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Where Did The Customers Go?

Every month I ... my services at the local ... Center". This is a ... funded program and an ... resource for budding ... It's a one-stop shop, almost like

Every month I volunteer my services at the local "Entrepreneurship Center". This is a municipally funded program and an excellent resource for budding entrepreneurs. It's a one-stop shop, almost like a shopping mall for anyone wanting to start a business. I spend 2-3 hours at the center, by doing an introduction to Sales and Marketing course. Many of the participants are already in business and still others are just getting their feet wet. During these sessions there is a common question that will weave it's way into the discussion. In good times it usually comes closer to the end of the presentation. This month's session however was dramatically different.

I'm sure it's my fault the question came up so early. Always liking to be in control of a presentation and the flow of a training session, I shouldn't have been so surprised. I had a feeling it was on everyone's mind. It's been on my mind. What I didn't anticipate was the how fast the challenges have been changing for small business people who sell.

The question I asked was: How has the current state of the economy and the events of September 11 affected your business. The answer was unanimous and it came quickly: " Where are the Customers? Its impossible to get a hold of anyone, its like they're hiding." was the response. I've experienced it too. Where did the customer go? After all the planning is done and the marketing started there comes a point where you actually have to start talking to your customers. Although getting a "hold' of a prospect on the phone has always been a challenge, it's getting much more difficult in these uncertain times.

In the past the market was filled with enthusiasm, a new product or service often had a customer calling you. Businesses were hoping to gain any market advantage they could or at least keep up with the pack. When times are good there is an emphasis on the backend of the sales process. Sales people are concerned with questions like, "How do I enroll and compel my customers to do business with me?" They tend to be interested in learning about qualifying, presentation tips and how to close the deal.

In times of uncertainty and down markets the emphasis switches to the front end of the sales process. They ask questions like, "My customers don't have time for me, they seem more preoccupied. How can I engage them?"

Caution: If you are thinking that there is a substitute for a sound sales process and smart work, you'll be disappointed: In times of FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt), becoming skilled at engaging good customers is going to differentiate you from your competitors. The lively conversation following that question brought us to these conclusions. Here are some ideas that you can put to use immediately to engage good Customers.

What you sell has to have a strong value proposition for the market you are targeting.

Revisit your message. What is it that you do for the customer? Is your marketing collateral and messaging relevant to customers right now? Customer are hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass, they aren't going to make themselves available unless you can make a BIG FAT CLAIM that immediately grabs their attention. Take the time before you start to update your selling propositions to reflect what is happening today. Give your customer a compelling reason to come out of hiding.

Revisit your "Perfect Customer" Definition: Who is actually buying your product? Is the target market you defined when you started still applicable? You can't afford to make calls on someone who doesn't need or want your product or services. Take a look at your contact database and work on the existing customers and potential prospects that most closely resemble that "Perfect Customer".

Use Technology to "Warm Up" your Calls
It's hard to break through the Preoccupation Barrier. Until you grab a prospects attention you're just an interruption. You already know how many times this happens each day. In a face to face sales call the prospect may already be aware of what potential value you might bring. In a single phone call you don't have the luxury of top-of-mind awareness. The question is, how do you do that?

In the past a single call might have been enough. If you didn't connect you went on to the next potential customer. But nowadays, you have a much better choice. You can use technology to design a campaign of multiple touches with multiple media types. Use a combination of direct business letter, email and voice mails to prepare your customer for your upcoming call.

Better yet, a well crafted message, (a BIG FAT CLAIM that that solves a current problem) sent in a combination of e-mail, voice mail and good old-fashioned phone calls that pull your prospect to a web site that sells will work wonders. Create a specific web page that reflects your offer and include an audio/slide presentation that the visitor can control. Use letters, email and voice mail messages to drive visitors to the offer page and track the results.

Make time to do the things that need to get done.
The last idea that we came up with at that session is the easiest to implement, but also the hardest to do. The first sales trainer that I ever saw said there is a simple reason for a salesperson success. He said, "Successful people have formed the habit of doing what unsuccessful people won't do." If you want to guarantee your success in good times or bad, form the habit of making a certain number of calls by a certain time each morning.

Keys to Success
In tough times revisit your basic assumptions. Re-evaluate your marketing messages; use all of your selling tools. Form the habit of making good calls on good prospects. Here's the point: Customer are still buyingFree Web Content, make sure they're buying from you.

Article Tags: Sales Process

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James Maduk is one of North America's leading sales speakers. He is the creator and publisher of more than 80 streaming sales training courses, broadcasts VirtualSelling Radio and has just released his latest book, "52 Secrets Your Mom Never Told You About Selling". You can reach James at (613) 825-0651 or view his Web site at

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