Up Your Sales in a Down Market

Henry Ford didn't just invent the automobile. He created an industry.

The Ford Motor Company held almost 100 percent market share of the automobile industry going into the Great Depression. To stimulate demand in that difficult market, Ford's brother-in-law and other managers suggested the company should advertise the Model T and also introduce new colors to attract customers and ward off threats from General Motors, which advertised its new models. Henry Ford responded by saying "customers could have the car in any color as long as it was black" and firing his brother-in-law. Because of this refusal to change its sales and marketing strategies, Ford fell far behind General Motors, and has now lagged behind GM in market share for more than eight decades.

Today's Sales Environment

Customers today are scared and skittish, have changed their buying behavior, and are less loyal. In order to acquire and retain customers, your company needs an up-to-date sales strategy.

Decisions previously made by individuals in B2B selling are now made by buying committees. Decisions previously made by first-line managers are now made by middle managers or senior executives. And decision makers are demanding more proof of their return on investment.

Responding to these changes requires the following:

  • Advertising and marketing must be targeted toward senior executives. Salespeople now need to call higher. They also need to have a deeper understanding not only of their customers' needs and expectations but also of the needs of their customers' customers.
  • Salespeople must be armed with proof about the return on investment customers can expect from your company's product or service. For example, previously we provided many of our new consulting clients with references, but now we also provide them with data documenting the impact of our sales consulting and training on their sales revenues.

Customers Are Less Loyal but More Valuable

Our firm's recent analysis of 125 companies indicates that customers today are less loyal and switch vendors 20 percent more frequently than they did 10 years ago. It is also more difficult and more expensive to acquire new customers.

However, the likelihood is 25 times greater that an existing customer will buy additional products or services from your company than that a prospect will buy anything from you.

Make the most of this customer attitude by:

  • Developing an impact management plan for your most profitable customers, describing how often your sales team will see them. In addition to face-to-face meetings, invite customers to company-sponsored events, use phone calls and email, and send them helpful articles or information. Leverage social media, and especially Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, to create top-of-mind awareness and stimulate "viral marketing." However, in a high-tech era, customers also appreciate "high touch." That is why we send handwritten notes to our customers.
  • Conducting annual account reviews for your best customers. Remind them how your company has helped them solve a problem or maximize an opportunity. For example, one of our banking clients uses account reviews not only to ask customers how well the bank is meeting their needs and expectations, but also to learn more about their future business plans and how they can be part of them.
  • Conducting a vulnerability analysis to learn whether a customer is dissatisfied with your company. Look for generic cues, including: not returning your phone calls, taking longer to schedule an appointment with you; asking questions or raising objections that were previously addressed.
  • Look for industry-specific cues. For example, for this banking client, we determined that when activity in their customers' checking accounts decreased, or when their customers stopped drawing down on their line of credit, it often signaled dissatisfaction.
  • Ask customers for referrals and introductions. Here's why: If you prospect without a referral, there is only a 2 percent chance that the intended person will take your call; whereas if you have a referral, your odds of getting through to the prospect jump to 20 percent. However, in this tough economy, if your customer gives you an introduction (he tells the prospect you will be calling), your chances of getting through to the prospect soar to 60 percent.

By using the above sales strategies and by exceeding the expectations of your customers, you'll not only maintain their business, but also up your sales in this down market.

Ron Volper, Ph.D., is managing partner of the Ron Volper Group. He has advised Fortune 500 and midsized companies on how to increase sales in tough times, training more than 30,000 salespeople and executives over the past 25 years. He is the author of Up Your Sales in a Down Market.

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