July 2, 2020 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In a recession, it’s critical to align with customer preferences to avoid losing sales to rivals. Competition is stiff, as people have less disposable incomes. A 2018 study by the Federal Reserve found that 40 percent of Americans can’t come up with $400 to pay for an emergency. And that’s before 40 million people were out of work virtually overnight.
Here are tips to increase sales, even when the economy is in flux.
A business must do whatever it takes to serve customers well
Buyers are weary. They’ve been locked down, and many have to fight for jobs before unemployment benefits run out. Not to mention 27 million have recently lost employer-based health insurance, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. Post-pandemic consumers, therefore, are thrifty and budget-conscious.
Salesy employees seem indifferent to customer needs. Businesses must encourage reps to truly listen to what customers want, even if they don’t articulate their needs and desires clearly. A helpful salesman should read between the lines and notice what isn’t being said. Moreover, he should act more like a product consultant than a commission-chasing machine.
“Our startup scaled significantly in our third year when we excelled at customizing apparel and giving customers a very personalized service,” says Michael Nemeroff, CEO of Rush Order Tees. The Philadelphia-based ecommerce brand grew from $30,000 a month in sales to $200,000 a month during that transition period.
Nemeroff credits his company’s extreme growth to streamlining of processes, expanding Rush Order Tees’ customer base and catering to orders of all sizes. “The real key was doing whatever it took to deliver any size order with any design for clients on extremely short deadlines,” he adds. “We earned a great reputation, and we have now reached a point where more than 40 percent of revenue is reorder business.”
Related: How Your Attitude Can Win You Sales
Think long-term value
Any entrepreneur would pick recurring revenue over one-off transactions. So why should sales mentality be any different? A 2019 survey by Gartner found that millennials are generally skeptical of sales reps.
One sales expert believes that current events can be leveraged to create favorable impressions with prospective buyers. “Design your pitch to take advantage of everything that’s currently going on,” advises Temple Naylor, an influencer in high-ticket sales, in a recent call. “The recession can be utilized to help design the pitch. Do research and create data points that inform your pitch because prospects will be inclined to trust you as an authority.”
Trustworthiness and accurate product information are extremely important in the purchase decision. In other words, prospects are more likely to purchase from a rep with a solid reputation. “Everyone is scrambled in fear because of the downturn,” says Naylor. “So get your facts and data from very credible sources such as new studies from global consulting firms or large universities. It’s hard for prospects to argue with great information.”
Skepticism of a salesperson’s claims reduces a customer’s chance of buying by half, according to a 2020 survey by Gartner. There’s real risk of losing a customer by being inauthentic. They won’t feel special and appreciated, and lack of customer loyalty means they can easily switch over to a competitor.
Therefore agents, shopkeepers and anyone else who rings the cash register must earn trust by helping customers find what they need. Aside from getting word-of-mouth business, influencers may promote your brand on social media after you establish a solid reputation for helping customers. The sales commission should be a byproduct of great service rendered, not the goal in itself.
Be persistent with contacts
Finally, there’s nothing like good old follow-up. Prospects don’t buy at the present time for many reasons, even though they’re interested in a good or service. They may currently be busy, lack time, need a boss’s approval, lack money or have other priorities. However, a good salesperson will reconnect with a prospect when the timing is right and secure the transaction.
Only 2 percent of sales occur at a first meeting, according to Marketing Donut, a sales-resource website. And prospects say “no” four times before buying a product or service. Persistence matters. Many rejections are soft rebuffs — they don’t really mean it. And many are presently unsure of what they want until they see more information. A “no” often brings you one step closer to “yes,” especially for would-be customers who are teetering on the edge of purchasing.
“Have an emotionally intelligent dialogue and not a sales script,” suggests Naylor. “Talk like a normal human. You don’t have to be perfectly polished. Instead, lead people through self-doubt and resistance at the end of an offer.”
To underscore his point, according to HubSpot research, buyers want reps to listen to needs (69 percent); to not be pushy (61 percent); and to provide relevant information (61 percent). Is your staff properly trained and inspired to sell in the new economy?