No one welcomes tough times. Yet, during even the most difficult periods, some salespeople thrive, grow, and prosper. They ignore the doomsayers and seize the opportunity to increase sales, introduce new products and services, and capture a greater share of the market. Here are 12 practical techniques for using tough times to build a more profitable business.

1. Concentrate on the basics.Your single most important job is to get and keep customers. The only way of doing this is to help your customers solve their problems better than anyone else. Don’t assume you have the answers. Learn what each customer means by “better.” Then, adapt your product or service so that it’s perceived as “better” in the eyes of your customers and prospects.

2. Become more aggressive.Change your marketing strategy to fit the psychology of the times. Emphasize how your products or services save time, cut costs, and increase productivity. If you take this route, you’ll stand out because your competitors may pull back to a more defensive, protective position.

3. Work at retaining present customers.Even if customers are spending less, don’t let them be tempted to take their business elsewhere. One of the old but true rules of selling is that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep an old one.

4. Increase sales to present customers.The customer relationship is always much more fragile than we like to think. In fact, customer satisfaction depends on just one issue: meeting needs on time, every time. Work harder than ever to meet as many of those needs as you can.

5. Build your prospect list.Develop what we like to call a druthers list. If you had your druthers, what prospects would you like to add to your customer base right now? Make regular contact with these companies. Explain why you have a special interest in them. Show how dealing with you has special benefits for them. Make your goal clear: Ask what you will have to do to get their business.

6. Use value-added techniques to get an edge on your competitors.Separating your company from all the rest in your industry is more important than ever. Think like a customer to discover what you can do to dramatize your uniqueness. It’s never the value you want to add that makes the difference. It’s the value the customer wants to receive that’s important.

7. Keep a watchful eye on the competition.Don’t assume your competitors are sleeping. They may be making moves which could cut into your customer base. More than ever, it’s important to scout the competition.

8. Practice niche marketing.Look for those markets which best match your company’s products and service - and come out swinging. Strive to become the big fish in a small pond. Chances are competition is less intense in these markets and your strong position will fend off unwanted intruders. As you successfully serve new customers, you have a good chance of becoming a preferred supplier.

9. Become a marketing-driven salesperson.Make sure it’s your customers who are running your business. A marketing-driven salesperson operates just one way: The total effort - product, service, price, and promotion - must be adapted to the needs and wants of customers.

10. Concentrate on consulting.Remember, customers aren’t looking for off-the-shelf solutions to their problems. Tailor your services to meet precise needs. This means taking more time to be helpful, understanding and supportive of your customers.

11. Demonstrate a “we can do it” attitude.You may have the best products or service, but that’s not enough. Go the next step. Show enthusiasm for going out of your way to prove that you’re service-oriented.

12. Use the magic word, “sure.”Since we’re all in the problem solving business, respond to requests with a strong “sure.” You may not have all the answers at the moment. That’s not important. You can get them later. When you’re talking to the customer, convey confidence and be 100 percent positive. It will get you more and more business.

Publication date:10/27/2008