Selling in difficult times Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

It’s no secret that times are tough everywhere in the business world. It seems the clients with money are jealously guarding their cash, and the clients who might be inclined to buy are having trouble raising capital.

“There’s no question we’re in a difficult environment,” says Rick Lawson, vice president of new business development at InfoCision Management Corp. “There are three things any business should do to help sales: improve its message and how it is delivered, look at the customers’ current state versus their desired state, and strengthen and foster that client relationship.”

Smart Business spoke with Lawson about those three tips and how to effectively execute them.

How can businesses be more effective in reaching customers?

The telephone is very effective in times like this. It builds interaction as opposed to direct mail, which can be discarded, or a TV commercial, which most people TiVo over. Too many media allow the customer to self-select out of the message. With a phone call, at least you get the chance to say you’re calling on behalf of ABC Company and present a value proposition.

It pays to look to the telephone in difficult times. You are far more likely to reach difficult audiences and, once they answer the phone, they can hardly scan past you. The phone necessitates an interaction; at least, you get an initial response. And, as travel becomes more of a luxury item, people will spend more time at home during the week and on weekends. This enhances your likelihood of reaching your audience.

Should the sales pitch be changed?

It surely must be tuned. Whatever the message, it has to be laser targeted. After using the right approach, a targeted message is the second key. You can’t just send out a shotgun-style broadcast message. You have to target a single, highly specified member of an audience. You need a consumer database that allows you to screen and profile the audience both demographically and psychographically. Identify people in terms of income, age, number of children, magazine subscriber-ship and even by the cars they drive.

It’s probably futile to pitch water park vacations to most senior citizens. But families with kids are great targets. A good sales effort will contrast a local, fun trip to the expense of hauling the family to Disney World for a week. You have to have the right appeal and the right hook.

What else should you do to get potential customers to say, ‘yes’?

Using the right vehicle to reach the right people with a strong appeal will get you to a ‘yes.’ At the end of the day, it’s Business 101. You need to know your customers’ current state versus their desired state: where are they today and where do they want to be? That gap is your selling opportunity. Identify the solution they need. There are many reasons to buy a car: status, comfort, fuel economy, family transport, etc. If you know the customers’ goal, then the salesperson can tailor an appeal to what meets their desired state.

Consultative salespeople add value to the customer experience. They dig deeper, as a friend or adviser would. They point to better options. They educate, consult and dissect the customer’s real needs. But, that consultative salesperson has to diagnose every component. Then, they can still sell at your price by offering a value proposition.

What is your advice to businesses in what looks to be a tough 2009?

You need empowered salespeople who understand the value proposition. There is an inclination, especially for companies in retail, to cut price. That might be important for inventory that will not move. But companies with the proper vehicle and a good message can sell value. Everyone needs food daily. Clothes wear out. Cars and appliances break.

Depending on the industry, now is the time to get close to your customers. You need to be more proactive in protecting the business you have. Face it, to build market share you either need to get more customers or get more from the customers you have. Especially in the service industries, you need to keep the customers you have loyal. These are the times when bonding with customers takes place. Set up quarterly review calls to check in on what they want or need. This builds trust.

Customers will stick with the businesses that stuck by them in tough times. They are more likely to come back to you tomorrow if you help them meet their goals today. They will have confidence in you and your product.

RICK LAWSON is vice president of new business development at InfoCision Management Corp. He may be reached at rick.lawson@infocision.com. In business for 25 years, InfoCision Management Corporation is the second-largest privately held teleser-vices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune 100 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 32 call centers at 13 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.