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Posted: February 11, 2009

Sales and the economic slowdown

How to grow your sales even in tough times

Theresa M. Szczurek

Many CEOs these days are nervous about the impact of today’s economy on their sales. They have good reasons to be anxious. They’re taking longer to close sales and  their pipeline isn’t robust enough to make up for the delay.

The sales approach that was good enough during boom days just won’t cut it when times are tough. You need a sales process that consistently moves leads to qualified prospects and onto closed accounts. And you need a sales force that’s up to the challenge.

Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman -- not the attitude of the prospect.”

So said W. Clement Stone, the bestselling positive-attitude guru who died in 2002. And it’s true: One of my clients reported 144 percent sales growth last year because her sales team “got it.”

If your sales people have excuses like, "These are tough times, no one is buying anything," remember Stone’s assertion. The overachievers — the A players you need on your team — will produce sales results no matter what the economy conditions are.

Sales force optimization

Dave Kurlan, author of Baseline Selling, recommends these five steps to help your sales force survive and thrive in the recession:
• Have the right people in the right sales and sales management roles;
• Gain your sales team's commitment and buy-in to work harder, be tougher, and do what it takes in these more difficult times;
• Perform a pipeline analysis and work the pipeline;
• Create the necessary infrastructure, including an appropriate sales process, recruiting process, sales management systems, and software;
• Develop the salespeople on process, skills, and overcoming their weaknesses.

Don’t be afraid to “topgrade.” "Free up the future" of underachievers and recruit A players.

According to Kurlan, you can turn average sales people into overachievers using the following 10 factors:
• Goals based not on the company’s needs, but on the individual's income requirements;
• Incentives that reward superior achievement;
• Managing the pipeline based on your critical ratios;
• Accountability to something measurable;
• Motivation to do whatever it takes to reach the goals;
• Self-starter, or ability to be “started” by a supervisor;
• Skills to hunt for new opportunities, identify the most qualified and be able to  close them;
• Urgency to get opportunities closed, even when prospects are trying to put them off;
• Knowing weaknesses, and overcoming them;
• Coaching and training to help salespeople overcome their weaknesses, develop skills and master the selling process.

Self-assessment

It can be hard to face the facts of your sales approach. But it’s more crucial now than ever before.

Ask yourself the tough questions. Be honest. Take this free, simple sales force assessment. Along with your score, you'll see how your sales force compares with others and receive an explanation of what your score means. Then we'll recommend what you can do to improve your score.

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Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up, which sold for more than $40 million in less than six years, is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life. www.RadishSystems.com, www.radishsprouts.typepad.com and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.

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