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Planting the right seeds: how to sell more in uncertain times

The perfect time to improve any business is when competitors are worried about the sky falling. SUE BARRETT says retailers can get the jump on doomsayers with analysis, preparation and training.

The year is almost halfway done and there’s plenty of ‘doom and gloom’. It’s enough to induce pessimism in the most positive of retailers.

Even if everything that is predicted did come true, retailers would still need to adapt and keep moving forward.

But how do we keep our heads when everyone else around us is losing theirs?

Some of us have been in business for many years now – I’m old enough to have a recyclable wardrobe!

Many of us traded through the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the major recession we had in the early 1990s.

Things weren’t pretty and there was a lot of pain; however, smart retailers did not go under the ‘doona of gloom’.

Instead they looked at their markets, situation, people and offerings, and then refocused efforts to build effective and strong relationships with new and existing customers.

At the start of the GFC, a banking client of ours was preparing to roll out a sales- enablement program for their 360- person team.

They questioned, “Should we be investing money and effort into this project if the market is going down?”

We advised that it was precisely the time to invest in getting their sales team fit and out into the market to talk with customers and prospective customers.

The banking client took the advice, appointed a clear sales strategy and trained the sales team for 12 months.

The results? They achieved a 5 to 8 per cent increase while their overall market experienced a 10 per cent decline.

Selling in the good times is easy. It’s when things turn downward that the good salespeople really stand out; even in down markets there is opportunity.

Tips for managers

Conduct an operational audit – Undertake an audit of your sales strategy. Does it suit the current marketplace? Does it need tweaking? Involve senior management, marketing and sales staff to develop a strategy that will deliver the results you need in this market and de-clutter your sales operations.

Segment your market – Move from broad to micro. Look for pockets of value and growth within the market and kit your sales force up to sell real value in these micro segments. Own these spaces. If there are commodity segments then run sales efforts with the lowest cost of operation possible to still deliver volume sales.

Demonstrate value and a point of difference – Find an area where others cannot easily copy you. Be clear about what you represent and make it easy for customers to engage and relate to you. Check your sales messaging. Is it customer-facing and do all your staff know how to convey the message?

Establish a new go-to-market plan – Give sales staff a clear plan they can take to market and implement when dealing with customers.

Refine the sales process – Make sure your sales staff have a clear and consistent process they can learn and apply.

Train and coach everyone – Support salespeople with a mix of classroom, in-store and online training to keep them focused and ‘sales fit’.

Review, recalibrate and reconnect.

Tips for salespeople
“Selling in the good times is easy. It’s when things turn downward that the good salespeople really stand out; even in down markets there is opportunity.”

Do more planning – Review your current sales plan and ensure that it aligns with the overall strategy.

Review customer accounts – Look at them for opportunities such as birthdays and anniversaries. Ask what’s possible from this customer this year and what they want from the business.

Go forth and prospect – Nothing happens until you get in touch with potential and existing customers – call them, get in front of them, ignite opportunities. Don’t just wait for the phone to ring or a customer to walk through the front door.

Practice solution selling – Bring your very best listening and questioning skills and find out what is important to your customers. Help them solve their problems with what you can do for them.

Keep doom and gloom away – Avoid negative messages. Doom and gloom is contagious. Don’t rely on hearsay. Instead, look for facts and evidence.

Be persistent – Keep on going. Never give up. Remember that selling is not just a numbers game but also a ‘quality numbers’ game.

Just like in years past, smart retailers don’t get bogged down in the negatives. Businesses that take these tips on board are sure to stay ahead of the competition.

Sue Barrett

Contributor • Barrett

Sue Barrett is founder and CEO of innovative and forward-thinking sales advisory and education firm Barrett and online sales education platform Learn more:

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