Six tips on boosting sales numbers in a bad economy

Updated: October 25, 2009

It's been a bad year for many reasons and on many levels, no doubt about it. Many companies - big and small, established and start-up - aren't exactly hitting their sales, revenue and customer growth targets. But it's a cop-out to blame the economy and a lack of customer demand. Many organizations, unfortunately, simply aren't executing on all cylinders when it comes to sales and marketing.

What's more, when economic conditions improve, those same problems and misfires that have existed this year will still be around, and can hurt your chances of accelerating sales and market share as the overall market and selling environment improves.

Below are six reasons your sales numbers might be suffering, each of which are within your control to address and improve - in good times and bad.

1.) Are you selling to the right buyer?

Make sure you understand who the right decision-maker is for buying your product or service. Is that person different from the eventual end-user? Is there a third "influencer" of the purchase that needs to be on board before the buyer will sign?

How well you understand the purchase and decision-making ecosystem within the buying organization can make a big difference in whether or not you can quickly get to a "yes."

What's more, the right buyer in your target organization may have changed in the past year. In many cases, the individual who could make a purchase decision a year ago might need higher-level CFO approval today. If your sales process and messaging are focused on the HR Manager, for example, and the buyer today is actually the CFO, wouldn't that make a significant difference in how you sell?

2.) Are you selling benefits or features?

Look at your primary messaging, and think critically about whether it describes what you tactically do, or what your product/service enables as a benefit for the customer. There's a big difference - one focuses on how the product works, but the latter highlights why it's important.

Your customers may not actually care what you do, but they sure care about how it can help them achieve their own goals. Sell the benefits, not the features and tactics. Yes, prospects will eventually want to know how it works and how to use it. But you have to earn your way to that part of the conversation.

Get their attention first with benefits.

3.) Do you sound desperate?

It's very tempting right now to lower prices and create aggressive offers to move product. But those offers, though offering the potential for a quick bump in sales, have a downside as well. They can immediately put you in a position where you're competing on price, and failing to justify a premium price for a premium product (and result!).

Make too many offers and discounts too often in front of the same prospects, and you also lose the urgency to buy that those offers are meant to create in the first place. Yeah, there's a sale today, but the prospect will simply wait and see what the sale will look like tomorrow. End that pricing promotion this Friday, and if they expect it'll start again next week or next month, and they're more likely to sit on their hands.

4.) Do your sales & marketing teams agree?

What is a good prospect? What is a good lead? What's the point at which a lead becomes a real sales opportunity?

If your sales and marketing organizations don't have a common definition and understanding of the answers to these questions, you definitely have a problem.

For marketing, providing quality leads to sales isn't the end. It should not be the objective. Quality leads is at the beginning of the sales process. Getting the best return and conversion on those leads requires that sales and marketing work closely together to support each other through the entire selling process - from awareness to interest, lead generation, trial and close.

5.) Do your customers want what you're selling?

Let's assume that, when the product was introduced or created, there was a clear need for the solution or end-result it offered to your customer. Does that benefit still exist? Does the product or service still match the market need? Or has the market evolved?

The only way to answer this and related questions is to constantly listen to your customers and the market at large. Your product may have been critically important three years ago. But are there other solution alternatives today? Is your product still best at solving the problem? How do the answers to these questions change your product strategy, let alone your sales & marketing approach?

Not easy questions to ask or answer, but they get in the way of successful selling far more than you think, especially at a time when markets, technology and customer interests are evolving more rapidly than ever.

6.) What are customers & prospects saying behind your back? And why aren't you participating?

It used to be difficult and expensive to hear what your customers said about you - either to you directly or to each other. That, of course, has changed in a big way. Surprisingly, still few companies listen - let alone participate - in the conversation going on about their products, services and brands.

At minimum, make sure you know what your customers and prospects think about you. And what they think about your competitors. And probably more importantly, what they're saying about the problem you're trying to solve for them in the first place. How could understanding these three things help you better align product, marketing approach and messaging to address what your customers most care about?

Make sure you're looking at ways to directly participate in that conversation as well. If a customer or prospect is willing to share how you could make things better, why not use the same communication channel to thank them, show them what you've done differently, and earn their trust, respect….and business?

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