Make us your home page

Selling products and services in hard times

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Yup, we're in a recession. • Yup, sales are more difficult to make these days. • And yup, you still can make those sales in the toughest economy if you take specific, effective steps, says Dave Mattson, chief executive of Sandler Training, which has more than 600 sales training franchisees worldwide. • Now seems like a great time to ask Mattson and some of his colleagues for sales ideas that really work in tough times, since many of Sandler's students are small-business owners who are the chief salesmen for their firms. Here are some of their tips.

Name your customer's pain.

"You have to prove now to buyers that what you have will work for them," Mattson said.

The old salesman's cliche of selling the features and benefits isn't as effective as figuring out the pain a customer is trying to solve, he added.

"People buy for emotional reasons and justify their purchases intellectually. You'll make the sale if you attach your value to solving their pain."

Michael Gagne of Alpha Bio in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., a Sandler student, has found this approach effective for his company, which supplies specialty equipment to biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

"We have a client who contacted us about replacement parts. He was having trouble with another supplier," Gagne said. "That was the tip of the iceberg, a contract worth several thousand dollars. By asking questions to uncover the customer's pain, I could identify a potential $15 million cost savings."

Increase your share.

Small businesses can improve their results by working to get more business from existing customers rather than spending all their time seeking new customers, Mattson said.

You may have what, for you, is a giant contract with a customer. But what if that contract is only 20 percent of what that customer spends on products and services that you can supply?

"You want to be going after that business . . . and it's a lot easier to get business from that existing customer," Mattson says.

Sell in increments.

These days your toughest competitor is not another company but customers' unwillingness to make a decision, Mattson said. You must get them out of that mode so try selling a smaller, management part that doesn't seem so costly.

"Say something like, 'You could do this whole project, but let's do this little part,' " said Mattson, who uses this with his sales training programs. "I'll do a two-day training session to demonstrate the value of a bigger training program."

Phil Martinez, president of Mission Packaging in Ontario, Calif., and longtime Sandler client, recently used this technique to get a small project with a potentially large customer.

"He sees if I can handle it and it establishes for me whether he is truly interested," he said.

Work backward.

These days, consumers and companies put off their purchases until the last minute, Mattson said. You may speed up their purchase decision by drawing on paper a visual time line, starting with the purchase and ending with the actual delivery of the product or service.

"There may be a lot of things that have to happen — purchase the software, customization, training — that it helps to put dates on each step and this helps shrink the selling cycle," he said.

This method also works for you in developing an account development plan, Mattson added. How many sales do you want? How many presentations do you have to make to get those sales? How many calls do you have to make to get requests for that many presentations? How many conversations do you have to have to make this whole process work?

"You have to be laser-focused in this economy to find those people and it doesn't have to be all cold calling," Mattson said. "You might get three from your service groups, 10 referrals, 10 from network and three from cold calling."

No is okay.

Time is money, so Martinez of Mission Packaging likes the Sandler method that quickly weeds out people who aren't interested in his products so he doesn't spend time following up with them. He can focus on true prospects.

"I tell (a prospect) upfront, 'No is okay. I'd rather have you say you're not interested than spend 30 minutes wasting your and my time,' " Martinez said.

"If you're interested, invite me to a meeting," he added. "We'll make a contract upfront: how long the meeting will last, what you want out of it, what I want. And if at the end of the meeting you don't think it's a fit, tell me no. I think that makes me different in his mind."

Techniques and tips that

can help increase sales

More tips from Dave Mattson at Sandler Training:

Create a sense of urgency: Establish the consequences if your customer does not take action.

Reward your best customer segments: Extend exclusive benefits to your most loyal customers, either incentive-based or value-based goods or services not available to the general public.

Ask existing customers for a list of their upcoming projects or purchasing decisions: Often customers don't understand your firm's capabilities. If they explain what's going on, you can identify ways to help them.

Look for other opportunities within client companies: Ask your buyer in a large company for names of her counterparts in other departments.

Ask satisfied customers for reference letters: Most successful salespeople have a book of reference letters they can show prospects, which may speed up their sales decision.

Don't think in terms of "closing" the sale: Think instead of a deal as the opening of a business relationship.

Selling products and services in hard times 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Orange County (Calif.) Register.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  2. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  3. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]
  4. Trigaux: Tampa Bay health care leaders wary of getting too far ahead in disruptive times


    Are attempts to repeal Obamacare dead for the foreseeable future? Might the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now in dire limbo, be revived? Will Medicaid coverage for the most in need be gutted? Can Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and House ever agree to deliver a substitute health care plan that people …

    Natalia Ricabal of Lutz, 12 years old, joined other pediatric cancer patients in Washington in July to urge Congress to protect Medicaid coverage that helped patients like Ricabal fight cancer. She was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2013 and has undergone extensive treatments at BayCare's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. [Courtesy of BayCare]
  5. The Iron Yard coding academy to close in St. Petersburg


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Iron Yard, a code-writing academy with a location in downtown St. Petersburg, will close for good this summer.

    Instructors (from left) Mark Dewey, Jason Perry, and Gavin Stark greet the audience at The Iron Yard, 260 1st Ave. S, in St. Petersburg during "Demo Day" Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, at The Iron Yard, which is an immersive code school that is part of a trend of trying to address the shortage of programmers.  The academy is closing this summer.  [LARA CERRI   |   Times]