As a tough economy lingers, many small business owners find themselves stuck in a sales slump that just doesn’t seem to get any better. Under those conditions, it’s easy for a business to find itself floundering for solutions that seem perpetually out of reach.
“Many businesses are paralyzed in today’s difficult and increasingly competitive economy,” says David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, who helps businesses with just such problems. “They don’t have a system for success or forget what they actually know, and are merely reactive.”
But sales slumps can actually be a time for renewing and refocusing a sales effort if you can avoid key mistakes and knee jerk reactions that will keep your company in a rut. Here are seven sales slump survival tactics that can make your business stronger for the year ahead:
1. Stick with your sales process. When sales slow, many small business owners panic. They suddenly forget what they know and start throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. They jump from activity to activity, neglecting their sales process. Stop there. A sales process tells you exactly what needs to happen in order to complete a sale. “Imagine an emergency room,” says Mattson. “When a patient comes into triage the hospital doesn’t try multiple check-in procedures and leave their process to chance, or things would be chaos. There are procedures and orderly steps that need to happen every single time in order to correctly treat a patient. The same is true in sales.”
2. Don’t focus on revenue only. Focusing only on top line numbers can frustrate a sales team. What you really need to consider is behaviors as well as revenue. To achieve your sales goals, your business needs to know which behaviors need to take place in order to provide favorable sales results down the road.
3. Keep prospecting. If you only pay attention to current customers you will sacrifice long-term sales. When a business gets to a certain size, employees feel like they can relax and that they are past needing to prospect all the time. Don’t fall for this trap. Very few people like to prospect. You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. While it is important not to neglect existing customers, you always need to be on the lookout for new customers in anticipation of the peaks and valleys throughout the year.
4. Maintain marketing and advertising. When businesses see a decrease in sales, the first costs they tend to cut are marketing and advertising. That’s a mistake. Now more than ever small companies must create mindshare with customers and prospects. But it doesn’t have to cost money. An often missed opportunity is simply following up on all leads you receive. For instance, research shows that only two percent of leads at trade shows are followed up on. Just by pursuing existing leads you could come out of the slump stronger than your competitors.
5. Ban “Loser Talk.” If you really want to kill sales, create an atmosphere of learned helplessness. In fact, many business owners do this and don’t even realize what they’ve done. Stop blaming the economy or other things out of your control, and set a positive tone going forward. Empower sales people to close deals within parameters, and be responsible and accountable for their own progress.
6. Remember your roots. If you want to drive a business into the ground, forget what you did that made the business successful in the first place. Remember what made clients and prospects fall in love with your company; then go back to that.
7. Plan for seasonal slowdowns. Planning ahead for seasonal slowdowns can help pull you out of future ruts. Leaders should anticipate specific months or times of year when sales trend down and feed the sales funnel before these occur.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.