For Chad McClennan, the only thing that's changed about selling is everything. Compared to a year or two ago, says the 35-year-old Chicago entrepreneur, leads are harder to get, and fewer turn into prospects. It takes more time to turn those prospects into customers, and, if they buy at all, it's usually for different reasons than in the past. He's paying his salespeople differently-while hiring more of them-and investing more in training, supervision and technology to support sales.
"We've changed organizationally and technically, and we've changed the sales process and compensation," says the president and CEO of The Customer Group, a 25-person customer service consulting firm. "And we're beginning to see results."
McClennan's sales experience reflects the changes sales experts and entrepreneurs have seen sweeping through selling in recent months. New developments have ranged from the emergence of savvier but less patient customers to the availability of more but sometimes less qualified candidates for sales jobs. Overriding everything is a profound change in the ability of many customers to buy in the manner and amount they used to. "Our current and potential customers are saying to us 'Right now, we're not doing any business. We're waiting to see how our numbers are going to look,'" says Pat Cavanaugh, CEO of Cavanaugh, a 44-person promotional products firm in Pittsburgh. "It's a holding pattern."
"Today, sales is heavy on marketing, customer insight and systematic selling, and light on taking orders, taking clients to lunch and taking breaks."
Out With the Old
Though the recession may be behind us, its effects can still be felt. Clearly, selling in a recovery economy is not the same as selling during the thriving economy of a few years ago.
Things have changed, but entrepreneurs must still find new ways to sell. McClennan said his list of valid prospects doubled during the first three months of the year. Cavanaugh, 35, who was named the country's top salesman-CEO by a trade magazine last year, expects to continue a growth track that's increased sales 4,000 percent over the firm's past seven years.
How are they doing it? They're not doing what they did a while back. They're not wasting prospects' time with chitchat. They're not looking for easy, quick closes. They're not cold-calling. They're not selling solely on price. They're not just peddling products and services. And, above all, they're not waiting one minute for buyers to come to them.
"We were getting a lot of business through word-of-mouth," recalls McClennan, who started his company in 1999. "There was such a great demand for consulting services from businesses feeling the need to be competitive, but now supply outpaces the demand. So we're doing e-mail campaigns, we're doing targeted mailings. We never had to do that before." Today, sales is heavy on marketing, customer insight and systematic selling, and light on taking orders, taking clients to lunch and taking breaks. "It's not as easy to get orders," says Atlanta sales consultant T.K. Kieran. "You must create demand instead of just fulfill demand."