October 20

How The Best Sales Teams Sell During A Recession


The perfect storm is back. And it’s occurring right after we thought life was going to become easier with the pandemic winding down. Time to stop wishing and hoping because there is a new set of storms wreaking havoc on businesses and the people they employee.  

We’ve got the highest inflation in 40 years, rising gas prices, supply chain issues, global unrest and not enough people to fill positions.  

Reading the above would make any sales professional want to throw in the “sales towel” and cave into excuses such as:

  • “No one is buying.”
  • “Prospects are waiting to see what happens.” 
  • “No one has time to meet with me.”

Remember, the best sales teams sell—even during a recession.

the best sales teams sell—even during a recession

"Effective sales leaders don’t stick their head in the sand. They meet, face and conquer the current reality of the day."

– Colleen Stanley

The reality for your sales team is that there will be prospects that are not going to invest dollars in the near future with your company.  

However, the other reality is there are also prospects who will continue to invest. They have cash reserves set aside specifically for times like this. There are companies that are doing well, despite the economic storms.

How can I be so sure?  

I’ve run a business through four economic downturns so it’s not my first time at the recession rodeo. Through each of these downturns, I taught and personally applied a certain mindset and set of selling skills.  

#1. Play the long game of sales and business. 

This approach requires the EQ skill of delayed gratification. Your sales team will have clients that cannot or will not invest during a particular economic downturn, because of the financial hit to their business.

Encourage your sales team to avoid the pull of instant gratification. Play the long game of sales. Coach them to keep connecting and communicating with such clients because at some point they will return to investing and buying your services.

Encourage your sales team to provide valuable resources to customers, some of which have nothing to do with your business.

For example, one of my clients is offering workshops to her clients in the real estate business around stress management. These workshops have nothing to do with her business of marketing. They have everything to do with providing resources and support to her clients during a tough time. 

#2. Be ready to move up the decision-making ladder.

One of the common themes I’ve observed during difficult economic times is that decision making moves up the corporate ladder. Here’s a quick example.

Your salesperson has built a great relationship with the director of IT.  However, in the current environment, buying decisions have to be signed off by the “C-Suite.” Now, the salesperson builds a relationship with the Chief Technology Officer.

This change in decision making requires a change in how your salesperson approaches his or her prospects. One such change is updating sales messaging. In this example, the Chief Technology Officer has a different set of worries than the director of IT. A salesperson’s stories and case studies must be updated to demonstrate and reflect those concerns.

Coach your sales team on the different questions and objections they will be asked by the C-Suite. The old sales playbook must be updated. The decision maker has changed and so must the sales conversation.

#3. Sell to the real buyer. 

Remind your sales team that while they will be calling on bigger titles and bigger offices, to remember the true buyer in any selling situation. The real buyer is the prospect’s reptilian brain, the survival brain.

There are fundamental needs that human beings desire, regardless of their title. They like safety, security and control. These fundamental needs get even bigger during difficult times.

One of the ways to meet your prospect and customer's emotional needs is teaching your sales team the importance of bringing up the sales elephant in the room, the unspoken objection. Bring up topics that prospects and customers are worried about right now, especially as it relates to investing time and dollars or changing vendors.

  • Should we invest dollars now or wait it out? If we wait, will it get worse or better?
  • Is this the best time to switch vendors? Or, should we stick with what we know?
  • What happens if we don’t make necessary changes? What is our competition doing?

Salespeople that try to overcome objections actually make their prospects feel out of control. They put their prospect in a position where they have to defend their hesitancy to invest or change vendors. A defensive conversation isn’t a safe conversation.   

Salespeople that understand the science of selling are comfortable bringing up the unspoken objection. They know this truth telling approach creates an environment for safe sales conversations.

There isn’t any weird, overcoming the objection dance going on.

There is a real-world conversation. One where the salesperson and the buyer are openly discussing the pros and cons of their buying decision.

The best sales teams can sell in any economic environment, good times and tough times. Play the long game, be ready to move up the decision-making ladder and sell to the real buyer.

And remember, tough times don’t last but tough people do.

Good Selling!


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