Q. Every one of my customers is buying less this year than last year. My sales are down.  What can I do?

A. You really have a choice here.  The first, which, unfortunately, is the solution that most companies and salespeople currently choose is this: Do nothing differently, complain a lot, and hope that things change.  Maybe the government will fix everything.

The second, which is my recommendation, is this:  Move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful, and better at what you do, and do some things differently.

Analysis & Data Collection 

Begin by analyzing your market to identify where your opportunity lies.  Unless you have 80 – 90 percent of the total market in your area, you have an opportunity.

Typically, you’ll find that there is a market opportunity within your current customers, as well as an opportunity in prospects who do not currently buy from you.  Collect information about both groups so that you can make good decisions about where your time is best invested.  Then, prioritize those prospects and customers based on their potential.

Next, strategically develop plans to gain more market share from each of these two sources.

Create An Agenda

Proactively create the agenda for the conversations between you and your customers.  For example, if one of your customers is buying half of their purchases from you and half from someone else, identify specifically what they are buying from your competition, and develop plans to gain that business.  Ask yourself, “What would it take for them to buy it from me?”

Don’t settle for the simple answer of a “lower price.”  Think more deeply, uncover deeper motivations in your customer, and answer that question, product by product, category by category, for everything they are buying from someone else.  Here’s a great question to ask, “What has to change for us to do more business here?”

Listen and Respond

Listen to the customer’s answer and respond appropriately.  Put together specific, persuasive offers to each customer and methodically present them to each customer.  Show them, specifically, why they should do more business with you.

You are not done yet.  Understand the fundamental sales equation:

Relationships = Opportunities = Projects = Money

In other words, the quantity and quality of your relationships equals the quantity and quality of your opportunities, and those opportunities develop into projects (aka purchasing cycles) and those projects turn into sales.

If you want to sell more, you must develop more and bigger projects, which develop from more and bigger opportunities, which emerge from more and higher-quality relationships.

If your sales are down, either you aren’t very competent, (in other words, you are not very good at turning relationships into money) or you need to increase the quantity and quality of your relationships.

Work on Two Parallel Paths

If all the key decision-makers and influencers in your current accounts don’t know you, then work hard to create those relationships.  At the same time, look outside your group of current customers, and create relationships with prospects.  In other words, work diligently, methodically, and systematically at creating new relationships and thereby, new customers.

I realize that for a percentage of salespeople, this sounds pretty basic.  If that’s the case with you, there is power in refocusing your efforts on these fundamentals and work at doing each of them better.  For you, the issue isn’t doing things differently, it is doing them better.

There is another group of salespeople for whom all of this sounds too different and too far outside of your comfort zones and skill set.  This is not how you are accustomed to doing your job.  Remember where we started, “move outside of your comfort zones, become a whole lot more strategic, thoughtful, and better at what you do, and do some things differently.”  If this is new and uncomfortable for you, then the next year or so will be one of the most challenging of your life. You’ll need to work diligently at developing these practices.

The world is full of people who will tell you that success in this environment is a matter of “secrets” or simplistic solutions.  I wish that were the case.  Unfortunately, sales success is the result of years of hard work, constant improvement, and thoughtful, diligent efforts.  If you are serious about wanting to change your circumstances, you’ll need to begin to change yourself.