Selling in Challenging Times Isn’t as Complex As You Think

UPDATED: July 6, 2022
PUBLISHED: July 11, 2022
Selling in Challenging Times

We’ve been here before. Times have been tough. We’ve survived and learned valuable lessons along the way to make us better people, smarter salespeople and stronger business leaders. If you doubt me, talk with anyone who lived through the Great Depression, one of the most troubled economic periods in modern history. It may not have been easy to live through, but things did turn around. They always do.

People have been known to not only survive but to thrive in rough economic times. After all, the world hasn’t ever come to a complete stop. Sure, there may have been pauses here and there, but they lasted only as long as it took someone to get creative and figure a way out of it—to take the next step in the right direction.

The best way to sum up a strategy for succeeding in uncertain economic times is an old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” When business as a whole slows down, many businesspeople say there’s little they can do to change the market and that they just have to ride it out.

If that’s the way you think, let me ask you this: Where would we be if we all thought that way about our planet? Millions of people have become more interested and involved—and their efforts to recycle, purchase foods grown locally and economize in the use of nonrenewable resources are making an impact. If you can make a difference in something as major as saving the planet, there is definitely something you can do about the effects of a business slowdown.

If you buy into the sad and bad news, you’ll have a tough time during tough times. However, if you take a break from the news and instead focus on what’s right with the world and your industry, you’ll soon come up with creative ideas for how you can continue to win business. You’ll find more and more clients attracted to you because you’re doing something instead of just sitting there saying, “O, woe is me,” about the economy. People want to work or do business with people who are positive, upbeat and resourceful.

In business, the economic climate is always changing. For much of the time, the changes that take place are caused by outside factors we’re powerless to control. Having better-trained salespeople than your competitors is a sure way to gain an edge.

The challenge with many companies and salespeople is that they tend to let themselves become inefficient in good times. They see all the great business they’re doing today, and fail to continue to take care of yesterday’s clients or prepare for tomorrow’s business. They make keeping on top of the latest industry news a low priority. Then, when things get tough, it’s hard for them to buckle down and become more effective. They’ve lost some of their competitive edge.

When you recognize you’re in a slump, no matter what the economy is doing, sit down and analyze what you’re doing differently today from when you were at your peak performance. Good salespeople, like good businesses, keep records and know what worked best and when. They don’t just run out and randomly try new things to turn business around. They rely on their knowledge and expertise to give them a solid footing from which to test new ideas.

A key point to remember is that if you are facing tough times, chances are many of your clients are feeling the pinch as well. They may consider making changes—decreasing the amount of business they do with you, changing to lower-quality materials or utilizing fewer services. Now is not the time to let that happen. Your best accounts should be contacted weekly during tough times, whether it involves an economic challenge or something specific to their industry or their particular company. Let them know you care. Give them positive news with each call. Let them feel you are in it with them and that they are important to you. Sticking by them in tough times builds loyalty. Then, when the economy swings back around, as it always does, who are they going to remember? You, my friend.

The single best thing anyone can do in the current economic climate is to take a lesson from the Energizer Bunny and just keep going. That may not sound like the most profound advice, but it’s what is needed in all areas of our economy. Granted, it may not be as easy as it was when things were booming along, but business is business and it only grows when we do what we’re hired to do.

Stalling or taking time to worry because things aren’t as good as they were does little for you, your company or our economy. Take stock of what your current situation is, consider what the appropriate positive response needs to be, make your plan to accomplish it and take action.

Go back to the basics of what you were doing when the tide was high and business was booming. First and foremost, ask yourself if you still believe in your product. You must wholly believe in your product or service, not just believe that it will generate income for you.

Second, you need to learn enough about your clients’ current needs to know that your product is truly good for them before attempting to get them involved with your offering.

While some average salespeople are suffering miserably because of their past activities, the true sales professionals are taking the hit a bit differently. This may sound self-serving, but many of our clients rededicate their efforts to training their people when economic times are tough. Having better-trained salespeople than your competitors is a sure way to gain an edge, especially if sales opportunities are scarce. It’s like the old story of the two men competing to chop down two huge trees. One man goes at the tree like a tornado, stopping only for short breathers. The other man, however, chops away steadily, taking longer breaks to sharpen his ax. You can guess how the story turns out. The man with the sharper ax wins.

It’s very possible to not only survive, but to thrive in tough times. And I believe that salespeople—the foundation of the free enterprise system—must take the lead and forge the way into the brighter future that is just ahead by doing what’s right, by working in the best interests of their clients and by keeping their skills sharp.

Tom Hopkins is a sales trainer and founder of Tom Hopkins International. He has produced audio and video programs and written eight books, including the best-selling How to Master the Art of Selling. This article was published in January 2009 and has been updated. Photo by @DimaBerlin/Twenty20

Tom Hopkins, founder of Tom Hopkins International, is considered a sales legend who has authored 12 books, including How to Master the Art of Selling and Selling for Dummies. Hopkins also was a pioneer in bringing broadcast-quality video training to the marketplace with video sales training systems used by companies around the world.