Economies shift as a natural part of the business cycle. According to the Bureau of Economic Research, a financial crisis or recession occurs every five to seven years on average. Whether sparked by banking, bubbles, or a global pandemic — downturns happen — and when they do, companies pull back and place their focus on preservation. They cut back on new projects and reduce spending in all areas possible. Decisions stall, activity slows down, and creativity stagnates. Some businesses however, not only survive downturns, they find ways to grow and thrive.
Here are six actions we take at gap intelligence to GROW SALES in any economic environment:
1. ABUNDANCE Mindset
Mindset impacts success. The right mindset is just as important as skill, experience and qualifications. Thinking in terms of abundance creates perspective without limitations. Shortages do not exist and possibilities are endless. An abundance mindset begins with a positive attitude. People feed off the attitude and mindset of others around them — positive or negative. We tend to eat healthier in the company of healthy people, achieve better results when surrounded by high caliber performers, and simply feel better around positive people.
Abundance and positivity is contagious. When we surround ourselves with positive people and adopt an abundance mindset we think bigger – remove limitations – view problems as opportunities – accept and adapt to change – take proactive approaches to give value – serve rather than sell – and persist through challenging times with confidence to deliver impactful solutions to buyers.
2. Find AND Solve Buyer Problems
During periods of economic prosperity, it’s common to rely on a surplus of opportunities and greater margins for error. When winds change, weaknesses become magnified and mistakes come at higher costs.
“When the battle drum beats, it is too late to sharpen your sword.” – Winston Churchill
The ability to control the communication flow and move through the sales process efficiently and effectively is critical. Without control, processes stall and deals fall through. In today’s sales environment, we must know how to get in front of buyers, skillfully find their problems, and guide them to solutions. This also means helping buyers to identify problems they might not even know they have, or even consider to be problems. It’s not enough to tell the buyer they have an issue we can solve. Buyers must recognize the problems in their own mind, and we must help them do that.
Top sales professionals help buyers identify and define their problems, quantify them, and then quantify the IMPACT of those problems on the buyers and their business. For example, during discovery, find key problems by asking strategic and sequenced questions, actively listening, and propelling further into core issues related to those problems.
Implement a questioning flow to organize questions in a logical order (e.g. from general to specific). The flow moves the buyer through a funnel of WHAT and HOW questions to help understand the buyer’s current situation and problems:
- “WHAT does your current competitive intelligence gathering process look like?” “HOW do you organize and assess the information?”
- “WHAT about us makes you think we might be able to help you?” “Why now?”
- “HOW do you evaluate and integrate third party solutions like us?”
- “Most of our clients use X, Y, and Z resources to track competitive intelligence, HOW do you approach this process?”
- “We’ve learned when teams are set up in this way they do well with A and B, and seem to struggle with C and D; Do you encounter the same types of challenges?” “HOW do you handle them?” “WHAT do you do?”
Dig deeper with buyers to identify and understand the impact of the problems they face. If the buyer says, “We need to grow our brand presence in the U.S.,” ask clarifying questions:
- “WHAT do you mean by that?” “Why do you say that?” “What would that mean for you and your company?”
- “HOW do you measure brand presence?”
- “WHAT do you want to grow it by?” “When?”
- “HOW do you plan to do that?”
- “WHAT do you need to achieve that?”
- “WHAT happens if you do not achieve this?”
Selective word mirroring is one method to subtly encourage additional input from a buyer around a statement they just made. This involves repeating back, in a question-like manner, key words from the buyer’s statement. For example, if a buyer says, “Our sales team manually collects competitor prices across retail and ecommerce.” We might respond by saying, “Manually?” This communication approach will encourage additional input around the selected word. When mastered, this is a powerful information gathering tool. Another method to ensure we’ve received all possible elements of an answer is to simply ask “What else?”
Well designed questions also position the buyer to clearly communicate back their desired situation and expectations of a solution provider:
- “WHAT do you need to see from a company like us to feel comfortable?” “HOW would you measure success?” “HOW would you like to see this go?”
