As seen in Technology Development Organization magazine
Has a soft economy left you with sagging sales? You’re not alone. Many companies are feeling the effects of a soft economy and that includes your competitors. Inevitably, sales slow as the economy recedes. As companies begin to feel the impact, new sales and marketing initiatives appear and competition becomes fierce. Sales people attempt to buy the business by offering lower prices and new customer incentives. One common problem companies face is holding on to their current customers while sales people from competitive companies begin to solicit their customers.
An aggressive competitor can have you reeling in no time. As your customers begin calling you with cancellations and you begin losing orders to your competitors, you can soon find yourself in damage control mode. The directive from the top; “get out and meet with our customers, develop relationships and hold on to what we’ve got at all cost”. The problem with this is that you are now in a defensive mode. Your competitors have you on the run and you have a new obstacle. Your sales people are all tied up doing damage control, greatly diminishing their ability to bring you new sales and customers.
You will never win a boxing match by covering up! You have to throw a punch otherwise you are nothing more than a punching bag. Your customers and competitors can have their way with you at will and no matter how you slice it; it’s a losing proposition. Sales is a game of offense, not defense, and a reactionary strategy never works.
Your competitor may be vulnerable. As they call on your customers, they begin to neglect their own customer base. This is the Achilles heel you were looking for. This is the time to develop an aggressive sales program that targets your competitor’s large customers. You need to hit the market hard enough for your competitors to feel the need to retreat to their customer base thus putting them in a defensive posture and you on the offense. Once this happens the problem of them calling on your customers will diminish.
There are two problems with this theory worth considering
1. You may loose some customers/clients while you are out proactively selling However;
a. If you continue on your present course you will lose them anyways.
b. Meeting your customers now to try to develop a relationship sufficient for them to stay with you is not the best allocation of your sales staff. Besides, if your sales people have not developed or been taught the human-relation skills necessary to develop winning relationships with customers during good times, what makes you thing they will be able to develop them now?
2. You will soon be in the driver’s seat but don’t expect your competitors to take this lying down. win, you will need the following:
a. A well trained sales team and highly effective sales tactics. This way you will actually make sales and take business from you competitors while you battle.
b. Superior human relations skills to develop these new relationships as well as the ability to maintain the current customer base with the least expenditure of energy.
So What Can You Do About It?
- Lead from the front. To create and drive a proactive sales culture senior management needs to take the lead. Presidents and sales management need to reach out and touch customers and support their sales staff. Nothing is better for customer retention than a meeting with the big brass. Owners and Presidents are not generally sales people and can more easily obtain casual meetings with senior managers from within their customer base. These meetings can give you a sense of how well you are taking care of business while estimating the stability of the account.
- Expect more from your sales staff. Create a sales contest that compels them to perform. Place a high priority on new customer acquisition while placing additional incentives on net territory gains as opposed to overall sales. Make contests desirable and achievable for everyone. You don’t want your top sales person to be the ringer here. If there are large swings in territory or personal production, base results on increased percentage of sales. Because you are expecting more, be prepared to give more in the way of money, appreciation, respect, assistance and of yourself.
- Reinforce the importance of customer satisfaction, loyalty and new customer acquisition to the rest of your organization. Get your whole company thinking about ways to acquire new customers through their own personal relationships and contacts. Put a lead generation incentive in place for your non-selling personnel.
At the end of the day, when the dust settles, the market share swing will end up where the best-trained sales people reside. It’s a battle of will where the outcome is determined by skill. There is no doubt that both you and your competitor have the desire for success but remember, sales is an offensive game and if you want to win you must be proactive. In good times you should reinforce the basics regularly, obtain the skills and tactics that will allow you to sustain relationships through the rough times. During slow periods you need to vigorously train and motivate in order to beat your competition. There is one thing in business you can count on; your competition won’t be sitting still for long.
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