Selling through a downturn

David Clayton, August 13, 2020 4 min read

With the UK officially entering a recession, it’s abundantly clear that the next few months, and perhaps even years, are going to be severely difficult for many businesses. And if you’re in the business of selling, it has the potential to be particularly painful. In the middle of an economic downturn it becomes simultaneously harder to sell, and of vital importance that sales are made. Whether you have a dedicated sales team or are having to make pitches with little experience, it’s important to think about what’s changed and how it might affect your business.

So how do you sell things during a recession? David Clayton of True & North picked up a lot of the skills required by weathering the storm of the 2008/2009 recession. And although the circumstances and repercussions of the Covid-19 induced recession are wildly different, there are some learnings that still hold weight. 

Here, David tells us what he thinks are the key things to think about when selling in times of economic crisis.

Timing is your friend

For certain things, the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already in flow. In the short term, businesses will be more nimble and reactive, which may mean they need less time to make a decision. If what you’re selling helps clients tackle immediate challenges, now is the time to pounce.

Uncertainty is difficult to forecast

Uncertainty makes it difficult to price investment. In times of uncertainty, trust becomes even more important than it was before. Sales people can no longer rely on their relationships. 

Instead, concentrate on the things you can control. Do the groundwork as early as possible, do the preparation, do the research. Be clear on the outcomes you want. Understand your clients’ world and how your product would fit in it.

Selling virtually is both a challenge and an opportunity

Typical things that are common concepts to salespeople (rapport building, problem solving, sales cycles), can become super difficult when faced with a laptop screen. 

But what are the positives to take? Firstly, everyone is in the same boat. Secondly, the client relationship is levelled – both the client and the seller are inviting each other into their homes – it levels the playing field and, in some instances, rapport building can be fast-tracked. 

Picking up on verbal cues is more difficult, and more exhausting. But this is again the same for the client and the seller. Being respectful of each other’s time can mean you get to the meat of the conversation a lot quicker. 

Positioning is everything

It’s self-explanatory that in times of recession budgets will change – some will shrink and others will disappear altogether. However, some budgets will become even more important and may even increase. Think about what the company you’re pitching to needs and why. Positioning yourself as the answer to that need will be vital to closing the sale.

Get flexible on payment

During the 2008/09 recession, it became commonplace to get creative when it came to payment. Consider accepting a mixture of cash and an exchange of services, or some other advantageous combination. Work it out in the details, and help them find a way to make the sale happen.

Brush up on the basics

With lots of people steering clear of long zoom meetings, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the basics right. 

  • Speak to the right people. Visualise who your perfect client is; speak to them.
  • Listen when people tell you things – play it back to let them know you’ve heard. It’s key to get a deep understanding of your client’s situation and where they need to get to.
  • Be rigorous. Don’t rush ahead.
  • Be humble. Let the client know they’re still in charge.
  • Don’t assume. Check with the client if you aren’t sure. It shows you’re interested and builds a basis of mutual understanding.
  • Help and reassure. They might have questions and doubts – pinpoint those and respond. Make them an ally.
  • Engage and support the client as they get closer to a sales decision. Be emotionally aware.

Get truly client focused

At times of struggle it can be easy to focus on how things are affecting you and your business. However, the most effective way to sell through a downturn is to become 100% client focused in everything your company does.

Acknowledge that clients will be experiencing turbulence, and realise that it means you must show up with even more empathy. While your clients are busy navigating that turbulence, you must display even more rigour and insight on how you can help, all while doing it virtually. Make sure that the meetings you have with a client are useful and relevant, regardless of ‘the sale’ – it makes the conversations better for both of you.

Client-centred thinking is the core of what True & North do, and so we developed a three step method to make client centred sales strategies and tactics simple to implement whoever you are: care (showing your client you deeply understand their world), co-creation (exploring and testing solutions with the client), and consensus (reach agreement on solutions by addressing risks and planning the next steps together). If you fulfill these three things, you should be able to continue selling in even the worst of times. 

This too shall pass

It might seem hard to fathom right now, but things will recover and eventually go back to ‘normal’. It’s a useful thing to remember when things seem insurmountable.

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