7 Steps to Build Sales in a Downturn

During market shifts, businesses adjust to the way that they work and what their priorities should be during challenging times. One significant challenge for most companies in a downturn is how to find and manage their pipeline and sales process.

Sales are essential for business survival, and there are necessary steps companies can take to ensure that they make progress and enhance their sales results both during and after a period of market stagnation. All business starts with a sale and a focus on how to bring products and services to the marketplace. Enhanced selling is an excellent exploration at any time and in every season.  

My friend Chris Cocca (CEO of Strategic Sales Solutions) and I have developed seven actions that every small business should consider to enhance their sales effectiveness during difficult times. These steps are both practical and applicable to businesses of every size and shape, from solopreneuer to large enterprises.

To become or stay a market leader in an industry, the product or company has to become well known, trusted and widely implemented. These steps will guide companies and sales leaders to enhance their sales performance during and after any downturn.  

Invest in or improve your customer relationship management tool 

Many companies make the mistake of trying to manage prospects or customers without a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. More than half of small businesses do not have a CRM, but every business can sell better when they employ one.

There are many relatively inexpensive but effective options to consider if you have never deployed a CRM. Options such as Nutshell or Fishbowl can be viable options for small companies, whereas Salesforce or Hubspot is a widely accepted CRM for larger organizations.

CRM tools help companies track the progress of a sale and gather critical information pertaining to a customer to build a stronger relationship with the potential customer. CRMs provide helpful information to a company when the relationship with a prospect is transferred from one salesperson to another.  

Good sales start with good data. CRMs allow companies to gather good data so they know more about the prospects and their needs. The more information that can be collected about a customer, the more efficient a salesperson can become as they understand how to suggest the right product at the right price to a potential customer at the right time.  

Many CRMs offer free trials so you can make sure they fit the budget for your business. It is critical that you leverage technology to track your pipeline and create an accurate forecast for your business.

Update your sales pipeline 

A period of slow growth is an opportunity to remove prospects that have been in the sales pipeline that should be removed. A review of prospects to determine if they are still viable is a good use of time for any business, but even more so when the market slows.

Many sales pipelines can become bloated with lost opportunities and stalled contacts because, in times of high growth, salespeople do not always have the time to update or remove prospects that are no longer interested in a product or service.  

All sales start with a good list, and downturns provide an excellent opportunity to improve the sales list so that after the decline, the sales team is not wasting time on prospects who are no longer interested in the sale.  A reassessment of future opportunities can also be helpful to provide an accurate assessment of the company’s future sales forecast. 

Documentation in a CRM tool as to the reason that the opportunity was lost is also essential. A review of lost prospects can help the organization and the sales team learn and make adjustments to be more productive with future leads.

Reach out to current and past customers 

Every customer is important and essential. This fact is even more true during times of a downturn. Companies that wish to be effective in a shutdown should reach out directly to both current customers and prospects to better understand their current situation (both business and personal), and ask what the company could do to help support them. Companies and sales teams that show empathy and cultivate an authentic relationship with customers will find that those relationships will pay dividends for the company in the future.

Downturns also provide an opportunity to connect with past customers to restart relationships.  Many companies neglect previous customers, and they do so at their own peril.  Past customers always have the potential to become future customers when the prior customer is shown value and a new opportunity to become a customer again.  

Former customers should be seen as warm leads as they are already familiar with company products and services.  A connection with a former customer also will allow companies to hear why a customer left and potentially solve issues for the customer was not previously addressed.  One quick way to enhance sales performance and grow a business is through the enlistment of past customers.  Past customers can purchase products in a more timely manner and quickly add a margin to the bottom line.  

Growth companies develop the habit of reconnecting with past customers as part of their sales process. In a time of downturn, every company should value both current and past customer relationships.  

