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Q. What’s the good news?  Where is the silver lining?

Copyright MMX, by Dave Kahle

A. Great question.  So many of us have been concentrating on the clouds recently, that we haven’t noticed the silver lining around the clouds.  Certainly the economy is just limping along with no signs of a dramatic improvement on the horizon.  It is easy to become depressed and discouraged. 

However, at the same time, there are unique and powerful opportunities for those sales people who choose to pursue them.

It really is the difficult times that distinguish the true professional from those who are merely in the right place at the right time.  One of the characteristics that contribute to success in difficult times is the ability to see the opportunities in almost any situation.  That ability is particularly valuable today. 

As examples of how negative situations always contain the seeds of positive opportunities, here are three issues that you may confront as a result of the slow economy, but which really provide you unique opportunities.  Here are three clouds with silver linings.

1.  Your customers may have reduced staff.

We have all seen this.  What looks like a negative, however, holds the potential for a great opportunity.  Fewer staff generally means that some people are doing jobs that they have never done before and that fewer people are doing more jobs.  These are both opportunities for the creative sales person. 

If someone is newly responsible for some category of product you sell, you have a great opportunity to educate that person on your product, on the reasons why the company has chosen to work with you in the past, and on the benefits that you have brought to this company.  Do this, and it will position you as a valuable resource to that customer.  Capture that opportunity by leveraging your position into opportunities to present more of what you sell.

If some of your key contacts are now responsible for doing jobs that they have not done before, they can use help.  It may be that by expanding the services or products that you sell to them, you can simplify their jobs and reduce some of the stress on them.  For example, a purchasing agent may suddenly become responsible for buying two or three new categories of product that were previously someone else’s responsibility.  Now is the time to make a presentation of why that account should buy more from you.  Stress that doing so will reduce the number of sales people that purchasing agent needs to deal with and will reduce the number of purchase orders, invoices, and all the ensuing time-consuming details. That’s a powerful attraction in these circumstances.

One of the most potent opportunities for a sales person is the customer who becomes overwhelmed with the details and complexity of his/her job.  If you can help simplify your customer’s job, if you can take over some of what that customer formerly did themselves, then you’ll have a powerful opportunity to establish a growing importance in that account.

Be particularly sensitive, over the near future, to the fact that your customers may have more to do.  Open up conversations about how you can make a positive impact on their time and stress levels by reducing the number of vendors with which they deal.  Find creative ways your company can do things for the customer that the customer was previously doing for themselves.

If you can more closely ingrain your company with your customer in these difficult times, you’ll become more important to that customer, and you’ll enjoy a growing portion of their business when the economy turns around.  It is a rare opportunity.

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2.  Your competitors may have cut back.

Those companies that have reduced their costs to survive can represent a serious opportunity for you to prosper in the long run.  For example, if your competitors are cutting back on the number of sales people they employ, then relationships with their customers will suffer, and that is an opportunity for you.  Your competitors’ customers won’t see the competitive sales people as often, or maybe not at all.  That lack of attention is an open door for you.

As you call on your customers over the next few months, pay particular attention to anything you can learn about possible competitor’s cut backs.  Try to ascertain which of your customers or prospects may be impacted by that.  Give those people special attention. 

If you can make an inroad into an account that was formerly committed to a competitor, that relationship you establish will work well for you even after the market turns around.

It may be, however, that your competitor has not reduced the number of sales people, but has cut back on service or production.  If that’s the case, then it is possible that some of your competitor’s accounts are having trouble with delivery, service, quality, etc.  Now is the time to get into those accounts and sniff around to find problems they may be experiencing.  Any such problem is an opportunity for you.

3.  Your customers close down, or move their facility to Mexico or China.

This one is a real challenge.  What possible good can come of a customer going out of business in your territory?  If you do your job well and are blessed with a little bit of luck, this could turn into two or three good customers down the road.
If you have done your job well over the past few years, you will have created positive relationships with several key people.  You know them personally as well as professionally.  You may have met their spouses or children.  You’ve gained their respect and trust.  Many of them are not going to move to Mexico, China, or anywhere else.  They are going to stay right where they are, which means that they will be looking for a job similar to what they are doing now.

Get their home addresses and phone numbers and copies of their resumes.  When you hear of a position opening up somewhere, let them know about it.  Try to help them find jobs in your area.  Whether or not they find employment because of you, they will recognize that you tried to help.  Keep in contact with them.  It is possible that they will surface in a position of responsibility for some other company in your area of responsibility.  What a great opportunity to leverage your relationship into a new account by calling on that individual.
With some luck, a couple of these displaced key contacts can open doors for you with their new employers.

One of the beautiful aspects of these three clouds with their silver linings is that it is unlikely that your competitors are even thinking this way.  They are too busy feeling sorry for themselves and bemoaning the change from the way things used to be.  Use these clouds as opportunities to expand the business or to find one or two more accounts, and you’ll be the envy of all the nay sayers around you.  More importantly, take on the attitude of looking for the silver lining among the clouds in every difficult situation.  It’s the mark of a truly successful professional.

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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