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Selling in Tough Times

“In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity.” John F. Kennedy

There is still a lot for businesses to contend with.

Market sectors are experiencing different things, and some are buoyant because of the pent up demand caused by COVID restrictions.

In other sectors, it’s tougher, and that means that business owners and sales leaders need to be more resilient, positive and focused despite everything that is happening.

When there is uncertainty in any market, there is a danger that people reduce their spending.

Sales people will be hearing “no” or “not now” more often than before. When that happens it can erode confidence. In fact, when times get tough, research shows that sales people reduce their calls by 38%.

If you think about it, it’s very easy to do – we can fall into a pattern of reducing calls, clinging on to hope, because we don’t want to hear the word “no”

So we convince ourselves “no-one’s spending” “everyone is cutting back” “times are hard”

That’s a dangerous place to be.

I’ve been involved in sales for over 30 years, and can’t remember a time like this. It’s all well documented, and you know the realities of your market sector, so let’s concentrate on what we can do rather than where we are.

1) Selling in tough times – build positivity

selling in tough times build positivity

One study of salespeople, showed that people with a positive mindset sold on average 37% more products and services than their negative counterparts.

I don’t mean this glibly, it can be tough to keep positive when market conditions are hard, and on some days it’s easier than others.

Your own resilience is affected by the contributions you make; by your perceptions of the contributions you are making.

By focusing on what you are achieving, the progress you are making,  where the opportunities lie, what your products and services can do for people, will help you in achieving your sales targets.

As a sales or business leader what are you doing to build that positivity in the team? Do you celebrate successes? Share approaches that are working? Get people together ( virtually or in person ) to help them stay focused and positive.

2) Selling in Tough Times – Progress is Key

It is easy to get distracted in a crisis. We tend to react rather than respond, and as a leader, you need to respond. Your response will set the tone for your team and their activity and mindset.

When people get distracted, things can become confused.

When things are confused energy levels drop.

Momentum fuels motivation – so help people to see that their activity is bringing progress.

Develop a clear action plan with clear goals? Our next section will help with that, as will our Sales Readiness Tool

3) Selling in Tough Times – Take stock, where are you now?

AsSales Readiness Heatmap a sales or business leader, in a tough market place, you’ll be faced with lots of noise. Your reporting, your sales people, your competitors, your customers will all be giving you information, and it can be hard to see the wood from the trees.

If you are in B2B sales,  have a look at our Sales Readiness Heatmap. It helps you self assess against key areas that successful sales teams focus on. You’ll get an instant score and a pdf report that you can use to prioritise and focus. It will also make some suggestions based on your score, things you can do right now to help you.




4) Selling in Tough Times – Be Real

Look at your pipeline.

Is it stuck?

You can’t afford a constipated pipeline! Sorry for that image, but I want to make it stick – the image not your pipeline!

Are your sales people being real? Or are they clinging to hope? To the maybe’s rather than the no’s? Are those maybe’s can skew your pipeline.

Are your sales people feeling the pressure so they add very tenuous leads to their pipeline?

Use the deals in your pipeline as a coaching opportunity.

“This isn’t about not trusting your reps. It’s about establishing a culture of accountability, learning and collaboration.”  says Matt Heinz, author of ‘Successful Selling’. This helps keep the finger on the pulse, and together you can develop new approaches to moving deals through your pipeline; building the learning and enabling your salespeople to succeed.

5) Selling in tough times – Make sure you handle enquiries well

It feels criminal to me when there is a new business enquiry and that isn’t dealt with well.

Let me give you some examples I’ve experienced recently

Venue Hire

Being asked to email my requirements for venue hire, because “the person who deals with it isn’t in today” . I duly did, and after a few days having got no response, called to see if they could give me prices and availability.

“I’ll have to speak to my manager and get back to you”

OK…… calls other venues.

Then I get a call – do you want to go ahead and book?

“I haven’t received any information”

“Oh I thought  had sent you that”

 Or a different venue, where I filled in a web form, and with no reply, contacted them via one of their social media channels to say their web form might not be working as I hadn’t had a reply to their form. I received a private message to tell me to email them. I did, no reply.

 We specialise in inbound call handling, and one of the challenges is that if people have a lot of routine calls or emails, when there is a new business opportunity they don’t switch out of the routine and explore the opportunity.

As a result potential customers who have called you are receiving pretty dreadful customer service or you are leaving serious opportunities on the table by not responding appropriately to the need.

