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Q. Any advice for a salesperson in this economy? It seems like almost every customer is saying that they are cutting back and delaying spending. How can I get them to loosen the purse strings and buy?

by Dave Kahle

A. Great question. I'm sure this change in the economy and your customer's reactions to it are very frustrating. I have several ideas.

First, step out of your day-to-day world and take a big picture, 10,000 feet high view. Le's not think about your customers, for a minute. Let's think about your territory.

How much market share do you have in your territory?

Here's a way to calculate that with some degree of accuracy. Identify all the customers and potential customers (prospects) in your territory. Then ask, "If they bought everything they could from me, over the next 12 months, how much would it be?" The answer will be a dollar figure.

You can just estimate the answer, but you'll find it more effective if you base that estimate on some quantifiable measurement. Find something that is measurable about them, like the number of employees, or the square foot of display space, etc. This kind of information is easily purchased. Then create a formula.

For example, you may be selling industrial supplies to manufacturers. How much, per employee, does a typical manufacturer spend on your category of product? Once you develop that formula, it's a simple matter of multiplying that times the number of employees in each account. The result of this little calculation will be the answer to the question above.

Regardless of how you come to the number, you need to develop a measurement of approximately how much business there is in your category of product in your territory.

Now, how much business are you currently doing this year? In other words, what is the total dollar volume of sales in your territory?

Compare the two answers and express that as a percentage. For example, if there is $10 million dollars of potential in your territory, and you are doing $2 million, you have a 20 percent share.

That's the measurement of your share of the market. Most business-to-business sellers are going to be under 25 percent. In other words, you probably have potential that is four or five times the amount you are currently doing.

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Now, look at what you have there. Unless you have 85 to 90 percent market share, there is huge potential in your territory.

Start by focusing on that potential. Instead of reacting to, and being influenced by, the dreary conversations of your customers, plan to go after that huge potential in your territory.

This little exercise has the power to transform your attitude, replacing negative reaction with positive proactive action.

There is a principle at work here. The act of changing your mindset and focusing on something positive has a way of changing your results. You begin to see opportunities that you overlooked before. Your more positive attitude oozes out of you, and subtly influences the people around you.

You become more like the stone thrown into the pond that creates the ripples on the surface of the water, whereas before you were more like the bubbles on the top of the wave, blowing this way and that way, totally dependent on some other force to determine your way.

B. Let's do one more attitude change. Instead of thinking that fear and anxiety are negative, think of them as positive forces for change.

Let me explain. In order to grow your business and gain market share, you are going to have to take the business away from one of your competitors. There has never been a better time to do so than now. This recession/depression offers what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build your business. Here's why.

You are going to ask people to change their behavior. Change never comes easily. It is best accomplished when someone has a powerful emotional reason to change. The fear and anxiety in the marketplace are powerful emotions. It is easier to get people to change today than it was a year ago. If you can channel those emotions and present your solution in a way that gives people confidence that makes their fear subside, in some small way, you'll find your customers willing to make significant changes.

If you'll allow me a political example, let's look at what is happening at the federal government level in our country. President Obama is using the fear and anxiety that is rampant in this country to wreak incredible changes in the role of the federal government. Because we are afraid, he has been able to spend more than anyone in the history of the world, and dramatically expand the role of the federal government in our lives. By the end of these four years, we'll find the government doing things that just a year ago were unthinkable nationalizing the finance system, owning banks and large companies, regulating business practices, dictating our medical care, and taking a larger portion of our income for taxes than anytime in the history of our country. And, as a country, we will accept this radical change, because we are afraid.

Radical changes that were unthinkable in a less anxious time, are today accepted with minimal push back.

On a much smaller scale, the same principle applies to your customers and prospects. If you can show that you have a solution that, in some small way, makes them feel less fearful, you'll find that they will be more amenable to change than at any other time in your career.

Rethink how you can present your product or service. Instead of focusing on the features, think about how the decision to buy it from you can provide the customer some peace of mind, can make his fear subside in the category of products that you sell. Present the decision to buy it from you as one which makes him feel better.

Here's an example. Let's say that you sell industrial supplies to manufacturers. You are used to reacting to the customer when he says that he needs this or that, pitching your product, dickering over price, and hopefully gaining an order.

Suppose you were to recast your whole approach. Create a whole different presentation. Consider what it would mean to a customer if they were to do all their business with you. Your company could be responsible for keeping them updated on all the new products, your company could take over their inventory, your company could provide monthly reports, your company could work with your suppliers to reduce their costs. You could become partners.

As a result, your customers could do more with fewer people, reducing their costs. They would spend far less time, and therefore money, interviewing salespeople. They would be more efficient, and could focus their attention on their customers instead of worrying about your category of product. That would be a radically different approach, a different way to do business that would give them some peace of mind and stability in a threatening and dangerous environment.

That's what I'm talking about.

C. But wait, you say, not all of my customers would be open to that kind of approach.

You are right, of course. But some will. Your job is to identify, by thoughtful analysis, which of your customers and which of your prospects would be most open to that approach, and then to create a plan to present it to them.

We have a methodology for selecting those customers and prospects that would take too much space to describe here. Go to Chapter Six of my book, 10 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople to read about it, see #22 Time Management: Making Hard-Headed Decisions About How to Invest Your Selling Time for an audio training program, and consider Prioritizing Your Customers to Dramatically Increase Your Sales for a video training program.

Imagine what it would mean to you if you could just get a half dozen of your customers to commit to a radically different way of doing business with you, and buy everything from you! In most cases, your sales would at least double, you'd have more fun, make more money, and have less stress. That's the potential that is in your hands.

Your choice is clear. You can join the defeatists of the world and become a depressed victim of the recession. Or, you can take your fate into your own hands, and proactively take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Go forth and sell well!

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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