The hardest sell is not the one you have to make, it’s the one your buyer has to make internally against other priorities and initiatives.
As a seller, you can feel it coming. When recession looms, a company’s first impulse is to dramatically cut spending. But you can work the downturn to your advantage—helping buyers position your solution not as just another cost competing for space in a tightened budget, but as the key to thriving in hard times.
These four steps will enable you to make it easier for your buyers to buy.
Step 1 — Improve your understanding of the situation
Take a macroeconomic view of how a downturn is affecting your customer’s business. Examine the trends moving against the company’s ability to purchase, in particular the implications of how these trends impact the budget areas where you sell today. Customers who were previously looking for 20 percent year-over-year growth are likely now aiming for something more conservative, or even hoping just to remain flat. Maintaining revenues and market position are more important than ever in a recession.
Even during market downturns, however, customers still have problems that need to be solved. Consider the decision levers influencing purchasing amid these macroeconomic trends by identifying high-level trends that customers need to focus on in a downturn. These will fall into at least some, and maybe all, of the following categories: technology, people, strategy, key initiatives, competitive landscape, and business performance. Examining the internal communication of your own company and any changes in how decisions are made may also give insight into what your customers are experiencing.
Step 2 — Get back to fundamentals
Even your strongest business relationships can now look much different due to economic pressures. Most customers will be facing increased scrutiny on any purchasing decision, with new stakeholders involved in the buying process who require higher levels of justification. A longer sales cycle has wide effects on your ability to manage your pipeline and territory and forecast your year. In a downturn, sales fundamentals are more important than ever, so you need to take these three actions:
- Evaluate your customers. Looking at your book of business, who are your most critical stakeholders? Taking the time to evaluate which relationships are essential to sustain and beginning to formulate a game plan will keep you focused.
- Discover and align to changing goals. Particularly for your most essential customers, you will need to be intentional about understanding how the looming recession is affecting their business and their decision-making processes. Often a short-term strategy is put in place to maintain financial health throughout the downturn. As a good partner, you need to be able to align with the new success targets and be proactive in the process.
- Uncover the new competition. A downturn can bring a source of competition you haven’t faced before: other initiatives inside of your customer’s company competing for the same budget dollars. With waning confidence in growth, C-suite leaders have little choice but to tightly monitor costs throughout the organization. Inevitably, this ratchets up the internal competition for funding as finance departments try to decide which initiatives are mission-critical and which could wait for better conditions.
Getting back to basics and spending the time to deeply understand how the external pressures are creating new internal processes for your customers can help you better position yourself throughout the downturn.
Step 3 — Position yourself
Now that you fully understand the new strategy of your key accounts and any potential internal competition, you are ready to position yourself. While you may be tempted to look at shorter contracts or discounting, any amount of discounting can have long-term effects on your relationships and signal desperation. More than ever, it is critical that you create a value proposition for your customers. In addition, you must present a creative value proposition that is broad enough to appeal to the new stakeholders at the table. You may find yourself with C-suite executives involved in conversations that previously required lower-level signoff. Being able to confidently present your offering and think on your feet will be essential. Be sure to understand what value your offering brings to different areas of your customer’s organization and know what levers you have at your disposal to help a deal move along. Remember that just as your customers want to avoid any short-term missteps for their business, you must protect your business as well. Look for creative ways everyone can win.
Step 4 – Identify new opportunities
Finally, you need to be more proactive and agile during this time. While maintaining major accounts and relationships is important, finding new areas of business may be even more important. You might have built a book of business around an industry that is widely affected by the downturn. Networking with your team and staying current on market conditions can you help you find marketplace shifts and lead you to new opportunities. Communicating with your sales and marketing leadership on what you see and hear in the field may help everyone uncover new applications, industries, and customers for your products.
There’s no denying that selling in a downturn presents a new set of challenges. But by leveraging empathy and insights into the internal and external forces impacting customers, you can partner with your buyers to make a winning business case—even in a downturn.