- “In the event we get where you need to be and the money is right, HOW do you see the implementation happening?” “WHAT do you want to see happen?” “WHY do you think this will work?”
Consistent training and preparation will result in better quesitons and stronger communication with buyers. Skill sets work like muscles; we use them or we lose them.
3. Increase Activity
When businesses contract and budgets tighten, it’s easy to rationalize lower targets, lost opportunities and slowed progress. Instead of lowering goals, increase the activity and effort required to meet them. Put in extra time and preparation to understand current buyer issues to provide real and relevant value.
Commit to more outreach, in more ways. For every email sent or voicemail left, send an additional follow up note on LinkedIn to ‘connect and help put faces to names’ (while reminding them we just contacted them by phone or email). Find creative ways to engage with buyers to build trust in you and your company. Share value-add content and follow it up with a short personalized video to summarize the material you just shared and why. Show them you’re human, and that you care. And if you’re funny, drop some humor in too — people like to be entertained. No matter what, keep attention on building your pipeline; whether buyers act now or later, get in position now to win their business while others will be working to catch up. Outwork the competition and create your own economy.
Increasing activity also means knowing the difference between MOTION and PROGRESS. Put attention on conducting more activity that moves you closer to set objectives. Do this by controlling time. Everyone has 1,440 minutes in a day. Controlling time enables us to DO more. Split the day into small blocks of time (e.g. 25 minutes) and fill the calendar up with productive activities. Eliminate all white space on the schedule and track how you spend your time. Remove the negative activities that prevent productivity and replace them with actions that move you toward your goals. If we do not control your time, it will control us.
4. Position to Expand
When companies contract, opportunities emerge. Blue ocean opens up to take control of market share. In a study by McKinsey consulting firm, they found the most successful companies look for opportunities to expand during economic downturns and periods of financial crisis.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” — Winston Churchill
Setting the default mode to expansion promotes proactive growth-minded thinking and approaches across the organization. Periods of contraction create advantages for companies to grow awareness with buyers and move into new markets and geographies with less friction.
“It’s easier to adjust and pull back early if necessary versus pushing forward when it’s too late.” – Jocko Willink.
Even if buyers communicate limited or no budgets, the awareness and trust you build will shorten the sales cycles and stack the odds in your favor. Jack Welch is famous for saying, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” Find ways to expand further into attractive markets and be original. How? Make a list of what our competitors are NOT doing, and do those things. Increase strategic marketing and creative outreach efforts. Leverage existing capabilities to reposition products and create new offerings, bundles, and plans relevant to solve top-of-mind buyer issues. Expand national or global footprints. Share more relevant and value-added content with buyers across all media and social platform outlets. Utilize existing technology to reach more buyers in more ways.
5. Protect Price by Adding Real Value
An economic crisis will create pressure to lower prices. Money finds value, not lower prices. When we lower prices, we reduce the perceived and actual value of our products and services. Sales happen and clients stay when value exceeds price.
Protect price by adding real value to buyers:
- Find the critical problems causing the greatest negative impact and address them
- Provide unmatched experience and customer success initiatives
- Re-position existing products and services and refine messaging to address new and relevant buyer circumstances
- Incentivize long term commitments or up front payments with extra service and support time
- Offer free consulting sessions and additional support tools you would normally charge for
- Create alternative financing plans, flexible invoicing and payment structures to align with their budget cycles
Do whatever it takes to find ways to protect your pricing by adding more relevant value for buyers.
6. Influence Revenue
Cost control is important in any economic environment. In periods of contraction, revenue is required. Regardless of position or department, look for opportunities to influence and generate revenue. Find ways to introduce new clients and partners to the business. Contribute toward process improvement that can help accelerate your company’s growth. Commit to serve every client, partner and prospect with an unbelievable experience and impression of you, and your company so that YOU become the first person they think of, and associate with the business. Become your own business unit and dominate the space you operate in. Money follows attention, and it’s up to you to create attention and revenue for your business.
Whether the economic environment is good or bad, success is never owned, its rented, and the rent is due every day. Implement the approaches above to increase sales and position your business to thrive in any economic environment.
For more than 17 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.