While many of us have forgotten the economic recession of 2008, those dark days left a lasting impression on many business owners and the teams that empower them: especially successful salespeople as they learned how to deal with a downturn.
At the time, I was at CareerBuilder, heading up the Pacific Northwest territory for the mid-markets division. I clearly remember the uphill battle our sales team faced when we called customers and prospects to renew job postings. In order to succeed, we had to gain clarity on where our customers were failing and what they were still spending money on. As a result, we stopped having the same old sales conversations.
It turns out we were focused on the wrong competitive advantage all along. They still needed to hire talent, but top or niche candidates they wanted couldn’t be found on traditional job sites. To remedy this, we pitched ourselves and our sites for the next two years to sell against recruiters–instead of simply being a job site. We focused on hard-to-fill and executive openings and found customers willing to spend big budgets to solve key needs in their business.
Even with an economic downturn, we didn’t blame something that wasn’t under our control. Instead, we took a hard look at our sales strategies and found areas that would allow us to prosper even in grim situations.
Here are some top tips to maintain peak performance in a downturn:
1. Use technology and data to improve efficiency
On average, sales representatives only spend one-third of their time selling. They spend the other two-thirds on research, follow-up, and administrative tasks. With the current sales tech environment, this should no longer be the case given the sales and marketing technology at our disposal.
It seems like every week there’s another sales tool designed to automate segments of the sales process that are normally manual and cumbersome. Whether you automate follow-ups with Rebump or log sales activity in Gmail with Streak, there’s a sales tech tool out there that can help you be much more efficient.
2. Think and act positively
People can sense desperation in your communication and it often leads to a lack of perceived credibility. Remain honest yet confident under tough circumstances; this is the key to continued sales wins.
To remain confident and optimistic, remember the high of closing deal after deal and the way you felt and acted on those days. Attitudes, both good and bad, rub off on others. So always make sure you remain positive.
3. Focus on creative solutions to business challenges
Like the CareerBuilder example above, it’s important to think about different ways to position your product so that its use cases are positioned to solve new or bigger challenges. When the current positioning isn’t working, it’s time to change the conversation. Strive to use the “Challenger Approach” sales style, which more than 50 percent of all high-performing sales representatives rely on. Ask questions, push your customers to areas they might be familiar with but don’t label as important, and find solutions to problems they didn’t know existed. Don’t be locked into a course of action that is failing and be always be willing to adapt and find new ways to position yourself when conditions aren’t in your favor.
4. Block out the noise from negative peers
Most people want to be good. But being great is a burden very few take on because they aren’t willing to put in the extra work necessary to get there. There are specific traits that separate great salespeople from the good, but the biggest difference is that they look at a downturn or a rejection as a challenge that they have to overcome. Negative peers will look to a downturn as an excuse for poor performance, or worse, no performance. Block out the noise and focus on getting better and improving yourself.
5. Learn hard, work smart
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he frequently mentions the 10,000-hour rule: It takes around that amount of time to achieve excellence and mastery in a field. It’s not rare to find people who put in long hours and grind it out to achieve sales excellence every month. They either get the job done or come pretty close consistently. But as the psychologist behind the rule, Anders Ericsson, says: “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.”
The key to above-average sales performance is to do both. Work the hours needed but continuously improve your sales execution by always learning. If you put in more hours than anyone, focus on improving every day, and constantly be looking to learn, you will see the results pay off.
This article has been edited.
Jake Dunlap is the CEO & Founder of Skaled, which helps companies optimize their sales process and technology to accelerate business growth.