There is Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Dan Austin

Have you read all the articles predicting the end of the recession? The front cover of Newsweek announced that the recession is over—but the recovery will be tough? Economists do believe the fundamentals of a deep recession are behind us. So what’s next?

Everyone is anticipating the winners and losers just like people at the horse racing track. Which industries will rebound first? Which ones are on the verge of failing forever? You could take the crystal ball approach and wish for things to turn for you or you could take steps to get out of the tunnel and back into the light. It is all about the perspective you have: half-full, or half-empty.

Right now, your competitors and most businesses are too focused on today. Many companies are cutting expenses further, holding off on hiring, perhaps still considering cutting staff, hoping to get through the storm with a skeleton crew. Making today’s numbers is vital to your survival as a business but if you put all your eggs in “today’s” basket, you’ll lose tomorrow. Here are some simple reminders to make sure your fourth quarter and 2010 are brighter than they may appear today.

1. Dig Deeper. Review your active customer list from first quarter. What is your action plan to renew, up sell or get referrals from these clients? Have you done a gut check with them to see what’s changed since they did business with you in the winter months? Given the current business climate, I’ll bet a lot has changed. Don’t wait for another vendor to get in there with fresh ideas.

2. Have a plan. Develop a written sales plan for your team. Go off site or lock the door and have a meeting (make it interactive and fun—not a lecture) and set goals, timelines and an achievable action plan to make your numbers through 2010 with input from your team. Include milestones you can check in on your progress and incentives to reward your team for their efforts. It is most critical to get their buy-in and participation in this process.

3. Turn It Up. Freshen up your sales materials and presentations. If you are using the same template and ideas from three years ago…guess what…you WILL be outsold in this “new economy.” Adapt, consolidate and find out what works for retaining and up selling your best customers. Use these best practices to win over new customers or those you haven’t engaged in awhile.

4. Get Visible. Set aggressive benchmarks for your sellers and management to see your top customers and your active target accounts. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting with a client to uncover objections, finding out what your competitors are doing. Identify new opportunities and how to complete the sale that may be “stuck.” Things are changing too fast by assuming that a quick email or phone call “to touch base” will count as a true customer interaction.

5. Go Richer. Set a goal to improve the number and level of contacts in your customer’s organization. This is preventative insurance against an aggressive competitor, pricing wars and sales turnover. If three or more individuals in your organization are actively engaged with three or more at your customer’s you have a much greater chance or retaining and growing that client.

6. Get Ahead of the Game. Everyone is gulping and getting ready to fire up Excel and engage their advisors on planning for 2010. Get in front of your customers and ask for feedback on what they are expecting and how it will impact your working relationship. Don’t wait until some companies are already well underway in their planning for next year.

7. Be in Touch. Time and time again companies may do business with a seller but not have “a connection.” The theme I hear over and over is “they only call to ask for business or when they have a special offer to sell me.” Businesses want value. They want a relationship. They want a partner to help them through what is likely the toughest selling environment they have EVER seen. Send birthdays, anniversaries, thank you cards, and holiday gifts. These little touch points let your customer know you care about them, not just the order.

8. Cut Your Losses. Too many businesses—in an effort to make up sales—are expanding their offerings, bundles in a “paintball approach” to win over clients. Get out quickly if something is unprofitable and not a core business for you. Focus your precious time and resources where you can be number one or number two and make every waking moment count towards that. Focus on successes every time. This might be easier than you think as your competition is reeling and distracted trying to make “today.” Doing what you are best at doing—and doing it over and over again—is mining your hedgehog.

So if you feel like the darkness is closing in and the light is slipping further away…step away from the daily billing goals, this week’s leads, the percentage you were behind last year and focus on these steps to not only impact today’s business but tomorrow’s, next month and next year.

About the Author: Dan Austin is a seasoned sales management executive who posts an impressive track record of success in leading turn-around in sales organizations, building retained revenue and recruiting the best-of-the-best in a market. He is currently the leading executive for four radio stations in the Syracuse, NY market, where he is again engaged in a turn-around. He started in the trenches and has grown from there, discovering the true value of customer relationships. He may be reached at: dbaustin@nycap.rr.com.

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