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Selling Through Hard Times

In the best of times, successful salespeople, including those in the material handling industry, have always been characterized by their uncanny ability to bounce back from rejection or criticism. If they are anything, the best salespeople are resilient.

Most people in the at-large population see rejection as a personal affront, but successful salespeople often view rejection as just another learning experience, just another part of the job. Getting turned down is simply part of the challenge, spurring successful salespeople on to the next effort. Such perseverance helps them maintain a positive outlook when knocking on the next door.

But what if that door also closes on them? And the next door isn’t even answered? When markets become smaller and competition heats up, rejection can become a way of life. Many salespeople who were extremely productive in easier times seem to lose their competitive edge.

What to Do
The best advice managers can give to salespeople is to keep it all in perspective. Remember, this is happening to everyone. So step back and look at your client base. Don’t concentrate solely on gaining new clients; rather, be indispensable to your present clients. Be everywhere you’re needed, even in places you aren’t expected, and you can find expanded sales in your own back yard.

Also, remember that many sales are not being lost in the traditional way. Competitors aren’t beating you; you are simply having decisions put on hold. This can be very difficult for impatient salespeople.

Much more so than in better times, the sales manager’s role is to reassure everyone on his or her staff and help smooth through conflicts, anxieties and crises. The most important lesson is for salespeople to separate negative occurrences from their sense of self. This can be difficult, since successful salespeople usually feel ten feet tall after making a sale, and somewhat diminished when a sale falls through.

Sales managers can never make the disappointment from losing a sale go away completely, nor would they want to. That disappointment is part of the distinct psychological make-up of all successful salespeople. But managers can try to make the recovery period as short and painless as possible. To this end, we recommend coaching rather than confronting. A manager will only compound the negative feelings that accompany down times by being too tough. If messages are too negative, they can be internalized and inhibit salespeople from realizing their goals. Even people who seem confident on the surface may believe negative messages more readily than positive ones.

In tough as well as good times, succeeding in sales means listening very closely to prospects and clients, and understanding that they have similar fears and anxieties. It calls for being more patient, sharpening our skills and prospecting a little harder. Sales managers need to be more hands-on and make sure their empathy is working overtime. Listen when salespeople talk. Are their attitudes self-defeating? Are they expecting to be rejected—in essence, waiting for the “no?” Are they talking themselves out of sales? One-on-one meetings become more important. Try to isolate what salespeople are experiencing so they can improve the closing ratio.

Are the salespeople operating according to a plan? Salespeople have never been known for their organizational skills, but follow-up becomes more important during tough times. Help people work smarter. Develop plans so salespeople are focused. Such attention leads to salespeople finding more creative solutions for their clients and relating more as a consultant, which is the relationship in which salespeople end up being most important to their clients and, therefore, most successful.

It is a delicate balancing act—having ambitious goals and realizing that we won’t achieve them right away. That’s where self-acceptance comes into play, that ability to feel good enough about yourself and your role in the material handling industry to keep going when times get tough. Above all, remember: This too will pass.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Herb Greenberg Meet the Author
Herbert M. Greenberg is president and CEO of Caliper, located in Princeton, New Jersey, and on the Web at www.calipercorp.com.

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