Increasing Sales in a Down Market by Alice Heiman

Apr 14, 2009 | Sales, Sales Management

Everyone is complaining about the market. Things are bad; the worst I’ve seen. Business is slow and yet all of my clients are doing well. They will survive this market and come out strong on the other end. What are they doing? Here is a peek:

1. Extraordinary customer service

2. Consistently asking for referrals

3. Refining processes to become more efficient

4. Consistently coaching their salespeople

5. Keeping salespeople focused on selling by reassigning non-revenue generating activities

6. Releasing salespeople with a bad attitude and poor sales results

7. Hiring the great salespeople that have come available in this market

8. Staying focused on the positive

9. Telling success stories

10. Finding the good news in their industry and sharing it with customers

Here are some examples:

I work with a logistics company that has been in operation in Nevada for almost 2 years. They hit 127% of quota for the first quarter.

While the mortgage and banking sectors are in crisis, my client, the mortgage division of a local credit union, has had 3 of the best months ever in their history. They are ranked #4 in the county just under the big boys, Wells Fargo, Countrywide and Bank of America. They still have plenty of room for growth and are poised and ready to capture it.

One non-profit I am working with just received a $4 million dollar gift when everyone is saying that people aren’t making that kind of gift in this economy. Great donor stewardship (taking care of your customers) is what made it happen.

A printing company I work with has focused on increasing customer satisfaction and freeing up their salespeople so they have more time to sell. Guess what is happening? Their sales have held steady in a declining industry, their salespeople are much happier – and so is the boss. They are now poised and ready to go increase sales.

So how can your company compete and gain the advantage in this market?

Be the best you can be. Are you giving your customers extraordinary customer service? Not sure? Ask them. Your best source of business is always more business from your existing customers. If they are happy they continue to buy, and if they are really happy they tell everyone they know. Turn your customers into walking advertisements by giving them extraordinary customer service.

Capitalize on happy customers. Do your salespeople consistently ask for referrals? I can answer that for you: if they ask, it is less than 10% of the time. Why wouldn’t they ask for a referral? Most likely because the customer is not completely satisfied and they are nervous about asking. The other most likely reason is because they don’t think about doing it. They are not in the habit. Now more than ever, they need to get in the habit. Satisfied customers usually will give a referral when asked.

If things have slowed down a bit at your company it is a good time to clean house. Go through your processes and do what you can to refine them. You can hire an outside consultant to help, but I will bet you have all the knowledge you need in your workforce. Do a brainstorming session and ask them how processes can be improved, then ask them to help make the needed changes, and reward them for doing it.

Are your sales managers really coaching your salespeople or are they busy doing reports, putting out fires, attending meetings and selling because sales are down? Sales managers need to spend 80% of their time coaching their salespeople to close business. If they are doing anything else you are missing out on revenue.

Are your salespeople focused on sales? How much time are your salespeople spending in your office doing paperwork or following up to see that orders are processed and delivered? If you improve your processes so that salespeople don’t have to do this they can be out selling. Your salespeople need time to be in front of their customers learning about their goals and needs, and doing what they can to meet those. They need to increase the number of customer visits each week so they can make sure the customers are satisfied, buying what they need and giving them referrals. They need to increase the number of prospects they see each week. How can they do that if they are sitting in the office doing paperwork?

Tired of the poor results some of your salespeople are getting? If you are coaching them properly and giving them time to sell, and their results are still poor, it is time to cut them loose, especially if they have a bad attitude. I can’t tell you how many times I ask clients, “Why do you keep this salesperson?” I get a wide variety of excuses, but when it comes right down to it, they know they should have let the person go months ago. Not only is the salesperson doing a bad job, but the “ick” being spread by the bad attitude is upsetting the other employees. Get rid of the ick!

Why would you hire in a down market? To get a fantastic salesperson you might otherwise not be able to get. To hire someone who can jump in with a great attitude and increase sales. Don’t be hasty though, do a very thorough job. You don’t want to hire another company’s problem. I caution you to use a professional when hiring salespeople.

Focus is powerful. Get your whole company focused on the positive. Positive words need to come from everywhere in an organization. I have a Zero Tolerance policy for negative attitudes. If you don’t like the situation work hard to improve it, if you can’t, then get out. Positive words need to flow freely throughout a company. Everyone should be quick to recognize a job well done. Senior level management needs to show appreciation for work well done. A quick thank you note goes a long way. In fact, senior level managers would do well to write at least one a week to someone in their organization, especially those who report to them. All employees should be encouraged to speak up when they see something good happening. They can bring it up at a staff meeting and say thank you or congratulations, or they can send a quick note directly to the person or their manager. We are so quick to jump on the stuff people do wrong, why not be quicker to jump on the stuff they do right? Salespeople, especially, love appreciation. They hear complaints all too often about how all they do is take people to golf and lunch. Every sale should be cause for a celebration.

Success stories should abound in your company. They are everywhere. Success that employees have with projects, success with difficult situations, sales success, customer success. It is hard to have a lot of grumbling and complaining when you are telling success stories. And why not focus on success? It is well known that we get what we focus on and work hard for. I would rather have success than failure, so it always bewilders me when companies are focused on what is wrong with their operation rather than what is right. Of course, we have to continuously improve, but focus on what is being done right. Share that, do more of it, and gently correct the things that need to be corrected, without bludgeoning anyone. And if they need to be bludgeoned, they probably shouldn’t be working there!

Doom and gloom doesn’t usually put people in a buying mood. All of the media attention on what is going wrong affects the economy in and of itself. There is plenty of good news in your industry to share. Find it and share it with your customers. Help them understand what is happening in your industry and dispel rumors. Send them other customer success stories (with permission of course). Be sure and combat the bad news with the good news. This means you will need to read your industry journals and keep up with the media. Salespeople can ask for success stories to share when they are out visiting customers.

Stop complaining about the economy, the market, your industry, slow business and start making the changes needed to increase your sales. I would be happy to help, for sales coaching, sales training or business networking 775-852-5020.

Alice Heiman

Alice Heiman

Alice is nationally known for her expertise in elevating sales to increase valuation for companies with a B2B complex sale that have exceptional growth potential. She’s originally, from the widely known Miller Heiman Group. Spending her time strategizing with CEOs and their leadership teams to build the strategies that find new business and grow existing accounts is her passion.  Her clients love her spirit and the way she energizes their sales organization.


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