he wrote. “Making excuses creates the victim mentality, and no one can be effective believing they have little or no impact.” This is a core Duncan guideline.

He goes on to discuss how “slow times create great opportunities to take business away from competitors, for many reasons.” Duncan’s other down-economy selling suggestions involve holding on to existing business through relationships, up-selling or cross-selling (whenever possible), expanding prospecting by pursuing smaller accounts with smaller orders (they add up) and closely listening to customers and prospects to determine their needs and challenges, and creatively finding solutions.

Experience informs me that selling in tough times warrants working harder and smarter, listening and caring more, being more creative and utilizing exceptional judgment with timing—knowing when to initiate any kind of customer-client interaction. Many salespeople succeed in an up market, but only the best succeed in bad times. The proverbial order takers get found out, while the rainmakers make it happen and stand out. But it sure ain’t easy.

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