I can’t take credit for the title of this article. A client of mine said to me the other day, “A downturn is a terrible opportunity to waste,” and I thought to myself, “Boy, that really sums it up.”
While there is always business to be done (let’s not forget, there were people who made fortunes during the depression), there are plenty of other things you can and should be doing during a downturn to make your business smarter, sharper and more efficient.
Develop your own. The biggest complaint I hear from small business owners is: “How do I find good people?” The solution is one of two things: steal them from your competition or develop the living hell out of what you have. Personally, I think you’re better off developing what you have.
Stealing someone from the competition might work during boom times, but during a downturn you just might be getting someone else’s mistakes. Remember what I wrote in my recent posting titled, “A Swift Kick in the Rear.” Our economy has been so good for the last 26 years (only 16 months of recession in that time) most salespeople have no idea what tough times are like and are not used to selling in them. Do you think the competition’s people are any different?
Turn up your training effort. Get back to the basics in your sales training. So often when business is booming and everyone is doing well, we tend to forget about the basics.
Don’t forget about sales managers! The sales manager is the key link in any sales organization. Give me a mediocre to poor sales force and let me put them with a great sales manager and guaranteed, you will soon have a great sales force.
When business is great who notices bad sales managers? Heck, we don’t even notice bad salespeople, since anybody can do business in great times. But, in uncertain times like these, the cream rises to the top. If you haven’t started already, it’s time to teach your sales managers how to motivate, educate, inspire, coach and lead the people that report to them.
Don’t forget your service people ; or anyone else who has any contact with the clients and customers. It’s time to really emphasize everyone’s role in the sales process. Remember, everyone sells.
Just because you are a customer service rep, an installation technician, an administrative assistant or a delivery person don’t think you are not part of the sales process. Sure, you’re not responsible for bringing in business, but just like everyone else in the company, you’re sure as hell responsible for keeping what you have and making it grow.
Everything happens for a reason, especially in business. Companies don’t go out of business or lose customers for reasons totally beyond their control: there’s always a reason.
Most likely their service stunk; or they had really bad management. Perhaps their prices were out of whack with the value, or lack of same, they provided. But believe me; it has nothing to do with bad luck, bad economy or competition. As with anything else in life, when things aren’t going the way you hoped they would, your best bet is to look in the mirror. That brings me to Sprint.
The article began:
“Sprint Nextel Corp. on Monday said it lost more than 1 million of its most profitable customers (about to be 1 million and 1, I might add) in the first three months of 2008 as the company’s net loss widened in the most recent quarter.
Sprint has lost millions of customers to rivals in the past few years owing to poor customer service, a less appealing selection of phones and snafus related to it’s $35 billion purchase of Nextel in 2005.
Chief Executive Daniel Hesse, hired in December, has already taken a number of steps to improve the company’s financial performance and its relationship with customers.”
Well, you could have fooled me.
I have been a Sprint Wireless customer for over 5 years, which definitely puts me WAYYYYY above average. However, as it stands right now, I will be an ex-customer when my contract runs out in February of ’09.
I have four cell numbers under contract; one for each member of the family. This last contract started back in May of 2006. It had 2100 anytime minutes per month, unlimited nights and weekends, no roaming charges and was a “Fair and Flexible Plan,” meaning if we went over our minutes we would only be charged $5 for each 100 minute overage.
A few months later I realized we didn’t need 2100 anytime minutes (I use Skype far more than my cell; better value), so I downgraded the plan to 1400 anytime minutes per month. Little did I know (because nobody ever bothered to tell me) that when I changed my plan Sprint extended it another 2 years, meaning instead of my plan expiring in May of ’08, it won’t expire until February of ’09.
On top of that, when I received my latest bill I noticed that I was charged twenty cents per minute extra for going over my minutes: What happened to Fair and Flexible?
