Sales isn’t always a high-octane race, where you close deals left and right at 200 mph. With the spread of COVID-19, the market is slowing and business is starting to move at a glacial pace.
This is not only a rough situation for everyone involved, but it’s also extremely demoralizing for salespeople. And even when the market starts to turn around, the reality of slow times is regularly felt by seasonal businesses. This is just one of those times where you won’t be seeing new cash hit the bank—but that’s exactly why you need to maximize downtime.
Think of yourself as a professional athlete. If you just go hard during the peak season and relax during the off-season, you put yourself at the whims of your own business cycles.
Especially during an economic downturn, you have to stay disciplined and take charge of your own fate. Let yourself slide, and your muscles will atrophy and deteriorate.
What does Kobe do when basketball season is over? He hits the gym. He practices his free throws and nails down his footwork. Championships are won during the off-season.
Take it from the people at Ambition, whose software is focused on improving sales performance:
“Everyone is so worried about motivation, but it’s impossible to stay motivated all the time. The more valuable character trait for an Inside Sales Force—or any organization—is discipline.”
As things go down, it’s a massive opportunity to give yourself and your team a competitive edge over all the other people out there twiddling their thumbs and playing Candy Crush. It’s your chance to bring it every single day, and make sure your own performance level is at its peak—so when the good times return, you skyrocket to the top.
Train intensively during downtime
Use downtime to constantly improve your sales team, and perfect the craft of sales.
When you and your sales team are used to closing deals every day, it’s easy for the off-season to sap at morale. The best salespeople are highly active and goal-oriented, and it’s frustrating to maintain a sense of purpose when your benchmark for success is stripped away. The most powerful way to keep everyone on board and motivated is to keep busy and focus on getting better sales, rather than just selling.
Consistent training is the key to sales success—but there’s not always time for it when the money is flowing. Use downtime to sharpen and reinforce the skill set of your team. As Chet Holmes writes in his book, The Ultimate Sales Machine, “If you take the time to sharpen skills and improve knowledge in every possible area, your company will start to run better, smarter, and faster—like a finely tuned sales machine.”
Train more, expand your expertise, and tweak and refine your sales strategy by:
- Scheduling intensive training days for your team to hone existing skill sets and expand new ones
- Experimenting with different cold call scripts and email templates
- Going over your call logs and sales data as a team to improve your sales process
Set measurable goals for each training session, and try building a skill roadmap for your sales team that tracks their progress in various skills (prospecting, communication, subject-matter expertise, technology).
Give each team member a rating in each skill, so they have a clear benchmark for progress. As they improve, you can use these small wins to keep your sales team upbeat and forward-looking.
Take the opportunity to sharpen your skillset and that of your team, while developing new ones—and invest in your future. Teach your sales team how to code and conduct data analysis. Sit them down at the support desk for a day.
Focus on ways you can do better and be better, and you’ll build an all-weather sales machine that will dominate all seasons.
Reconnect with your customers
When you’re having difficulty drumming up a new business, take your existing customer relationships to the next level by visiting them in person. In doing so, you’ll boost loyalty and retention with your company, and drive your company forwards in the years to come.
According to the Gartner Group, 80% of your company’s future profits will come from 20% of existing customers. They’re the beating heart of your business.
In an ideal world, you could wine and dine them, or even just take them out to coffee. The best thing you can do is get out of the office and actually visit your customers.
Of course, this is currently not a possibility for many companies due to COVID-19. But don’t let this be an excuse to skip this step: Instead, use video calls to spend face-to-face time with your customers. Rather than go out for a coffee, have a virtual coffee via Zoom.
The time you spend on this transforms a transactional relationship into a partnership, and locks in future profits.
In each visit:
- Start by talking in broad strokes about their business and yours.
- Learn as much as possible about your customers, and constantly look for how your product can enable their own goals.
- Get a sense of their workflows, and the nuts and bolts of how they actually implement your product and find areas of friction you can help alleviate.
- Ask them what they love about your product, and what they hate about it.
You’ll figure out which of your customers are delighted with your service, and put your product to good use—but also identify which of your customers use your product actively, but are unhappy with it and at risk of churning. Visiting your customers either in-person or virtually gives you a window into your product that no amount of usage data can replicate.
It’s especially important when sales are slowing. You get a better sense of what your customers are doing, but more importantly, you see firsthand how your product empowers people every day. It takes you back to why you’re selling in the first place, and it’s one of the most powerful ways to re-inspire yourself and your team during a slump.
Create opportunities for new business
Maybe the fish aren’t biting. But that doesn’t mean all your sales efforts should come to a grinding halt. During the off-season, your prospects aren’t getting flooded with calls—which is precisely why you should call them.
Get a leg up on the competition, and start building new relationships that will blossom in the future by picking up the phone.
Call new prospects, and say:
“Hey, I just wanted to reach out to you. I know that nobody’s buying right now, and that’s okay—I’m not trying to make a sale right now. All I’m trying to do is get to know you better, so that in the next quarter or year, whenever you make your buying decision, you know me, you know what I can do for you, and you know if you want to do business with me or not.”
Don’t try to push for the sale—customers hate it when salespeople try to get them to buy when they aren’t ready. Instead, position yourself so that when they are ready to make the purchase, your name is the first one that pops into their heads.
Start the relationship off on the right foot, when they know you’re not selling anything yet—it makes it that much easier to start building trust now, and drill down before game time.
Redefine your market
Keep hustling, but try hustling new things. Are there markets out there you haven’t explored? Opportunities you haven’t pursued? Can you sell your product to the enterprise?
Jason Lemkin advises combing through your existing customer base and looking to your outliers to redefine your market. Say that your product is a travel and expense management platform. The majority of your customers are in tech, but you have 1–2 in healthcare.
Healthcare professionals travel all the time and use horrible software. It could be a sector of business that will create explode growth for your company—and the perfect time to scope it out is when your current sales outreach is slowing down.
Always look for new growth opportunities for your business. The market changes constantly, and successful companies don’t rest on their laurels. New competitors enter, while customer needs grow and evolve. You have an evolutionary imperative: adapt or die.
By constantly reaching out to new prospects and exploring new markets, you discover opportunities to build a counter-cyclical part of your business that resists downtime. You find steady streams of revenue that can counteract seasonality altogether.
Proactive vs. reactive
“Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” — Muhammad Ali
People often look to minimize the impact of downtime. They reduce risk-taking, lay off staff, and cut internal spending. But this is the kind of short-term thinking that impedes future success.
Be proactive instead of reactive. You know the old saying, “The true test of character is what you do when no one’s watching?” It’s the same with sales. The true test of your sales team is what it does when no one’s buying.
Don’t just accept that you have a seasonal business, kick off your shoes, and relax. There’s never an excuse to stop hustling.
Sharpen your competitive edge, and look toward aggressively improving all aspects of your sales outreach. When you don’t see any opportunity, go out and create new ones—they’re yours for the taking. In doing so, you’ll transform downtime into uptime.