Just The Facts, Ma’am – The New Reality For Sellers

Some well-meaning sales consultants, unfortunately, are offering inane advice to sales professionals about dealing with what appears to be a world-wide, long-term economic malaise that is changing the game of sales. I recently read an article by a consultant who advised four steps for increasing sales in the current economic meltdown.

He admonished sales professionals to “stop procrastinating,” which begs the question Yoda might ask: “Get anything done when you procrastinate, do you?” The consultant then advises sales professionals to “get organized.” Again, I can hear Yoda asking “How many sales can you make when disorganized, you are?”

His third piece of timely advice: “energize your attitude.” How many sales are made by salespeople with obvious poor attitudes? Finally, the consultant advises sales professionals to “start prospecting.” This is usually sound advice that helps prevent an empty sales funnel; but under current economic conditions, be careful about prospecting for new customers who have difficulty paying their bills or are headed to bankruptcy court.

My three-word response to this consultant’s advice: Feel-good-flapdoodle. If ever there was a time to face the facts of the new reality for sellers – Just the facts, Ma’am – it’s now.

The Facts:

CEOs who are counseled by astute CFOs have three priorities in this climate of unprecedented volatility: Preserve Cash – Protect Revenue – Manage Risk. Find me a CFO in America who disagrees with this and you should scan the horizon for a village that lost its idiot.

To borrow a legal concept, even a moron in a hurry has noticed that more than a few companies have fired thousands of employees, allow only expenditures approved by senior vice presidents, eliminated their employee training budgets for 2012 and cancelled their annual sales meetings and holiday parties.

If a salesperson’s product, service or solution doesn’t help customers preserve cash or increase cash flow, protect or increase sales revenue or mitigate perceived risk, the chances of closing many sales in this economic climate registers somewhere between zero and a very large negative number.

Ending procrastination, getting better organized, energizing an attitude or ramping up prospecting activities isn’t sufficient to help sales professionals survive or prosper in the new economic reality facing most sellers today. It’s time to acknowledge that the old rules of sales no longer apply.

Real help for sales professionals must come from sales leaders and senior executives who acknowledge that they have never slogged through an economic quagmire quite like this one, and who are willing to think creatively about strategy and tactics that sales professionals can use to survive, maybe even prosper in this new economic milieu.

Today’s unforgiving economy requires a bold, creative approach to managing sales, rather than simply making sales. Whatever the approach, it seems evident that effective solutions won’t be obvious, easy or simplistic. Consultants who offer pabulum advice to salespeople ignore the demands of an economy that no longer tolerates old ways of doing business.


Treat Referrals like a Sales Force not a Happy Accident

No matter how you slice it – referrals are still every small businesses best source of new customers. But think about the last time you got a referral – what happened? Someone called you up and mentioned a previous customer’s name. They said that this person spoke highly of you and that they’d like to have you come out and bid on a project.

Chances are you probably got about 8 or of 10 of those customers. Why? A referral is a stamp of approval from a trusted source.

So if that’s the case – why do so many of us treat referrals as if they were some kind of happy accident or surprise gift? Take just a minute here and do some simple math with me.

Take all the customers you had this year. Sum up all the revenue from those jobs. Now what if each of those customers brought you one more customer just like them? Your revenue would nearly double – just like that!

So – let’s stop treating referrals like an accident and start treating these referring customers like the enthusiastic salespeople that they are. Here’s how:

1. Develop a referral guideline that outlines what sets your company apart, describes your ideal customer and tells the person referring you the things that this customer might say that should trigger them to think of you. Write this guideline down.

2. After a customer’s job is completed, and you’re ready to finalize the paperwork, sit down with you customer and explain that you only work with great people – just like them. Bring out your referral guideline and “read” it to them. At the end, ask them if they can think of anyone right now who might fit this description. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind making an introduction in the next week – don’t put this off. Ask this customer to tell you what they loved most about the job and working with you. Write it down and ask them for their permission to use it as a testimonial.

3. Put all your customers on a mailing list – either hard mail or e-mail. Both is better. Stay in front of them. Invest in useful small gifts and mailings that match your business. Stop in and check in on the work you did, ask if there’s anything you can fix for them (around the job you did) all this takes is your time – but no money and it yields gold in referrals. This again an opportunity to ask them if any of their neighbors might need some help.