When times are hard, it does seem that the sky is falling, as Chicken Licken famously said.
But, as we come out of a period of recession, obsessive entrepreneurs like me know it is an excellent time to do what comes naturally, to start and build a new business.
In hard times, good people are more available and there are great deals to be had from suppliers. Once you are up and running, the best way to beat a recession is to sell your way out of it. If you could work out how to double your sales overnight, then the downturn would be something that only affects your less nimble competitors.
A key to achieving this is to get everyone in your company, not just the salespeople, involved in sales. This is particularly important for outwardly undifferentiated service suppliers such as PR or marketing agencies and the more traditional professions like the law.
The websites of such businesses tend to show fascinating people with top-quality skills and experience. Which is great — but what is now required is for them to get out there, talking to customers.
And there's the rub; some are natural networkers, forever bringing in new clients, while for others, attending a networking event is second only to root canal work.
The solution is some simple training in the basic mechanics of sales, and maybe a bit of confidence-boosting. Sadly, training is often the first casualty as belts are tightened. This is of course a false economy; the most important assets for any business are your employees, the only people who will be able to get you out of a recession.
So-called discretionary spends, such as training, are always prime candidates for the chop. But to retain your best staff you should invest in their skills, particularly in something that should get short-term results, such as good sales training.
One thing your people will learn on good sales training is the difference between “hunters” and “farmers”: the former go after new business; the latter work with their existing client base, looking for new opportunities to sell. It is this latter role that most technical people in a business are best suited to, and are actually often very good at.
Farmers actually generate more sales than hunters: I've heard it said that for business service companies, 85% of their work comes from existing customers.
The ideal farmer has a streak of entrepreneurial opportunism in them. Clients are always happier to talk about their problems with a farmer than with a hunter, so your delivery people should always be on the lookout. This should not be just to sell existing services, but to be always asking what new products or services you might provide.
These may be close to what you already offer, and thus easily delivered. If the new request is for something radically different, then the farmer can offer to discuss the proposition with his or her bosses and see if it is feasible to deliver it profitably, on this one occasion, for this special client only.
This may be a one-off, but it could also be the start of a whole new business adventure, the opportunity to re-brand and re-position your company in a recession. Kentucky Fried Chicken did exactly that in 1991, during a recession, becoming KFC, and growing very quickly.
Perhaps that is what happened to Chicken Licken back in the recession of 1930; he cheered up and became Colonel Sanders.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2013. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker. This article is a chapter from This Is How Yoodoo It — a collection of Mike’s Financial Times columns.