When the first conversations started around the topic of recession, very few people felt it was really going to happen. But as the indicators continue to build, from record-high inflation rates to stay-at-home gas prices and bear markets, it’s likely that a recession is on our doorstep.

When recessions start to take hold, the Federal Reserve starts to slowly and steadily raise interest rates to slow the inflation rate. As the market starts to adjust, they reach a point of equilibrium, and inflation comes under control.  As the interest rate adjustment process starts, more and more companies start to implement a spending freeze.

How can we prepare and even thrive during this next downturn? The answer is going to be in how you align your sales teams to the industries that thrive or remain stable during a recession, while at the same time focusing on building the top three sales competencies needed in tough economic times.

1. Getting to the Decision-maker

When a spending freeze occurs, there is only one person that can make an exception to that rule, and that’s the top decision-maker. How effective a salesperson is in “getting to the decision-maker” will determine their success. It could be the chief executive officer CEO or any of the chief experience officer (CXO) titles that have been delegated that authority.

2. Selling Consultatively

The second competency is a little more complex to understand, but by far, it’s the biggest differentiator between salespeople. It’s the “ability to sell consultatively.” It’s not that hard to do if you’re naturally inquisitive and empathetic.

Here’s an example I told recently during a meeting. It was about my grandchildren coming to stay with us for three months. Sounds like a great time, right? Not when you know their ages. My oldest grandson is five years old, and his little sister just turned three. And of course, I work from home.

So, as panic started to set in, I decided that I needed to make a theater room out of our living room to keep the little ones from my office. A year ago, I had received a surround sound system as a gift, but I had never hooked it up. That would complete my make-shift theater room.

When I looked in the box and didn’t see any wires to hook up the back speakers, I headed to a nearby Walmart. When I asked the young man in electronics where the speaker wires were, he showed me.

That’s when he asked me the first question, “What are you trying to do?”  So, I told him about the surround sound solution I needed. He then asked, “What kind of a surround sound system is it?” I told him the brand name and gave him the model number.

He looked at me and said, “You don’t need wires. It’s all Bluetooth,” and took me over to show me how to hook it up. At this point, I’m loving this kid, but I wasn’t too sure how his department manager would feel about his squashing the sale. But he now had my trust. Then he asked, “Why are you just now setting it up after a year?” That’s when I told him about the grandkids coming and my working from home.

He said, “Now I understand what you’re trying to do.”

Then he said, “Did you know about the new 70” TV going on sale on Black Friday for $398?” That floored me. I had no idea you could buy a TV at that price. That’s when I asked him how I could get it, knowing full well that people would be camped out on the sidewalk waiting to get in.

“Easy,” he replied, “Sign up for a membership with our store and you can put one on hold for pick up.” My adoration for this young man continued to grow. And then he suggested another solution, “You know, if you really want to keep them out of your office, there’s an outdoor two-seat electric car, on sale for $198, down from $399.” That’s when I said, “Sign me up.”

What he had done is called “consultative selling.” He kept asking questions until he got to my real needs. Other clerks would have just dumped me in the department by the wires and said, “Here you go.” But this young man stayed in the moment with me, showed empathy for my problem and used his knowledge of the store’s products to really help me out. By the time I was done, he had saved me the wire purchase which I would have taken back when I finally read the instructions, and instead solved my problem to the tune of nearly $700 by the time I finished with wall mounts and taxes. That’s what consultative selling looks and feels like.

3. Sell Value

The third skill that I recommend focusing on is a salesperson’s ability to “sell value.” That will be another key differentiator during a recession. It’s not the same as your company’s value proposition. It’s truly being a trusted partner (like the young salesman) and differentiating yourself from the competition by providing real value to the customer. Sometimes, it may mean telling a customer that they don’t need something that they thought they needed, and instead, showing them an even better solution to their problem. That’s selling value.

Improve these three competencies in your team and you will head them in the right direction, going into a recession. But better yet, you’ll make them better salespeople in the long run.

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