Jul 20, 2022 4 min read

5 rules for selling in a recession

5 rules for selling in a recession
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

I think we all know at this point that they'll be announcing a recession soon. It's more of a historical announcement. By the time we've had two straight quarters of contraction in the economy, most of the time the worst is actually over. But even if it's different in this case, we should still talk a bit about the rules of recession selling.

Fortunately, I got my start at the tail end of the last recession. So I've been down this dark hole before and I know how to climb out.

#5 - recessions are a self-fulfilling prophecy

What exactly is a recession? It's when the economy contracts rather than grows for two or more quarters in a row. What causes it? It's caused by a decrease in consumer spending. What causes the decrease in consumer spending? It's people saying they think a recession is coming.

See what I'm getting at? Go back and look at the news late last and early this year and tell me I'm wrong. We made this recession happen because the alternative (runaway inflation) is worse. That's the kind of thing that topples governments.

When you're selling, remember that a recession is a response to the fear of a recession. You will need to create more emotional separation between where they are and where they will be with your solution to close your deal, because you have to overcome that fear.

Yes, it can be done. But you're starting from behind. Don't forget that.

Also, this too shall pass. Don't do anything stupid like sell at the bottom of the market, gut your sales team, or completely upend your business. Think about the companies that did that in the beginning of COVID. Are any of them still around?

#4 - go back to the basics

Much like when you're having trouble in other areas of your life, focus on the fundamentals. Garner trust. Build rapport. Uncover your customers' pains and problems. Highlight them so they are at the top of your customers' minds. Prove you can solve their problem, and then do it so well they want to shout it from the rooftops.

Now is not a time to be sloppy. Now's the time to go back to school and start playing at the next level. Every million dollar rep I know got there by going through a hard time just like this one.

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#3 - don't play tight

Going back to the basics does not mean you should play tight. It seems like every sales manager on the planet forgets about keeping things positive when things aren't going well.

If you've ever worked with me, you know that I tend to be super critical when things are going well... because that's when people get sloppy. But when things aren't going well, that's when I turn on the positivity. Because tightening up too much can cause the sales equivalent of the yips.

Let's be clear. When one or two reps aren't producing, it's the reps fault. When the team isn't producing that's a business problem, not a rep problem. That doesn't mean sellers aren't responsible for figuring it out - that's what they get paid for. But sales is a team sport, so come together as a team and work together to make it happen.

#2 - strength is attracted to strength

This is one of my favorite mottos for whenever things aren't going well. It's practically impossible for everything to go wrong all at once, even when it feels like it. So pop your head up, and look for what's working and do more of that.

Maybe it's a market segment - for example, the energy sector is BOOMING right now. And as gas prices go down, I kind of wish I owned a gas station (you did know that gas stations make most of their money when gas is getting cheaper, right? It's because they get to sell you gas at a higher price than they have to replace it with).

Maybe it's a motion. Has your commercial business dried up but your enterprise business is going strong? Refocus your efforts. Inbound isn't working, but outbound and events are? Do more of that.

Whatever you do, go hunting for the bright patches. That's where the sunlight is.

#1 - don't let a good crisis go to waste

I've said this so many times in the past couple of weeks I feel like I need to have shirts made.

When things are going well, it's HARD to change. Really hard. Why? Because there's the sense that we should leave well enough alone.

When things aren't going well, that's when you have an opportunity to try something new. If what you're doing already isn't working, what's the risk of trying something else? That it won't work? Well that's not a change at all, is it?

Want to change out a new sales motion? Do it. Maybe you need to change the structure of your offer? Or you want to go after a customer segment you haven't focused on previously? All of these are fair game when change is required. Be brave - doing nothing will only get you exactly what you already have.

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