So I called Sprint Customer Service, something I really hate doing, because there’s never any way to do it quickly. I was told that when I changed my plan I lost the Fair and Flexible component because that service was no longer being offered at that time (Probably because it was a good thing for the customer). I asked how come I was never notified of this at the time and naturally I received a stupid answer. I was also told that Sprint no longer offered the Fair and Flexible plan (remember this part; it comes up later).
Now, to add insult to injury, Sprint announced a couple of months ago that as a service to their customers, in their latest effort to stop the bleeding, they will no longer penalize customers and extend their contracts just for changing their plans.
Now here’s a real pet peeve of mine!
Don’t you just hate it when companies treat new customers better than they treat their long term loyal customers? Cellphone companies are notorious for this.
So now I’m really ticked and I’m going to complain. I decide I want to write a letter to Daniel Hesse, the new CEO, since he claims he wants to improve the company’s relationship with its customers.
But now there’s a problem: I go to the Sprint website and nowhere on that website is there an address for their corporate headquarters or even an email address for the CEO. I guess Mr. Hesse, like so many other executives of bad companies only wants to improve customer relations if he doesn’t actually have to be in contact with any of us.
So once again I called customer service, only this time I started my stop watch. I told my story to the Customer Service Rep and the first thing he said was, “Let me see if I can get you back on the Fair and Flexible Plan.” I know what you’re saying, “I thought the Fair and Flexible Plan wasn’t being offered anymore,” and you’d be right to think that because that’s what I was told.
Don’t you just love it when two people from the same company tell you completely different stories? Remember what I said at the beginning; there are always good reasons why companies fail.
Naturally, I couldn’t get the Fair and Flexible plan but that didn’t matter; I wanted Sprint to do something for me or I would cancel my service when my contract was up. This young man said he couldn’t do anything for me but would transfer me to someone who could and he put me on hold while he went to contact that department.
After about a 5 minute wait I was put in touch with a woman who had no idea what I was calling about. Wouldn’t you assume, as I did, that when the first person said he would transfer me to someone who could help me, then put me on hold while he contacted them that he would have relayed the problem to them? Well, you, like me, would have been wrong. I had to tell my story all over again (another pet peeve).
Now I had been on the phone with Sprint for 24 minutes and had accomplished nothing, so I said to this woman, “Look here’s my story, the other person I spoke to said you would help me. I don’t have time to stay on the phone with you anymore, I’ve wasted enough time already. You have all my information. If you want to do something for me, call me and let me know.”
And I hung up…
It has now been over 24 hours and I haven’t heard from Sprint. What’s the odds that I never will? Probably, 1 to 1? Like I said before and I’ll say it again: there are always very valid reasons why companies fail.
In my last entry, “A Recession Is Coming And I Can’t Wait!,” I wrote that recessions and down economic periods are the best times to do business because most of the competition gives up.
As expected, there were some very good comments. Normally, I would leave it at that; but one of the comments was so good, I wanted to make sure you all got to see it. It’s from a woman named Davida Roth and I think she sums up the prevailing attitude, because she’s on the front lines witnessing it. Here’s what she wrote:
Thank you so much for this article. I am an Independent Consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics and I’m finding that many Consultants in my area had already started to mentally close the figurative doors of their business due to their fears over the economy. Especially since the purchase of cosmetics and skincare is often made with discretionary/ disposable income and for some women it’s even a luxury purchase.
I didn’t know how to address their concerns and frankly was finding myself getting antsy and anxious every time I even heard a news report on the coming recession. Every "No" that I used to be able to brush off, now seemed to confirm my worse fears. Already, reading and re-reading this article has helped to bolster my flagging confidence and I’ll be able to encourage my sister Consultants as well.
Thank you for taking the time to write this post and of course for sharing it with us.
Does that sum it up or what? First of all, WE ARE NOT IN A RECESSION; and there’s a real good possibility there will not be one, but it doesn’t matter! As you can see from Davida’s comment, it’s our own fears that create these self-fulfilling prophecies.
