Dec 4, 2023 • Podcast

How do I pursue prospects in a downturn?

Paul offers valuable tips that will keep you filling your pipeline, even during a slowdown.

Show Notes

Be sure you have a healthy list of opportunities: no less than 10 to pursue over the next 3 – 6 months.

In tough times, more people will be involved in the decision making process. Do you know the four types of decision makers to identify?

Can you solve a problem your prospect is experiencing? Make sure you let them know how you can help them. They’ll be more likely to agree to a meeting.

Get there early in the process and remain present throughout. Light pressure, constantly, can reap great rewards.

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How do I pursue prospects in a downturn?

(Transcribed from podcast)

Well, I was recently working with a sales team who is starting to notice a slowdown. One thing they’ve noticed that orders aren’t coming as easily as they have been in the past year. Also, they’ve noticed that people are less likely to meet—some of their customers are starting to drag their feet a little bit. So, in today’s episode, what we’re going to talk about is how you pursue your opportunities during a slowdown. Specifically, if it’s a recession, if it’s a rolling recession specific to one industry, even if it’s the time of year where customers start to drag their feet. We’re going to talk about how to pursue your opportunities during a tough time.

Now, before we get into that, just a reminder, make sure you pick up your copy of Selling Through Tough Times. This is your go-to guide for selling during any sort of downturn, whether you’re new to sales, experienced, you face tough times, right? We all do. So this book is your go-to guide. Now there’s still rumblings of a recession. I think the latest figures put the chance of a recession at about 48%, and that was published in the Wall Street Journal. And so, the good news is the number is actually going down, so there’s less of a chance than there was several months ago. So that’s good news. But still, I mean, it’s a coin flip at this point. You might as well prepare. So pick up your copy of Selling Through Tough Times. Also visit There you can find plenty of resources to help you sell more effectively in a downturn. So on today’s episode, I’m going to share four ideas with you as you pursue these opportunities during tough times.

First things first, before we get into the techniques and the ideas, I want you to make sure you have a healthy list of prospects. So, first order of business is to select 10 opportunities that you are going to pursue over the next three to six months. So I want you to build that list. And this list should be filled with opportunities that fit the profile for good business. And I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast. When you’re trying to identify what a good prospect really looks like, look at your best customers already. Think of your largest net profit customers and ask yourself, “Okay, what do they all have in common?” This will help you build out a profile. Now you know what to look for when you’re out there pursuing those opportunities.

So what do we do once we have this list of opportunities? Well, first of all, you need to broaden your situational awareness. In Selling Through Tough Times, we highlight why this is important. We know that during a tough economic time, your opportunities will change. They’re going to switch their focus; they’re going to have different concerns. Your role as a value-added seller and as a tough timer is to identify what has changed in their business. So, ask yourself, “Okay, how could a recession potentially impact this business? What negative impact/what positive impact could it have?” We can’t assume that it’s all negative. In fact, I was talking with a prospect just the other day and we discussed the uncertainty that they’re seeing, but he also mentioned there is going to be a boom in their industry. And the reason why, there are several pieces of equipment that are basically coming to their full life. These pieces of equipment are going to need either ongoing maintenance at this point, or they’re going to need to be replaced. This creates an opportunity in their industry. So you want to be aware of what has changed and how a downturn is going to impact that particular opportunity.

You need to broaden your awareness because we need to go in with a deeper understanding of what’s really going on in their world. So that’s tip number one. And again, in Selling Through Tough Times, we detail exactly how to do that. But I gave you enough information to get started.

Next—this is critical: identify and categorize your decision makers. Our latest research in Value-Added Selling shows that 5.8 decision makers get involved in a technically complex decision. So, if you’re selling what is considered technically complex or just complex in general, you know that there’s going to be at least five to six people involved. Now, also, during tough times, more people get involved in the process. And the reason why is simple: nobody wants to make the wrong decision in a bad economic climate. Decision makers are going to want to spread the risk, and so, they’re likely to incorporate more people to get their feedback just to make sure everyone is on board with this decision. That way they can mitigate risk and spread that risk over a broader group. So more people are going to get involved.

