Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Selling in a Downturn

Selling in a Downturn – Adversity or Opportunity?

In this blog I want to share some thoughts about the kinds of things that we as business and sales leaders might want to consider in order to continue to thrive in this new and more challenging market space.

1. Feng Shui your client list. Feng Shui is the Chinese art of moving and placing objects within a room or space, so that positive energies can flow and benefit the inhabitant of that space. It can be used to create a highly relaxing environment or to attract health or even good luck to a room or building. To me, while I am sure that there are powerful and ancient principles at play, it often seems like it’s an exercise in de-cluttering and minimising.

De-cluttering is a good thing to do. It frees up space (either physically or mentally) and allows the opportunity for new things to come and occupy that space. Therefore we should consider de-cluttering our client databases.

Over the years we have collected clients that are neither productive nor profitable. These clients act as a drain on our time and resources. They demand, they complain and they want everything for nothing. Instead of holding onto these clients we should actively remove them from our databases or de-prioritise the sales communication or the degree of contact that we give them.

They can create opportunities for our sales executives to ‘hide behind’ and justify their poor performance. They serve as ‘black holes’ for productivity and profit. Get rid of them – aggressively. Give them a business opportunity elsewhere. You want them out so that good clients can inhabit the space and benefit from the resources they are currently draining.

2. Feng Shui your team. Ditto for the team. We have people on the team that our good performers are carrying. We have people who have been able to ‘coast’ because the market was up and people were ordering. They weren’t ‘hunters’ and they are average ‘farmers’.

To continue to carry people who have neither the skills, the aptitude and (most importantly) the attitude to perform, is demoralising for the rest of the team and stressful for the leader. This is a weight that will only get heavier as the months and the years progress. Act now. Be clinical. Quick, surgical cuts heal cleanly. It’s possible that they may prove more successful in another role or another firm. If you procrastinate it will only make things worse. Assess your people and make the choices. Do it now.

3. Lock in Your Clients. With good clients now becoming a target for other firms and competitors, we have to take stronger measures to lock in the clients that we have. We have to ensure their loyalty and their continued custom.

Our sales teams should be prioritising their clients, reviewing previous spend, assessing the current and future value of the client and creating promotions and offers that encourage the client to keep coming back. They should be finding ways to expand their profile and their presence within these customers. They should have their existing contacts open doors to other departments and decision-makers. We should be setting targets for them not just about the financial results – but about the quality and the value of the personal contacts that they make.

How thoroughly are we reviewing customer account plans – do we have them at all? How focused are our people on their accounts? Without bringing clarity as to where our clients are at, we cannot give the sales executive a sufficient sense of control over that client relationship.

Create events that add value for your clients. Instead of the usual social events, think about sponsoring or creating events that help them with their challenges. Can you sponsor sales training for their sales teams, coaching for their senior executives, management days or their conference speakers? (www.SeanWeafer.com)

A relatively small marketing investment on your behalf might mean a huge value for the client – something that they will appreciate and will ensure continued loyalty to you.  In addition, you might ‘insert’ your own people within these events and create closer relationships with their key people.

Simple things can be done too, like handwritten personal notes or gifts of relevant books – sometimes the personal touch can establish close bonds that can be the difference between retaining or losing a quality relationship.

4. Review Your Contact Chain: As a sales director or manager we have responsibility for not just driving business development but ensuring its retention also.

A ‘contact chain’ is like an audit trail of all the people involved in the sales or servicing process of the business. From after-sales service people, to technicians, to accounts people, to the front-line, first- contact’ people such as the important receptionists and tele-sales people – a small thing like the wrong tone of voice or a distracted manner with a customer – can lose us business.

Everyone sells in this market and we can’t afford mistakes. Everyone, that in any way effects the perceptions or the emotional response of a customer, is responsible for retaining or losing that ‘profit-centre’.  

As a sales director our responsibility is to take this message to the board and ensure that our peers and heads of other departments get the message. They must take responsibility for the quality and professionalism that their people project. There is no room for ‘kingdom thinking’ in this new market place. No one person stands alone when it comes to the continued success of the business. Everyone depends on one another.

The board – in consultation with company staff because this must be a co-creative and not an imposed message – must work on what is the company brand or the message that, as leaders, they can sell to their ‘internal customers’ and staff.

A message that is so simple and effective that it can be actively owned and internalised by staff – who can then authentically project it to the customer.

I changed garages recently. That may not seem like a big thing but in the auto industry this can be crucial. Customers tend to like to stay with the garage that they buy their car from. They have a connection. It should be easy to hold onto them.

That might have been the case when times where good – sure if we loose one or two what does it matter? It does now. Not only did I move garages but I was prepared to significantly inconvenience myself and pay more for the service – because I knew this garage was more expensive. Why would I do such a thing? It’s not logical – doesn’t make sense.

Probably not – but it feels right. The receptionist was the reason. On several occasions when I arrived at the garage for work that needed doing, I was left standing in front of her while she finished a phone call or a social conversation with a colleague. Not a hint of recognition. Not a mouthed apology or ‘I’ll be with you in a second sir’. Nothing.

I rang the other garage. The receptionist was pleasant, she was briefed, she took me through a serious of short pertinent questions and then arranged a time for my car. I rang back again to change the date – another receptionist equally well briefed, efficient, courteous, professional and pleasant. I promised myself that if they smiled at me when I came through the door (I know- I have acceptance issues..!) they would get the business for life. They did.

Review and (if needed) upgrade your customer contact chain.

4. Positively Imagine: As a leader you are consciously or unconsciously a role model for those who report to you. Your every mood is monitored and responded to by your team.

I wrote in a recent blog on my website about my youngest son (he's only 6) telling me a joke recently.

He said to me: 'Dad, imagine you were stuck in a box with chains on it and then they dumped the box in the sea - how would you escape?'

When I scratched my head and told him I didn't know he said: 'STOP IMAGINING!!' and fell over with laughter at how stupid a dad can be...

Profound really when you think about. Most recessions are crises of confidence. It is something that happens when a particular perception is either created or taken on board by media, investors, business people and consumers. It’s imagined.

Yes, there are global factors but humans are creative creatures – at least the one’s that don’t put their head in the sand when things look a little rough and hope to wait it out. Creating positive ‘imaginings’ in the minds of ourselves and our sales teams creates an attitude of ‘can do’, a willingness not to make excuses because of the market but to discover new ways to work in the market and thrive.

‘Fire tempers steel’ a friend once said to me. Well the fire is now. The question is - will it melt us or make us stronger?

Only we as sales leaders can determine that – but first we must begin to ‘positively imagine’. Only then, with the every fibre of our being, can we communicate to our boards and our teams that this time is not one of adversity but one of opportunity.

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