Do you really believe, even if there is a recession, women will STOP buying cosmetics and skincare products? What about all the millions of women who go to work every day, will they stop wearing make-up or using face cream? Yeah, and I think I’ll stop showering because my water bills are getting too high. Sure, maybe they’ll use less or buy cheaper brands, but with so many salespeople giving up, there will be more business out there for the rest of them.
I’m sure glad my article posted at the exact right time and I was able to help Davida as she was about to succumb to one of the biggest obstacles in the world: negative people!
Don’t let negative people stop you. They’re just looking for an excuse to not have to try as hard. Your efforts to keep doing business while ignoring the nay-sayers are less likely to inspire them than it is to make them try harder to stop you, so as not to make them look bad. Your only solution is to tell them, “Either join me and come along for the ride or get out of my way!"
If you’ve been following the economic news lately, you pretty much hear nothing but doom and gloom. Energy prices climbing; the housing market continues to fall; the dollar is weak; economic growth in the fourth quarter climbed but at a much slower rate due to weak holiday sales; the consumer spending binge seems to be slowing; and then, as I write this, I see on my newsreader “Inflation rate is worst in 17 years.”
All I can say to that is, “What a perfect time to do business!” Now before you start filling out the commitment papers, let me tell you something; there is no better time to do business than during a down economic period and for one simple reason: most of your competition has given up. It is my belief that during down economic periods or recessions, salespeople stop selling long before customers stop buying.
Sure there might be less business out there, and, most likely, the size of the average sale might decrease; but, with less people chasing the business, it will be a lot easier for you to get what’s out there. It is the perfect opportunity for each and every one of you to go out there and grab market share.
One thing we know about the economy is that no matter how bad it may get (and I don’t think it will be that bad. Remember, good news doesn’t sell), the economy always comes back. If you capture market share when business is down, you’ll be perfectly positioned to explode your business and crush your competition when things turn around.
It is so critical for you to be more visible than ever to your clients and prospects, because of the perceptions you create. During good times, if your clients and prospects don’t see you for a while, they just assume you’re busy. But if they don’t see or hear from you during tough times, they just assume you’re gone.
The average to poor salesperson is not looking for business: they’re looking for an excuse and a recession is a great excuse. They can go see one prospect or client who will tell them, “Business is tough right now, we’re not buying,” and turn that into “Nobody’s buying.” You see this way they can’t actually fail. They can tell their manager, “I’ve been out there. Business is bad, nobody’s buying.” Their ass is covered. Of course, they never do succeed: which is what it’s all about.
Don’t you just love it when people say, “Nobody’s buying?” What the hell does that mean? The United States has a 13 TRILLION dollar economy. If it went down 10%, which is unheard of and would cause panic in the streets, there would still be 11.7 TRILLION dollars of economic activity going on: Somebody’s buying something.
Do yourself a favor, don’t listen to the negativity: let your competition do that. Just go out there and show up. Keep talking to prospects and clients and keep asking for the sale. Lot’s of companies will be buying and you might be the only salesperson out there who’s actually selling.
A little while back, I wrote an entry about a bad experience I had flying on Northwest Airlines. What I didn’t mention in the article was that I had, at the request of the gate agent, filled out a feedback card detailing my complaint. I didn’t want to fill it out for one very good reason: they all go to the same address! 1 Garbage Can Drive!
But the gate agent told me that the CEO of Northwest reads and responds to every one of these, so I filled it out. You would think, after 21 years as a business traveler I would know better than to fall for that, but I am an eternal optimist.
I really want to believe that there are crappy companies out there who do want to get better. In fact, I’ve seen it happen. Citibank, Direct TV, Food Lion, and Verizon are just some of the companies who at one time or another, in my experiences as a customer with them, were awful, but managed to significantly improve their service to the point where I like doing business with them.
Unfortunately, Northwest Airlines continues to be Northworst. Naturally, I have never received a reply from my comment card and I sincerely doubt I ever will, since it’s been over 6 months from the time I sent it in. Oh well, I guess some things never change.