A year ago, I was receiving the same inquiry at least one a week: How would I dramatically improve sales in an ever more challenging marketplace? Over the past few months, the number of inquires have skyrocketed to once or twice a day.
Upon reflection, I've noticed that people are looking for some secret formula, some "new" way of magically getting more business, some way of accessing their clients in this new and dynamic marketplace. So here then is the new secret: research.
Too simplistic you say? In order to sell at a higher level, to separate yourself from the pack, you must employ tactics that get you more and better information on the buying behavior of your customer. Armed with this new incisive, time-sensitive information, you can change your selling strategies to meet the needs of your client's spending habits NOW, and help to create new patterns of buying behavior.
For example, there are two recent research pieces I looked at recently. One was by the Luxury Marketing Council, which interviewed 405 companies in New York and Boston. One of the more startling findings was the high number of companies that are cutting expenses. Fifty-two percent of the companies cut advertising and marketing expenses. And the future looks even bleaker as the same group predicts a 69 percent reduction in marketing expenses for the upcoming year.
Next, I looked at a report from arguably the most credible researcher in the luxury market, Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing. Pam conducted a series of focus groups (or discussion groups) with highly-engaged luxury shoppers in Beverly Hills -- ground zero for the conspicuous consumption lifestyle -- followed by an in-depth nationwide survey among 1,041 affluent consumers. Her report, titled "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" offers even more enlightenment into the mindset of the luxury buyer now:
The Good -- A great many consumers feel that NOW is "a great time to get more for less."
The Bad -- The recession has brought widespread changes in peoples' willingness to spend and even in their willingness to display what they have spent.
The Ugly -- Once the recession is over, the luxury market will be the same, so you need to know NOW where it is going before it gets ahead of your strategies.
As a consultant, I automatically think of ways to help clients who cut the expense of attracting clients through marketing. Knowing this kind of information about how my clients are thinking gives me a distinct planning and selling advantage. If you are a retailer, what was your first thought in capturing more market share when you heard the findings of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?" The key here is that we must use sophisticated, real-time target market research to create strategic plans for our drastically changed markets. We must embrace the change and step in front of it. We must embrace the change.
Next, we must train our people to exemplify these new behaviors, reframe your marketing plan, be lean, but highly informed and effective in order to capture the imagination and pocketbook of ever fewer elite, highly informed customers.
But it all begins with research and our ability to be ahead of the market adjustments -- to lead the change, to be the change, to be past relevant, and to be wanted for the change you represent.
The news of Michael Jackson's death took me back to my childhood. We lived on Hovey Street and the Jacksons lived across Clark Road in an area called Tarrytown. And as you may know by now all of this was in Gary, Indiana. During this time, the Jacksons were simply known as "those kids who made all that noise."
This was a time when our music heroes were mostly Motown artists. Names like the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and a few other great singers and dancers. But every now and again, a solo act (none Motown) would creep in. I learned later that many of these artists were also heroes of Michael's. And there in lies the lesson -- when I would see Michael dance I would see the shadows of old music legends.
I routinely saw Michael walk out on stage with a hat, snapping his finger like Frank Sinatra. He would rock back and forth a slide his feet, even do the little-known "Camel Walk" just like James Brown. Quickly, he would stop and spin around just like stylish R&B crooner Jackie Wilson.
So today, as I write and remember one of the greatest entertainers ever, I also remember his lesson. The lesson is that in our life and in our business, nothing is really new. The concerns about the economy have been with us before. If we are going to succeed, we don't need to go past the books we read and the people we have observed. That the problems we have can be solved with a combination of old concepts combined to form a new concept. As great as Michael was, I still see him as being just like the kids I grew up with in Gary, except for one thing: He was able to observe those that came before him and combine their talents to become a new talent himself. Isn't that really what we should do to save our businesses?
We recently polled 50 sales managers on the concept of planning during turbulent times. In addition, we asked for input from the top 10 percent of their sales teams -- the top performers. Here are their top five responses when asked why they plan:
1) To protect their family and potential income
2) For unforeseen disability or problems
3) To control the flow of business
4) To reduce anxiety
5) To better use their time
These comments only serve to confirm the idea that salespeople will not survive an economic slowdown by simply hoping that you sell more or that your current customer base buys more. Account planning, territory planning, and pre-call planning are the keys to efficient selling in a down economy.
