Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Truth about Sales

I discovered this article from Forbes last week:

Always Be Closing
How To Sell In Tough Times
Glenn D. Porter
09.30.08, 4:40 PM ET

Salespeople know how to frame a discussion. They know how to ask the right questions and, with a little discipline, shut up and listen to the answers. They can relate to people. And they have the courage to ask for business and try new things.

So what happens if--and when--you lose your job? First, you go have a martini and a big steak dinner. Then you look for a growing market to attack.

Salespeople are often the first to get whacked when the economy goes south.

But here's some good news for busted Wall Streeters--and any other commission chasers laid low by the latest economic crisis: Salesmanship is a transferable skill.

If you can sell stocks, bonds and financial derivatives, you can sell real estate, technology, autos and tooth brushes. That's because the fundamental tools are the same.

My friend Doug, a placement agent, reports that sales gigs at companies heavily dependent on consumer disposable incomes are growing few and far between. This recession is real.

So where's the growth? In tough times, any product or service that promises to boost productivity (or to save money, however you want to look at it) is worth a look.

Some promising areas: alternative and sustainable energy sources, such as wind power. (Old company raider Boone Pickens imagines massive fields of wind mills in the western U.S.) Such an infrastructure requires engineering, construction, software, spare parts and maintenance providers--they all need salespeople.

The same goes for battery and bio-fuel technologies. We don’t know who will win the alternative-energy game, but we do know there will be plenty of competition for years to come.

Another hot area: software as a service. SaaS providers charge monthly subscription fees, rather than more expensive upfront licenses--a cash-flow booster for small businesses in tough times. Some of the fees are so low you can use a credit card to cover them.

Not that you should forget the old standbys: companies that sell to public utilities, educational institutions, health care and infrastructure providers. We're not talking "credit default swaps" or other sexy doohickeys like that, but you want to put a decent dinner on the table, right?

For those still on the payroll, get in touch with your loyal (and solvent) customers. Immediately. Anticipate how the troubled economy might affect them, because it will.

Preempt trouble and engender even deeper loyalty by crafting some new pricing schemes. Take another look at long-term contracts. Assuming they haven't fallen on especially hard times, find creative ways to allow valued customers to keep buying. Worse case scenario, accept products or services in lieu of payment.

A final thought in this environment: Watch receivables like a hawk. Your commissions depend on it. You don't have to whip out the bludgeon, but a sales pro should be able to politely squeeze a customer's payables department.

I'm not going to kid you: Things aren't looking good out there. But it doesn't matter. Because no matter what, salesmen do one thing: They sell.

So stop reading and pick up the phone.

Glenn D. Porter has 25 years of professional sales and sales management experience, much of it with IBM. He is the founder of Dolphin Nextgen, a business advisory firm. He can be reached at

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