Welcome to 2009.

Over the summer break I was talking with a number of friends about what 2009 will hold for us, our families, our communities and our businesses. Without exception, we discussed the current and possible effects of the GFC (global financial crisis) on our markets and especially on our thinking and our actions moving forward. We discussed the importance of open, clear and honest communication and decisive leadership, clear goals and defining what we stand for.

We discussed the fact that it would be very hard for people to make ‘easy’ money this year i.e. playing the stock market, etc. No more making money by just moving money around. And that people now needed do some real work to get real revenue coming in the door. (not that some of us weren’t doing that already.)

It was mentioned that the current market conditions call for people to draw upon the ‘real’ money making skills of ‘Selling’ and any businesses relying solely on:

  • Blanket Advertising, or
  • Their technical capability, or
  • Passive referrals, or
  • Brand or reputation. or
  • SEO alone (depending on your market model)

will suffer as a result.

And those people and businesses who haven’t integrated their sales and marketing initiatives and invested in developing their sales people’s prospecting and sales skills will be left wanting this year as well.

We acknowledged that this is the year where leadership and people’s real sales fitness levels and skills will be put to the test and further developing our leadership, sales and business development capabilities skills is critical to not only survive but thrive.

Many of the conversations reminded me of the late 80’s and early 90’s markets when I was working as a recruitment consultant and the lessons I learnt in how to really make the most of tough times. I wrote about this on 4 February 2008 in Watch who you let near your mind

In my opinion, this year calls for focus on 3 key areas:

  • Clear and decisive Leadership
  • A clear market message of intent
  • A proactive, disciplined, ongoing sales effort

This is the year where people and businesses need to prioritise and focus on these core areas that will help them make 2009 work for them and their customers.

The SmartCompany.com.au webinar (15/01/09, download the audio file here for free) featuring IBIS stated about 65% of a business’ success will depend on leadership effectiveness and how honestly and ethically you face the challenges ahead.

I can’t agree more.

My friends and I discussed our leadership approaches and what messages we are putting out to our staff, our clients and our markets. How we are communicating our intentions to participate in the business world.

Clear plans, goals, honesty, ethics, values and trusted relationships all featured heavily in how we would and should communicate where we stand and what we stand for and how we wanted to be communicated with ourselves.

We didn’t want more hype and ‘promises’ that can’t be backed up by evidence, transparency and trust. We want to give our people a reason to step up and be counted. We want our people to be clear about what we do for our customers and confident and competent to get out there and genuinely connect with our market place, our customers.

Having a clear market message your sales people can communicate to customers in a way they can understand, relate to and action is vital in uncertain times. To illustrate the point, one of my close friends was in New York and London in October 2008 when the GFC was in one of its first full free falls and said the difference was clear.

In New York the atmosphere was distressed, disturbed and directionless, a real helplessness seemed to prevail. People were complaining that there were no messages being broadcast or communicated at all by the US President or his Administration. They bemoaned the lack of leadership. Where as in London, love him or hate him, Gordon Brown was communicating with the media every day about what he and is Administration they were doing. While people were rightly concerned about the GFC, the atmosphere was somewhat different. My friend said people were resigned to the fact they needed to deal with the GFC. Instead of feeling helpless they were already looking for solutions.

In my experience it is better to know if it is good news or bad news than no news at all. This way you can take action and keep moving forward. Therefore in uncertain times it is even more vital that our leadership is evident and our market message is being heard and understood with the best intentions and right outcomes.

Here are some questions you might like to consider regarding your key market message:

  • What key message(s) are you giving to your prospective market about how you intend to operate this year?
  • How is the message(s) being received and understood by your sales people?
  • How is the message(s) being delivered by your sales people and received and understood by market?
  • How can your customers take action and work with you?
  • Can your customers trust you to be a valid business partner with them in 2009?

Now take your key message and couple this with a Proactive Sales approach. If you haven’t already, you need make sure you and your sales people know and understand the message and can then get out there to connect with, listen to and understand your customers and prospects so you are in a position to really understand how they think and feel and what decisions they want to make this year and where you will feature in that relationship.

Unlike advertising, selling is the vehicle that gets you in real and direct personal contact with your market, your customers and your prospects. This is where you have real conversations about real business, real priorities and possible solutions.

If you are not already talking with your customers, referrals and prospects you need to be NOW.

I encourage you to make sure you call as many customers, referrals sources and prospects as possible because, if my 25 years+ sales career is anything to go by, there are a lot of changes happening out there and it’s not all bad news.

In fact when I returned from leave on 12 January I spent the better part of that week calling as many clients, past clients, referrals sources and leads as possible and will continue to do so this year. The amount of changes, information, leads and opportunities I unearthed as a result of making these calls in one week alone was fantastic.

And if you not convinced, take a leaf out of one of our larger clients who, despite the GFC and really tough market conditions, have prioritised sales fitness as one of their Top 3 business priorities. The other two being clear leadership and clear market messages. They have invested heavily in training and up skilling their regional and rural business sales teams in sales vision, planning, sales prospecting and selling process.

Despite the drought and tough times these sales people are out there selling and communicating that they are there to do business and its working. Even though it is still early days they are finding viable deals and good clients to do work with despite the challenging markets. They are being supported by their managers, who in turn are trained to deliver effective sales coaching and provide sales leadership to make sure this in a ‘way of life’ not a fad. They all know this a vital life skill.

By focusing on:

  • Clear and decisive Leadership
  • A clear market message of intent
  • A proactive, disciplined, ongoing sales effort

They have also found there is greater team unity, better cooperation and collaboration with each other and with customers, greater sales results and better margins.

So don’t hesitate! Get clear, get focused, get active.

There is business to be done and business to be won.

I wish you happy and prosperous selling in 2009.

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