And here's the silver lining: If you are planning properly, you can reduce the number of calls you make. A well-kept secret is that in tough times, if we focus on the top 20 percent of our client base, our potential success increases dramatically.
"The only competition you will ever have is the competition between your disciplined and your undisciplined mind."
I insert this quote, from entrepreneurial guru James Arthur Ray, at the bottom of my e-mails. While only a few ever comment on the quote, I get lots of comments on the economy. Every day, I hear excuses and complaints from people, about the government, their jobs, and on and on. Which leads me to a potentially flammable statement -- nothing has changed in our economy across the board.
Sure, it has changed in specific segments. But the trouble is we tend to view and talk about the economy in totality. Negatives found in the media and those that come from our close friends largely overlook the positives. Yes, times are tougher, but at some level, we have always had problems in certain industries.
During these so-called tough times, don't we all know people that are also showing record-breaking success? I just got off the phone with a friend in the title insurance business. Her business has doubled with the number of refinances on existing homes. Clearly, she was affected by the economy negatively and she was equally affected by the positive shift to the refinance market. Now, she could continue to go after the "normal" mortgage business or she could switch drastically and devote the majority of her time on the refinance market.
In my business, I have switched to more Internet training as well as publicly promoted seminars. What change in direction do you need to make, and how can you become quickly disciplined in that new endeavor?
It's that time of year. July 4th, picnics, vacations, and a predictable drop in business. If you are a sales veteran, perhaps you have noticed the cyclical nature of sales volume. If you are new to sales, it is possible you have not determined the fluctuations.
Historically, many companies experience a dip in sales performance from November 24th to December 24th -- unless of course you are in retail. But what are the other times that sales volumes suffer? My experience in selling to major businesses is that the following time lines are affected: the first week or two of January (holiday restart),
July through August (vacations), October (in election years), and of course, November 24th through December 26th.
What is the selling cycle of your business? Have you prepared your team to sell more before it? Or do you fight to sell during those "off" times of year.
This weekend's box office supports the idea that Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones may be the adventure hero of this (or any) century. Seriously, who can compare? Sylvester Stallone? Steven Seagal? Maybe Mel Gibson? I have to cast my vote for Indiana. He stands up to every challenge -- even the fact that his movies were not considered for DVD sale until 20 years later!
As times change, however, I wonder how Indy would do in a job outside the confines of archeology? Say, sales for instance. How would our hero fair with the sometimes lonely, always changing, often challenging world of sales. I think not so well. In this case, my vote would have to change. We would need a new hero, and I vote for Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Bourne combines all the elements needed in a tough selling environment:
He's an excellent fighter -- good for those buyers who won't sign the deal! He's in great physical shape -- able to run from office to office. He's resourceful -- whether making bombs out of toasters or selling value in the face of price concerns. And the big one -- Bourne was smarter than Indy under fire, and in today's market smart wins!
I know these are tough economic times for many, but it seems odd to me that many companies don't truly understand the value of selling. Without sales, everything in the company eventually comes to an abrupt stop. Without sales, there is no need for product development. Without sales, there are no deliveries. Without sales, there is no need for accounting -- there's nothing to count except for the money spent.
But here's the main point: With sales being of such obvious importance, you'd think more companies would budget to make sales a priority. Sadly, most budgets include line items for almost everything except sales improvement.
The number one mistake in building and maintaining an effective sales team is a flawed hiring process. While there are many elements to consider, my first concern has always been to interview constantly. Always look for exceptional people in and out of your industry.
Here are some of my other suggestions for hiring:
'¢ Pass on experience and look for people who show some element of emotional intelligence and personal magnetism.
'¢ Interview each person at least three times before you send them to another team member.
'¢ Prepare questions that take the applicant past normal responses. Get them to solve a sample problem, ask about the last book they read, or ask how their performance has been measured in the past.
'¢ Finally, interview before one of your positions is open. Nothing hurts hiring like the rush to fill the position.
- A Silver Bullet?
- What I Learned from Michael
- Why Plan?
- The Other Side of Recession
- How Do You Maintain Sales During the Slow Seasons?
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