We train and develop people in this critical yet overlooked area of the business, and we can also audit your existing calls ( if you record them ) and tell you how you rate for customer service, and how well you are converting enquiries into the business.

Get in touch here

It’s not just how well you handle enquiries, it’s how quickly. We live in a fast moving world, we expect instant responses. People are calling you for a reason, their enquiries need a fast helpful response.

A Linkedin poll we carried out in Dec 2021 showed the following expectations in terms of an initial response to a web based enquiry

  • 19% within an hour
  • 14% within 4 hours
  • 36% same day
  • Next Day 32%

That means 68% expect a same day service.

And because you can see in LinkedIn who has responded, we could see that those people who were happy to receive a next day response, worked in areas where a complex solution ( such as engineering / consulting ) would be required, and the detail was more important than the speed. The key here is what is important to your customers.

6) Selling in Tough Times – Use Your Sales Activity Wisely

intelligent dialogue

Research shows that sales people reduce their sales activity ( by upto 38% ) in tough times. Keep call rates high and stay ahead of your competitors who may be reducing theirs. Be intelligent about the people you see.

This is a winning combination which means that you can be in the 5% of businesses that thrive when things are more difficult.

Which accounts will offer you the best opportunity to win business?

Which markets, which projects, which relationships, which people will help you achieve your sales targets?

Which market sectors are buying or hiring? Which are paying their bills on time?

7) Selling in Tough Times – Business Conversations not Sales Discussions.

How can you help your customers and clients?

What value can you add right now?

What insights or services can you offer that can help them?

The people you are selling to are thinking about their businesses / organisations and their careers.

They are not thinking about the features of your products and services, they are thinking about their problems and they want to know how you can help them.


8) Selling in Tough Times – Keep Close To Your Customers

This is a time to have conversations that are real, supportive and helpful. Forgive me for this – but you need to have an intelligent dialogue!! A two way conversation that helps you to understand the person / company you are speaking with.

Your customers will be fighting their own pressures. DO NOT TRY TO PUSH YOUR PRODUCTS OR SERVICES – we know you might  feel the need to do that, but this isn’t a time to push, this is a time to help, listen, advise and agree a way forward – the next step that works for your customer and you. Be that trusted advisor that your customer needs.

Build real relationships, use google alerts  to find out what’s happening in their organisation, and Linkedin to stay close to the people you do business with. Like, share and comment on their posts.

Relationships are always tested when things go wrong, when prices increase. Building strong, deep relationships will help with those.

Let me give you a practical example of staying along side a customer.

One hire controller we were working with in a lifting equipment company in the North East of England, understood this and phoned her key customers regularly.

She didn’t push product, she tried to understand things from her customers point of view. She did talk about things that were right for the customer. And when one major ship yard lost a big contract, she kept calling, to see how people were, not to make the sale, but to keep the relationship. She was looking long term. She knew pushing product wasn’t going to help this relationship, she knew that she wanted to be in the best position when things did improve, and she knew which of her accounts she could still sell to.

And when the contract came back, who got the call, who got the work?

You’ve guessed it – Julie.

Why? because she was alongside her customers as an equal partner in the supplier / customer relationship.

And when she got the work, she was told, she was the only person who called during that down time, and the buyer valued that. Everyone else stopped calling, but when things picked up, they all started again.

9) Selling in Tough Times – Rethink Your Sales Messages

The sales messages you used a while ago might not be the ones for right now.

Keep them helpful, keep them relevant, keep them sensitive.

Make sure before you pick up the phone you are clear about what you are going to say and why you want to say it,  build the relationship with the quality of your conversation.

When you’re selling in tough times, things that worked before ( when things were better ) may not work now. You can’t just collect the order, you’ll need to shape a business case for your products and services. You need to be clear and confident in your value proposition and why people should buy from you.

You need to be able to explain your products and services in terms of not what you sell, but what they do for the customer / prospect.

This is essential. Clients, customers and prospects don’t want to know how many pixels something has, how many products you offer, how long you’ve been going, they want to understand what all this means for them.

10) Selling in Tough Times – Enable and Train Your People

What is stopping your salespeople from selling?

Is it knowledge? Skills? Confidence? or Mindset?

We train people to help them be more confident in the roles they carry out. We help clients have more confident conversations with customers. Conversations that get results. We do that by training and development programmes or sales coaching, in person or by Zoom. If your marketplace is competitive, your people are finding it tough, and need a little help getting their sales mojo back, we can help.

Call us on 0845 450 0988 or get in touch here.