An economic slowdown has several implications for your company's ability to sell to and engage customers. According to research conducted by my company which captured the opinions of 1,518 CEOs from small and midsize businesses, only 61 percent expect increased revenues over the next 12 months, down from 75 percent last year. These figures from the Q3 2019 Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey represent the lowest projection for increased revenues since 2009.

With growth slowing and revenue projections softening, in the next year, you can expect that customers will become more risk-averse and cautious, sales cycles will get longer, you will hear more "no" decisions, and you will find more shoppers than buyers.

Now is the time to take a critical eye to your customer engagement strategy, particularly when it comes to sales. Here's five tips on how to focus on the right tasks.

1. Analyze your sales process.

Be honest, is your sales process as strong as it could be? If not, it may be hard to see the absolute state of sales opportunities. Take a look at your sales cycle definitions, opportunity grading, pipeline integrity and forecast accuracy. Most importantly, dedicate appropriate resources to all of your winnable opportunities.

2. Craft messages that will resonate in a downturn.

When buyers are feeling cautious, marketing messages that focus on increasing revenues or improving market share tend to fall flat. By contrast, messages about improving operational efficiency and containing costs tend to resonate well. Encourage your sales and marketing teams to customize their communications for different audiences in the buying cycle.

3. Leverage your current relationships.

Downturn or no downturn, buyers tend to adapt quickly to new circumstances. As a result, they are more likely to buy from current providers than buy from new ones. Translation: This is the time to leverage your existing relationships with customers. Help them optimize their current solutions by offering add-ons or introducing them to complementary components.

4. Be a partner to your competitors' customers.

A slowdown is a perfect time to draw business away from your competitors. Perhaps one of your competitors is under-servicing accounts. Perhaps another can't keep up with delivery demands. Seize this opportunity to coax those customers away by being their partner and helping them through this tough time.

5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

Discounting may seem like an easy way to keep deals moving, but it's not always the best strategy to use in a downturn. Often, it's better to negotiate the finer points of a deal so you can protect your margins without losing valuable business. To support this shift, consider creating a negotiating skills module in your training program. Or, form an internal bid desk or strategic pricing team to facilitate special deals.

While nearly two-thirds of CEOs are still projecting increased revenues in the year ahead, the velocity of growth is slowing.  Adjusting your sales strategy will help you stay on top.

Published on: Oct 23, 2019
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