And as they get involved, you need to put them into one of four categories. So, without getting too hung up on the details, what I want you to do is think of each decision maker. So let’s clarify decision maker for a moment. A decision maker is anyone involved in the process. Now, they may not all have the authority to buy, but they can influence the decision in a number of ways. So I want you to grade each decision maker based on their (1) level of authority, meaning they have the ability to make a decision, and (2) their expertise.

We know that expertise and authority are going to be the critical factors when making decisions, especially in tough times. That’s critical in in good economic times, but it becomes more paramount in tough times because, again, a decision maker who has ultimate authority may not have the expertise in that particular area or that particular application, whatever it may be. We know that high-level decision makers that have authority are going to reach out to other decision makers to leverage their expertise because, again, they don’t want to make the wrong decision in a tough economic climate.

Now, for example, let’s say you’re selling a piece of machinery. Now you’re going to get several people involved. For example, an operator—an individual who is familiar with the equipment, who operates it, maybe manages the people who operate it. They know the ins and the outs of it. Maybe they maintain this equipment. This individual has a high degree of expertise, but they have a low authority to buy. This individual can greatly influence the decision, but when it comes time to signing the check, they don’t have the authority. So we need to find other decision makers that have authority. Ideally, we want a decision maker who has both authority and expertise. That is the critical decision maker that we should be pursuing. Now, in an ideal world, yes, we find that person. Sometimes it’s going to be across different departments. So pursue those decision makers who either have high expertise or high authority.

Now, if the decision maker has low authority and low expertise, be wary of how they get involved in the process. These individuals sometimes could be in finance, for example. The finance person might not have the ultimate authority to buy, and not only that, they don’t have the expertise in a given area. They’re controlling money and funding, and they certainly have the ear of that high-level decision maker. We need to get them on board with the decision. And, be wary of them trying to kill the decision before it makes it to the right people. So be aware of that. Again, identify and categorize your decision makers.

The next step: identify your point of entry. If you’re looking at an opportunity, let’s call it ABC Manufacturing, you need to decide who you’re going to initiate contact with. Now, many salespeople focus on procurement, and they do this for a number of reasons. Number one, it’s usually easier to meet with procurement people. They are available; their contact information is there. They meet with salespeople, so that’s what they do. The challenge we face, they’re the most price-sensitive of decision makers. Again, these decision makers have low authority and low expertise. Don’t start with procurement.

I would encourage you to start with those individuals who have high expertise or high authority. The challenge you may face is that it will take a little bit longer. So be aware of that, but start with some of those mid-level decision makers, maybe an engineer, operations manager. And ideally you want to start at the very top. Depending on the size of the opportunity, it could be a business owner, it could be an executive, or it could be a vice president. But starting there and working your way down will make sense because, from the very beginning, you are aligning with the individual who can say yes, and you’re also aligning with their objectives and what’s important. So, I would encourage you to start with either those with high expertise or those with a high level of authority, or ideally both.

Now one tip here. When you’re reaching out to secure that first meeting, our research continues to show the #1 reason why decision makers meet with salespeople is because it appears they can solve a business problem that they’re experiencing. So as you’re reaching out to get that meeting, hint at the problems they could be experiencing and demonstrate how you can help solve it. That’s going to increase your likelihood of getting a call back.

The final tip, we need to get there early in the process and stay present—early in the process and stay present. When I say get there early, that means we get there early on in the customer’s decision making process. We need to get there before the competition. Now, most customers don’t wake up one day and say, “Oh, wow, I have a problem. You know what? I’m going to reach out to that salesperson who cold called on me a few weeks ago and give and give them an opportunity.” It doesn’t work like that. So, you’re often there creating the demand. You’re helping them uncover problems they didn’t know they initially had. We want to get there early, and the best way I know to get there early is to be there often. With your group of 10 opportunities you’re going to pursue, we need to add them to our weekly calendar. Keep a steady touch. Light pressure constantly can make big progress, and so we want to make sure we are reaching out to these individuals on a regular basis. And always ask them, “Hey, what projects do you have coming up? What problems or challenges are you facing?” Those questions will put you in the ideal position to support the customer and get there early in the process.

Make it a big day.

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