When the going gets tough, the tough get creative.

Australia is officially in a recession. The first one in 30 years.

Figures released this week for the June quarter shows the green and gold economy has plunged 7%, the largest contraction of our GDP since records have been held. And it means that despite the light rays of hope some states have felt filter through the darkness of COVID, where things have been tough, they’re going to get tougher.

Now if you’re in sales, either as a leader or as a sales representative, this news will likely tempt panic. But like previous economic downturns before us, this too shall pass and, with character built on the virtue of hard times, this period provides ample reasons to double down on your sales initiatives, both across a team or across a territory. After all, a crisis is a terrible opportunity to waste.

Here are some creative examples of ways to add value, gain new intel and diversify your sales strategy throughout the next few months until we can all Control + Alt + Delete 2020 and call it a year;

Focus on your vital few:

If you haven’t educated your team or yourself on the 80/20 principle then there is no better time like the present. With time and effort, both strained, understanding where to best focus these crucial elements will be the most fundamental way of future-proofing your territory.

Legend has it that Italian economist and pea farming enthusiast Vilfredo Pareto was tending to his pea garden when he begun to notice a trend in his produce. He noted that of all his crops, roughly 20% of the plants were responsible for roughly 80% of the harvest. He then begun to apply this rationale across Italy’s property ownership and income and he concluded that for the majority of cases, 80% of the effects come from roughly 20% of the causes. Thus the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle, or the rule of the vital few was born.

Now is the time to understand what 20% of your territory is delivering 80% of your results and set your efforts, your time, and your focus accordingly.

The Pareto Principle. Aiding effective time and effort management for a century.

Shift excess stock by offering it as value:

Challenging times are breeding grounds for innovation. That opportunity is a free-range and (almost) risk-free way to trial new ways of offering value and shifting stock. The old GWP – gift with purchase – model has worked wonders for both Wrigley’s gum – which was offered as a GWP for one of Wrigleys’ initial products of baking soda, and more notably and closer to home, Vegemite.

Frank Walker of the Walker & Co. import and export company launched Vegemite to little fanfare in 1923. In fact, it was a big old yeasty flop. It was his second company the Kraft Cheese co. that launched as a success. This was mainly due to the timing coinciding with the first World War, the perfect opportunity to market processed cheese. Walker being the astute businessman that he has, launched a two-year campaign where he provided Vegemite as value with the cheese. It shifted mountains of his dormant stock, incubated the iconic taste duo we all know and love, and created an Aussie icon along the way.

Lesson of this story? Take the downturn as an opportunity to sacrifice the short term for the long term. Often your best proof point for a new or supporting product is a customer’s own success story. Now is not the time to up-sell or side-sell. Offer value, gain testimonials, and solidify your wider product offering for the long term.

GWP’s have always been a part of the marketing strategy for Vegemite, in fact Vegemite was itself a GWP for sister brand Kraft singles.

Double down on fresh leads:

In his book, Damn Good Advice (for people with talent), George Lois – advertising legend and rumored inspiration behind Don Draper, recounts a time when a target client of his was on the hunt for a new agency. Unfortunately for Lois and his team they were hell-bent on only hiring a local agency because they were prone to calling meetings at a moment’s notice.

Located on the other side of the US, Lois’ agency was automatically discounted from the race. After being made aware of this, Lois and his partner jumped on a plane to be at the client’s office when they returned from lunch to convince them otherwise. Taken aback by the gesture, the drive, and the chutzpah they demonstrated they were awarded the account on the spot.

Going the extra mile and taking the road less travelled will get you everywhere especially in a time when many will be trepidatious in their approach.

The inimitable George Lois of Papert Koeing Lois – the first advertising agency to go public. The agency famously created the I want my MTV campaign.

Trial new ways to reduce wastage:

The name of the actual sales person responsible has been lost to history, but legend has it that it was due to the nouse of a tortilla sales rep that we have the glorious product, Doritos.

When Fritos-Lays – the now producer of our beloved corn chips opened a Mexican restaurant, Casa de Fritos, in what was the new Disneyland in 1955, the restaurant used to discard ungodly amounts of stale tortillas to keep its fresh reputation, well fresh. Legend has it was a salesperson from the tortilla supplier, Alex Foods, noticed the pile of stale tortillas by the trash on a site visit, and decided to fry them up and add a bit of seasoning for a little something different.

He then pitched the product back to the restaurant as a way for them to reduce wastage. By doing this not only did he safeguard the sales for that territory but he actually increased them.

The product obviously took off and evolved into the Doritos that what we know and love today. The rest, as they say is chip-story. The moral of this story is always look to be innovative on behalf of your client and agile in ways to future proof your territory as well as your client’s business.

An advertisement for Casa de Fritos in the newly opened Disneyland, 1955.

Use the time to up-skill your team: 

Not only is training and coaching crucial to reinforcing the positive business behaviours that will be at risk during these times, it is a great way to lift morale and drive camaraderie.

Warren Buffet is the worlds most prolific investors. He has made over $85 billion US in astute investment decisions. When asked which of his investments superseded all others, you know what he said? A $100 Dale Carnegie public speaking course that he said changed his life.
“Invest in yourself, everyone has potential they haven’t used yet.”

If this isn’t the proof point you need to explore talent development for your team of for yourself, I don’t know what would be.

The certificate for completion that signals the most beneficial investment Warren Buffet has ever made. A $100 public speaking course by Dale Carnegie.

Get creative with your promotion and prospecting:

Estée Lauder’s moxie as a salesperson is legendary. One of my favourite stories about her creative selling nouse was of the time that she was rejected of the opportunity to sell her iconic ‘Youth Dew’ fragrance at the exclusive Galleries Lafayette in Paris.

When she was denied the opportunity to sell, she ‘accidentally’ dropped the bottle on the floor. Once the perfume spilled customers began asking for the product. The manager grew tired of denying these customers a sale, as per their continuous requests – that he brought the product onto the shelves.

Lesson of this story? If you believe your product will work find a way to get others to believe. Use your clients customers as a market test and always aim to get to the end-user if your sales cycle removes you from it.

Estée Lauder, the original beauty entrepreneur and department store sales girl who did not take for an answer.

Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability: 

Hard times call for soft skills and a human approach to leadership. Howard Schultz, billionaire Starbucks CEO departed after 13 years at the helm. After his departure, the company’s success and revenue declined. When Schultz was invited to return in 2008 he held a meeting with the leadership team to address the failings of the brand.

He admitted the company was in dire straits, itself not unusual, however, he let his emotions flow and cried on stage detailing the compassion he felt towards his staff and stakeholders. Schultz attributes this moment as the catalyst for positive change which set Starbucks back on a path to success.

Not only did the company reverse the decline in revenue but it delivered its highest profit in as little as two years later.

“Dream more than others think practical. Expect more than others think possible. Care more than others think wise.” Howard Schultz, two time Starbucks CEO.

It was John F. Kennedy who famously – although incorrectly – stated that the Chinese brush strokes for crisis is comprised of both the character for danger and the character for opportunity. This idea, despite being a fallacy, is but a great testament to the fact that if you seek to find an opportunity in a crisis then you will find one.

The simplified Chinese characters for ‘crisis’. They do not comprise of the characters for both ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ as incorrectly purported by Western culture.

Laura-Jade is director of sales training and enablement company EQ Sales which has a mission to make sales a safe space for both buyers and sellers by heroing soft skills like empathy, communication, and relationship management – all crucial in today’s post COVID marketplace.

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