Recession-proof Your Attitude

By William F. Kendy

Selling in an up economy is one thing…selling in a down economy is quite another. Budgets get slashed, money for nonessentials dries up, jobs are cut, and what used to be fertile selling fields start to wither. Market conditions create a real test of the mettle and skill of salespeople, and it can be demoralizing. So keeping your spirits positive becomes even more important than normal in down times.

“Successful salespeople have to trust economic principles and remember that a recession doesn’t last forever, but good products and tough people do,” says Ron Davis, North American account manager for the Boulder, Colorado-based Digitalglobe Company.

According to Davis, salespeople struggling in tough economic times need to analyze, reposition and reinvent themselves. “Analyze your products and the markets you’re servicing, and make sure you’re poised to build momentum when the economy starts rebounding,” says Davis. “Continuously look for ways that you can reinvent and repackage to create a rebound. Find ways to present your core product differently for new applications.

“Salespeople also need to reinvent themselves,” points out Davis. “Evaluate how you’re selling and change your style if you need to. And set goals that are ambitious but attainable. Consider working with a personal coach to help you become more successful without changing careers.”

Chris Bybee, sales representative for Mark Container Corporation in San Leandro, CA, agrees with Davis that when sales are down because of a less-than-stellar economy, salespeople need to reinvent themselves, “break the mold” and try different things.

“It’s important to have a good self-image, especially when you’re cold-calling and constantly dealing with rejection. It makes you rethink what you’re doing,” says Bybee. “Put yourself in the mirror, consider why you’re getting a lot of ‘noes’ and decide what you have to change to turn them into ‘yesses.’

“When times are tough, that’s when you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and prove yourself,” says Bybee. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself and believe in your product, you’re going to get weeded out.”

Bybee likens the right attitude to that of actor Eddie Murphy’s persona in the Beverly Hills Cop movies: he always knows what he’s doing and walks in and takes control of the situation.

“If you’re looking like you’re lost and not confident, you will fail, because prospects can sense uncertainty,” says Bybee. “You need to pump yourself up and go into a sales situation with the attitude that your prospects have to listen to you because you’re selling them something they truly need.

“Try to break out of your normal daily sales routine and dare to be different,” advises Bybee. “For example, go on a tandem sales call with another rep and tag-team a prospect. This allows you to see how the other person sells and gives you the opportunity to talk over the situation. Chances are that person has also gone through challenging economic times, and it’s reinforcing to know that you’re not alone.”

Davis feels that in tough times salespeople have to look to their current customers not only for increased business but to tap into their knowledge base.

“Keep your customer base informed about new concepts, new products and new applications, and seek their advice about how you can increase sales,” says Davis. “They may know about opportunities in areas that aren’t experiencing slowdowns or markets that you hadn’t considered working.”

It doesn’t hurt to have clients who are friends, and when he’s really down, Bybee calls on them for some cheering up.

“Call on a happy customer,” says Bybee. “It’s amazing how being with someone who is optimistic and cheerful can turn your whole day and attitude around.”

Bybee makes cold calling a game and rewards himself for successes, even if they are small ones: “I have a big bag of M & M’s, and if I successfully get past a gatekeeper I treat myself to a few M & M’s. Set some objectives and reward yourself for achieving them. But I also send myself some softballs – things that I know I’ll accomplish – and reward myself for bringing those tasks to closure. Selling is hard work, but it can also be fun, even when times are tough.”

“Always remember that even if you’re a W-2 employee, you’re still the president of your own personal company, and it’s up to you to make it work,” says Davis. “Believe in yourself, believe in your product, plan your work, work your plan, and make your company a success.”