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How to Sell More, Grow Your Business, and Defy the Economy
CRM Evolution '09 — Day 1: Sales and strategy luminaries offer tips for staying above ground -- and prospering -- during the downturn.
Posted Aug 25, 2009
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NEW YORK — Given economic conditions, your customers are probably either spending less money or buying less frequently. They are prolonging the buying cycle and deliberating longer over a higher number of options. And yet the message that Dennis Sommer, founder and chief executive officer of sales consultancy Executive Business Advisors, shared here today is that they are spending. He warned that any company sitting on its hands waiting for customers to saunter its way -- well, that's just not going to happen. In the presentation, "How to Sell More in Good and Bad Economies," Sommer advised attendees to turn the tables and "become the hunters, not the prey." The question businesses should be asking, he said, isn't whether people are spending money -- what matters is whether those people can use the company's product.

Sommer emphasized the potential loss facing those who wait for customers to come to them. "The companies that do nothing won't be around," he said. Sommer, who advises executives on how to transform their businesses and grow dramatically, offered three tips for growing your business in a cost-effective way:

  1. Smart marketing — Stop blindly cutting costs. Instead, look at what works and how you position yourself among your competitors. Measure every marketing campaign you do, Sommer said. "In most companies, marketing is a cost center," he noted. "I say it should be a profit center." In other words, if there's no return on investment, stop the campaign. 
  2. Cold-calling — It's all about calling the right people about the right product, Sommer said. Calling people about renewals may not apply, Sommer said, adding that contact should actually long precede any renewal point. It's about making sure customers are satisfied and finding out if they have additional needs. "When you start making calls, you shorten the sales cycle," Sommer said. "[And] you fall into the buying cycle."
  3. Networking — "Out of the 20 people I meet here," Sommer said, gesturing out toward the CRM Evolution 2009 and SpeechTEK 2009 crowd, "I will have five new clients." A handshake and an in-person introduction can be very powerful, he said.

Your customers expect value in your products and services, so sell them on those value points whenever possible. Sommer told the audience that the only reason a manager will buy is if the new products and services:

  • increase income; 
  • decrease expenses; or
  • mitigate risk.

As he closed out his presentation, Sommer implored attendees to avoid the phrase, "I'd like to talk to the person who makes such-and-such decisions." Instead, he advised, salespeople should spend an additional 30 seconds before the call to find out who that person is -– their sale just might depend on it. 

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Surviving these tough financial times was a hot topic during this opening day of the conference. Om Kundu, first vice president at Sun Trust Bank, spoke on the topic of using analytics and customer insight to improve business operations. First and foremost, Kundu said, businesses need to understand that consumers are buying differently than before. Recessionary conditions have led to shifts in values and beliefs. "Organizations that are able to realign themselves to that shifting behavior will end up being the winners in this environment," Kundu said, adding that he's spent a lot of time analyzing dates from previous downturns, in particular the late 1980s. Patterns show that those companies that are able to get ahead of the pack during downturns sustain that position for three to five years. 

Beating out competitors in a recession is no easy feat. Extending the theme of Sommer's statement about hunters and prey, businesses who want to win must be aggressive. Kundu made the point that the leading companies in a downturn are those that innovate.

"Companies that invest in innovation and breakthrough projects are the ones that outperform their peers and the competition," he said. But innovation often requires experimentation, which by definition involves some measure of failure. "You've got to be willing to try a few things out on a pilot basis," Kundu said. "[It] may not work, but the cost of not trying is too high."

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CRM Evolution '09 runs through Wednesday in New York. Full coverage can be found here.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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