3 ways to adapt your sales approach in a downturn, according to the Harvard Business Review


Whether we’re calling it a downturn, a recession, or just plain “weirdness,” the economy is (and has been) in a strange place. There’s no denying that budgets are tightening and people are putting more thought into buying decisions. So how does one navigate the new environment? The Harvard Business Review recently tackled this very question, and they came up with three suggestions to help you sell through the slump. Here they are:

1. Involve executives earlier in the process.

Executives are usually brought into the sales cycle towards the end to help make potential customers feel important and help close the deal. By bringing members of your executive team into the process earlier, you can increase the likelihood of closing more deals.

A big part of the value they bring is creating connections with members of senior leadership (the key decision makers) on the other side of the table. An executive-level peer can build trust and better understand and alleviate concerns for these decision makers, all while making them feel that their business is important to the company and that they aren’t just another number.

You won’t be able to bring executives into every deal. But using them strategically for specific accounts, you can help increase your close rate and overall revenue.

2. Break out of price-driven sales cycles.

In an economic downturn, customers will of course be more price-sensitive. They’ve most likely faced budget cuts and are cautious about making new purchases. But discounting shouldn’t become the go-to tactic for your team, as this will only hurt margins and isn’t guaranteed to help you close more deals.

Oftentimes, a price cut won’t get a deal past the finish line. Customers are hesitant to spend at all, so making the conversation about a 20% price reduction isn’t likely to get them excited. Instead, focusing the conversation on the benefits of your product (time savings, productivity enhancements, etc.) can help your customer realize how your product will help them and improve their business. The winning conversation is often not about price, but about how you can help them achieve their goals.

3. Refocus sales managers on planning, not selling.

The first instinct during a downturn may be for sales managers, (most of whom have reached their position due to their ability to sell), to roll up their sleeves and start getting involved in deals themselves. But beware of doing this, as it can oftentimes do more harm than good.

Doing this significantly weakens the role of the salesperson. If the salesperson is taking a backseat to the manager, their presence and credibility on the account will be lessened.  

It also takes the sales manager out of their role as the ‘coach’ and makes them a ‘player,’ when they can have the biggest impact on the team by continuing to stay in their coaching role. Instead of selling themselves, managers should stay focused on leading and coaching their sales team and improving their ability to win.

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