Recession Proofing Your Sales Pipeline

“My prospects aren’t coming to the table because of the economy.” Sound familiar?

Actually, “the economy” is exactly why they should be willing to take a meeting. The real reason they’re not coming to the table is more a function of our behavior.  It’s not their fault, nor is the economy to blame.

The moment we start asking for 15 or 30 minutes of their time, what they are really hearing is “Hi … Looking for the chance to increase your ad budget?” I realize we’re not saying as much, but when thoughts of prolonged economic contraction are swirling around, they’re unlikely to hear a pitch for an investment into the one area they’re looking to cut the deepest: their advertising.

A salesperson sent me an email the other day with a quote on it that was very appropriate for the times:

The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time.

How true. Too bad that alone probably won’t work to get the meeting, because it makes a lot of sense.

Here are three direct ways to recession-proof your sales pipeline. If the hardest part of your job has just become “prospecting and getting the call” … you have company. We hear this not just within our industry, it has become the mantra of many in B2B sales today.

Technically, it is more of an excuse than a mantra.  Here’s a way around the problem.

1. What we’re saying:
Okay, so maybe it’s a function of what we’re saying or what the business owner hears. But let’s take a look at how we can present it better. Assume we have a prospect spending $100,000 in their annual budget, which consists of the local paper and cable TV. After all, aren’t these media “cheap” or “proven”?

Well, not if we really look closely. We could very easily buy a similar amount of impressions against the same target demographic (yes we can) for half the pricetag on any broadcast station. In a midmarket station with a CPP around $50, that budget would buy 2,000 GRPs. The relative media cost (on a per-point or per-thousand basis) of print and cable versus all the key demos is at the very least double what it is for broadcast … and we’re being generous here.

Be bold.  Leave no doubts that you have a plan that will actually lower their ad budget by 25% for 2009 while delivering more penetration to their target audience than their current buy does.  State this point clearly when setting the meeting.  When you work the numbers with most advertisers, you’ll see that this is actually a gross understatement.

2. What we’re leaving out:
More times than not, recessionary periods invoke knee-jerk bunker mentality behavior.  “I need to stay close to home today,” says the advertiser.  Sounds safe, but that is the riskiest thing I can do as a business owner today.  First and foremost, market share is “on sale” today for nearly every business category in the local market.  Equally important is the demonstration of how the right buy will make up for the dearth of shoppers in the market.  If there are 20% fewer shoppers out there today than there were at the same time last year, why wouldn’t I want to make up the difference with a more efficient media buy against a larger geographic footprint?  That’s where the missing 20% are sitting right now, not hearing our message.  Let’s talk to them for cheap!

3. How we’re prospecting (the numbers game):
There are really two conversion ratios (not one) in any sales process:  My ability to get the meeting, or meeting ratio, and my ability to get the sale, or close ratio.  In softer economic times, poor sales performance is more a result of a lower meeting ratio than a lower close ratio.  Using round numbers here: in a stable economy, if my meeting ratio (those who agree to meet with me) is 20%, and my close ratio is also 20%, then I need 25 prospects to get a deal done.  During this recession, if I can’t make #1 or #2 above happen, my meeting ratio will suffer because it’s “tougher” to get the meeting.  Let’s say my meeting ratio drops to 10%; now I need to get 50 prospects to make that same deal happen.  That’s my only alternative if all else fails.  You can work the math with your own numbers, but you’ll be surprised how many times this answer comes up: “I need to double my prospect list.”  That’s really not a scary prospect, for most salespeople it may just mean getting in front of one more qualified decision maker a week.

Here’s a blunt statement of fact that give us every reason in the world to try at least one if not all of the above approaches: All three are true regardless of the economic climate.  So, the question shouldn’t be whether or not to try them, but why we haven’t done this a lot sooner?

After all, salespeople who are quick to tab “the economy” as an excuse aren’t really sales people.

Dave Eckstein does not play shortstop and was never the MVP of the World Series. He is a partner in the firm ESA & Company, based in Red Bank, New Jersey.

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  1. Our home business was really affected by the Economic recession, we have to cut jobs just to cover up our losses. fortunately, we have already recovered. *

  2. Good to hear the silver lining, Lily. We have worked with several companies who have hired back laid-off employees within the past 6-12 months. Here’s hoping your upward momentum continues.

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