Selling Microsoft

10 Tips for Selling Successfully When Times Are Tough

Microsoft partners can blunt the impact of the recession by maintaining focus with these handy tips.

In the current economic situation, it's especially easy for salespeople to get distracted -- and more important than ever to keep them focused on the steps they must take to achieve your organization's goals.

At the same time, the downturn offers an exciting chance to improve your sales team's performance and increase market share as your competitors fall behind.

Acumen recommends the following key tactics to help your team not only survive the current economic slump -- but actually profit from it as well:

1. Build the Right Kind of Motivation
Assess your salespeople's attitudes, then take steps to improve their focus and boost their motivation. Help build their belief in your company and what it sells by providing them with reference letters from satisfied customers -- or having those customers visit your offices to share their experiences with your entire sales organization. Make sales meetings fun as well as productive: Hold contests and games designed to encourage team members to focus on increasing opportunities and moving business through the sales pipeline. Determine what types of incentives your salespeople like best; then tailor your rewards to those preferences.

2. Review Prices and Features for All Your Offerings
This is the perfect time to make sure that you're capitalizing on your strengths and meeting-or beating-what the competition offers. Examine the existing profit margins and sales cycle length for each product and service line. Make short-term adjustments as needed to boost revenues and margins. Revamp your existing features or offerings and consider creating new ones. Those steps can help confuse your competitors while developing new added-value opportunities for your company. Find ways to be different!

3. Analyze Sales and Distribution Channels for Your Markets
First, identify the factors necessary to maximize sales. Then determine whether you're most likely to achieve your goals via a direct-sales organization, a channel-partner structure or a combination of the two.

Next, establish a customer focus group and ask its participants how you can best serve and support them.

Finally, create a separate customer user group. Members of this group benefit from learning more about your products and services -- and they may serve as a built-in audience for additional sales.

4. Beef up Your Sales Team
The downturn is also a great time to ramp up your recruiting efforts. We've found that, in today's climate, sales managers should expect to spend 25 percent of their time interviewing potential hires. The reason? Many highly qualified salespeople are seeking new opportunities right now, and it's important to keep tabs on the brightest stars.

To help focus your efforts, list the five attributes you consider most important in your salespeople, then use them as guidelines for continuing to build a high-quality team. Remember, interviewing candidates doesn't necessarily mean you have to hire them. And your goal should always be to go after the top talent-not just the "best available."

5. Analyze and Set Strategy for Each Sales Opportunity
In an environment of intense competition and shrinking IT budgets, it's especially important to spend time helping salespeople think through each near-term sales opportunity. Use commercial or internally developed tools to analyze the status of each opportunity and develop strategies for increasing your probability of success. Specifically:

  • Pinpoint the prospect's likely objections; develop ways to counter them
  • Determine the buyer's decision criteria
  • Identify the decision makers and other key players
  • Initiate multi-level contact with those key players

6. Seek Outside Influencers to Recommend What You're Selling
Third-party individuals and organizations may be able to help influence your potential customer's decision-making process. Potential influencers might include consultants working in the same market or with the same prospect base, or sales teams from companies that might benefit directly or indirectly from the sale of your product or service. Establish ways to identify such influencers, then create campaigns to introduce them to your company and secure their commitment to working with you.

7. Launch an Aggressive Initiative to Generate New Sales Leads
Create a smart campaign, not a "blast" or mass-appeal plan. First, establish profiles of your current clients, listing five or so reasons why they use your products or services. Second, develop a strong, clear message, preferably focusing on today's key concerns: return on investment and productivity gains. Third, establish an action plan for the next six months-and be sure to establish a timetable for following up.

8. Review Your Compensation Structure
Clearly document your current compensation plan, tabulating payments against results over time. Is the plan achieving your original goals? Is it reinforcing the level of sales activity that you want? If not, develop a new plan, making sure that you gain your team's buy-in. Commit to keeping the new plan in place for at least six months. Use the current market condition as an opportunity to focus on short-term goals and achievements.

9. Contact Every Customer
A downturn is also an excellent time to touch base with each customer. Make sure that you fully understand what customers need and how they use your products and services, then offer them new packages or deals. Or take the opportunity to obtain customer references that you can provide to potential new clients.

After each contact, be sure to update your customer database with any new information. Consider establishing a permanent program for periodically contacting all targeted clients, prospects, influencers and partners and reviewing what you've found during your regular sales meeting.

10. Plan, Plan, Plan
Careful planning can go a long way toward improving any sales team's effectiveness. Start by specifically defining all the steps in your sales process and determine how well each salesperson is executing on those steps. Then develop detailed business plans for each salesperson and create tactical plans for key strategic accounts.

Finally, follow up later to determine how well each of your salespeople did in meeting the goals in their individual plans. Be ready to invest in additional training as needed.

Any economic downturn is certainly challenging, but it's not necessarily all bad news-and it won't last forever. Ultimately, these 10 tactics can help you take advantage of what we at Acumen view as the opportunity of a lifetime -- during the lifetime of that opportunity.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at