The 12 Laws of Selling in a Down Market

Moses came down from the mountain with 10 commandments to guide his people through rough times, but I’m not nearly as eloquent… so here are my more-wordy 12 laws for selling in a down market:

  1. Lightning does strike the same place twice. If you follow your boss, venture capital (VC) buddy, or friend to another dot-com that has the same problems as the one you left, it too will die in this unforgiving environment. Remember the first law of selling: If the customer doesn’t want what you have, it doesn’t matter that you have it. Bad business models, companies that care about cool technology over usefulness for customers, and just plain unsellable products will make you wind up where you were — dead in the water.

  2. Roll of thunder, hear my cry. Loophole to lightning strikes: If you desperately need to put food on the table or are making a purely political move that will pay off in the future even if the company folds, then by all means have at it.

  3. Extend your reach. Just like when you were applying to college, we all have safeties and reaches. The safety clients are being offered the “how low can you go” rates by the whole Web right now, so call on reach clients — the ones you thought you’d never get — with a really great idea. They will be more receptive now because they need ways to innovatively break through.

  4. Live and die by the numbers. Now is not the time to slack off on the number of calls you make and number of presentations you do. It’s still a numbers game, even though the field is littered with the bodies of those who came before you.

  5. Become an efficiency expert. Your buyers are probably each doing the job of three or four people right now because of layoffs, account losses, and belt tightening. You can be the call they want to take: Have all the information they need and remove all barriers to a sale by doing your research and being courteous — be the answer to their problems. Be the solution, and you’ll make your numbers.

  6. Try to raise the ceiling instead of hitting the bottom. When the market turns bad, a lot of sellers immediately drop their prices, take categories of advertising they’d never take in a good market, and make deals that leave everyone feeling cheapened — including the client! Why not raise the ceiling instead? Come up with the new must-buy solution that a client needs, and price it accordingly.

  7. Clean house. Literally. When times are bad, everyone thinks the solution is to chop heads. Sometimes it is, especially if you can weed out nonperformers. But the other solution is to clean up the product, your programs and processes, and your internal issues. A mediocre or even bad product can get bought in a good market; in a down market, a mediocre or bad product is like the walking dead.

  8. Let’s take care of ourselves out there. If ice hockey practice, Pilates, or Chinese cooking keeps you happy and sane, do not stop doing those things now because you are stressed about work. As author Julia Cameron says, “Treating yourself like a precious object will make you strong.” Just like athletes, sales teams are more vulnerable to injury when they are tired and beaten up.

  9. Protect your flanks. Many people know that in these times it’s easier to steal an existing budget from someone else than get an increased one on their own. So if you aren’t paying attention and aren’t meeting your customers’ needs and metrics, you’ll be the weak gazelle that gets separated from the herd and taken down by the lions.

  10. The best defense is a strong offense. This is a corollary of law No. 9. Be so strong, so receptive, so keyed into your customers that they wouldn’t think of going anywhere else — and pick out a few weak gazelles to take down yourself. Hint: If the site went out of business, that budget is up for grabs. Call the client, and show that you have what it takes to better meet its needs.

  11. We exist because of the customer. The playing field is littered with dead sites that focused on trashy launch parties, had big attitudes, or talked mostly to themselves. They never focused on the customer. If every person in your organization doesn’t know who the customers are and what they need, you won’t have an organization a few months from now.

  12. Shut up and sell. Don’t join the whiny parade of losers who are gleeful at dot-coms’ demise. Don’t listen to the opinions of hostile people who want to take you down a peg. Sales heroes come out of down markets, true leaders emerge from adversity, and the strong get stronger in tough times. Clients always appreciate salespeople and companies that help them solve problems. Now let’s go get some business.

The market’s down. It doesn’t mean you have to be. Just adhere to these 12 laws, and you’ll become a model of sales citizenship.

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