Align the CRM with your current sales process  

Any review of the CRM should include consideration of the sales process and should reflect the current sales process that is being practiced by the sales team. Many companies invest time and energy, developing a robust sales process, but then they don’t implement or execute the sales process with the entire sales team. When sales teams and sales tools are in alignment, sales become easier, and salespeople become more productive. Many salespeople underperform because they do not actively work the sales process, but choose to believe that their method is better than the strategically thought out sales process that has been developed by the organization.   

Salespeople are often self-starters and rugged individualists. This attitude can be helpful in sales activity, but can often sabotage sales performance.  Sales leaders in every industry understand the value of working and executing an effective sales process.  

One excellent use of time during a downturn is to review all information in the CRM thoroughly and map it to the sales process. Detail notes should be added to a customer information profile, tasks, and appropriate next steps about projects and prospects should be considered to help the sale to continue to move forward along the well thought out the sales process.

Strategize about a limited time offer

Downturns provide an opportunity to offer discounts to products and services to intrigue potential customers to begin a relationship with a company. Consider discounting your most profitable products and services to drive immediate profit to the bottom line and to increase cash flow. Discounts provide an excellent opportunity to contact the customer to inform them of a new opportunity to purchase that product or service at a lower rate for a period of time.  

Downturns are often experienced by multiple customers in the marketplace. Therefore, when a discount is offered due to a change in the marketplace, it is often understood and appreciated.  Premarketing the discount is a helpful tool for educating the customer base.

Discounts should be offered to start a specific time and only offered for a limited amount of time.  Every customer enjoys believing that they are getting great value at the best possible price. A limited time discount strategy can restart customer relationships that have grown cold or stagnant and reenergize the sales team to communicate to customers about a unique opportunity that the organization is offering.  

Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the sales team 

During a downturn, an evaluation of the developmental needs of each salesperson on the sales team can be profitable. An assessment of each salesperson to determine long term company cultural fit can provide clarity to know if a company has the right team to produce the right results after the market starts to progress. Honest and authentic conversations with each salesperson can prove useful in helping the salesperson achieve breakthroughs and make necessary corrections to sales behaviors to produce a higher level of production.  

One area of assessment that should be considered is the growth and learning potential of the salesperson. When a salesperson quits growing, sales are sure to stop flowing.  Companies that focus on growing and developing their sales team will often see a direct result in the growth of their sales performance.  

An ineffective team will never produce great results. In today’s crowded marketplace, it is even more critical than ever that companies have the right salespeople who are a good fit for the organization. The organization that develops the right sales team is the organization that is ready to grow sales and expand after times of contraction and correction in the market.  

Invest resources and time in training and the development of salespeople

Downturns can be a valuable time for training and the development of the sales team. After an examination of the strengths and weaknesses of each salesperson, a training plan should be created and implemented. Although sales training should be individualized and specific for each organization, a few macrolevel sales training examples might include learning how to tell your sales story, practicing active listening, and how to discover new leads and lead sources. Any investment in the sales team will prove to be helpful in the sales team performing at a higher level compared to a sales team that is never trained, developed, or improved.  

Organizations should prepare their team to be better and become more capable while the market is slowed so that when the business comes back, they will be positioned to handle the volume of potential new business. Sales that are not prepared for are sales that are never obtained. A sales team should prepare today for tomorrow’s sales.  

One last thought

These tips and insights can help any business improve the effectiveness of their sales. Companies that use a downturn in the market to enhance their sales processes, and people will find themselves in a better position to increase sales after the downtown and into the future. In sales, there is always work to do and actions to be implemented.  

Downturns can impact organizations and many different departments in those organizations, but they should never impact sales activities. Sales teams and sales activities are recession-proof.  In fact, during times of downturn, the sales components of any organization should be more active and more engaged than at any other time or period of the organization. In downturns, the sales team and sales behavior are critical to the current and future success of the entire organization.  When the sales team is active, it can become a leading indicator of the future of the business. Therefore, every sales team can take steps to ensure sales success even amid a downturn.

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