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When the Selling Gets Tough, the Tough Get Smart

Even in a down economy, people are still buying--you just have to find them.
December 3, 2008

"How do you sell in an environment where no one is buying anything?"

A frustrated and frightened salesman asked me that just the other day. And I had a hard time answering him. Not because I didn't think I had the answer, but because I didn't think he was really a salesman.

Sure, his card read "Sales Representative," but a title does not a salesperson make. And one thing that assures that a person will not sell, at least not to any significant level, is if he is frightened and frustrated.

So for my answer, my suggestion, my real world advice on how to sell in a miserable economy: Keep in mind that you don't sell to the statistics, the unemployment figures or the consumer confidence levels. No matter how bleak the headlines may be, people are still buying--millions of them. Even in the Great Depression, roughly 75 percent of the work force was employed. Salespeople were selling them homes, suits, travel, chess sets and lawn furniture. Yes, many salespeople hung their heads low. Many more washed out of the business. But the ones who got smarter as the going got tougher still took home commission checks. Nothing was going to stop them.

As you know from the name of this column, I believe great salespeople are machines--heat-seeking selling machines. They find the pockets of heat and they hone in on them. They make their opportunities. They are not order takers--they are order makers.

Last week I also spoke to a client who heads a New York real estate brokerage firm. How many homes do you think the firm's agents have sold this year: 50? 100? 200? Actually, 3,000 and counting. Sure, this is off about 25 percent from the boom, but it is not mashed potatoes. It is not the brick wall so many would have us believe it is. It is 3,000 because real salespeople put on their suits in the morning, ignore the headlines and sell.

My prescription for selling in a meltdown:

Think of it this way. In the coming year:

Fear is contagious--build a firewall around it. And remember, optimism is contagious as well. Feel it, live it and you will be the bright spot everyone is looking for at a time when the shelves are stocked with gloom.