Selling in a Recession

After a decade of growth and increasing demand, the world has suddenly changed. Are your salespeople ready?

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Published on: April 2020

Written by: Lou Schachter

By Lou Schachter, Head of Sales Practice at BTS

If you ask sellers what their customers are telling them now, they’ll probably respond, “They want lower prices.” And yes, in a recessionary environment, customers will seek to cut costs wherever they can. But, unless your value proposition is to be the low-cost provider, selling on price is a bad strategy at any stage of the economic cycle.

So, what’s a good strategy?


Selling in a recession


Until now, the most successful B2B sellers have been those that understood their customers’ businesses the best. Salespeople with strong business acumen create value by linking their offerings to the result their customer is trying to achieve. Strong sellers show how their offerings will accelerate the achievement of initiatives to grow market share, enter new markets, launch new products, optimize manufacturing production or service delivery, and, of course, lower overall costs.

However, times have changed.

There are 5 rules you need to know to be successful in today’s environment.

    • Get smart. Dynamic Business Acumen, which describes a seller’s understanding of what is changing in their customer’s business, is critical for success. As a seller, you need to know the top strategic priorities of your customer’s CEO today. And it’s not a time to make assumptions. How do you do this? Talk to everyone you know inside the customer company. For publicly held companies, read everything the CEO is saying.
    • Cash (flow) is king. It’s easy to think the most important priority is cutting costs. That’s only partially true. Right now, almost every company is trying to increase cash flow. As a seller, you need to think about how your offerings reduce inventory holdings or increase the speed of collecting receivables and demonstrate this to the client. How? Your marketing team should provide sellers with messaging that explains how your offerings can improve customer cash flow.
    • Go virtual. Another CEO priority is recreating relationships with customers through more virtual interactions. Can your offerings help your customer reach more of its customers? CEOs are trying to hold onto as many employees as possible, but that means they must find new ways for those employees to create value for customers. How? Think about how your offerings enable employees to do new things quickly.
    • Play the long game. Right now, every day seems to bring new challenges. Yet, CEOs continue to keep one eye on the long term. That means that salespeople can also help companies position for the future. How? Look closely at what is the CEO saying about the longer term. Are there new markets to serve? New offerings to create? New ways of manufacturing and distributing their products? Find the area where your company can help.
    • Divide and conquer. In every downturn, customers segment into three categories. Some of your best customers will buy more because their new plans require it. Others, because their industries are being hit hard, will stop buying. The third group sits in the middle. What does this mean? Now more than ever, your salespeople need to segment customers and focus sales time on the customers that are buying more, while giving time secondarily to those continuing to purchase at some level. Furthermore, sellers need to reduce the time they spend with industries that are contracting. All of this means that qualifying opportunities is critical. How can you implement segmentation? Sales managers can play a big role in ensuring that sellers are prioritizing their sales activity correctly.

Don’t get caught in the pricing vise. Find new ways to add value to your customers’ operations and strategic priorities. Solve for more than you have in the past by thinking about the customer’s entire business, not just the person or business process you sell into.