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Selling in an Economic Downturn

Jill Konrath

Several weeks ago a writer from Sales & Marketing Management magazine interviewed me for an article on selling during tough times. She wanted advice from people who sold during the previous recession.

After I hung up the phone, all I could think about was Bill. I was a sales manager at Xerox in those days. Bill worked for me - he was always a top rep, a President's Club performer.

On my first morning back after a maternity leave, I noticed Bill's sales were absolutely terrible. It was April and he was only at 33% of his quota. I immediately called him up.

After exchanging a few pleasantries I asked, "Bill, what's going on? I've never seen your sales down like this."

"It's the recession," he answered gloomily. "It's hitting my area really hard. No one is buying anything."

We talked about it at length. Things were definitely tough in his territory. Never having experienced bad times before, I was unsure of what advice to give. Before we hung up, I scheduled a field travel day with him.

What an eye-opener!

I went on numerous calls with Bill. On virtually every one, Bill and the prospect spent the entire time commiserating about the economy, lost sales, declining profits, pending lay-offs and more. If it was bad, they talked about it.

When Bill and I sat down to debrief at the end of the day, I was depressed. But it was finally clear to me what was happening.

I shared my observations with Bill. I pointed out that in one meeting he'd said, "I suppose it's the wrong time to even talk about buying a copier."

Bill was stunned. He didn't realize he was actively discouraging customers from buying. He had no idea how caught up he'd become in the gloom-and-doom mindset.

We talked at length about various approaches. We brainstormed ways prospective clients could use our systems to build business and attract additional clients. At the end of the day, Bill had a new perspective on the situation; he was ready to do things differently.

Two months later, Bill had a stellar month. It brought him up to 150% of his year-to-date quota. His performance continued at that level for the rest of the year and he once again qualified for Xerox's prestigious President's Club.


  • Don't get caught up in talks of tough times or you'll start believing it yourself. That's the worst thing that can happen.
  • Revisit your value proposition. Can you reduce operating costs? Help generate more sales? Shorten time-to-market? Figure out how your products or services can help prospects during tough times.
Some sales reps prosper during economic downturns. You can be one of them

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Jill Konrath, President of Selling to Big Companies and Leapfrog-Strategies Inc., helps sellers create value, differentiation and demand in competitive markets. For info on speaking, training or consulting services, please call 651-429-1922 or email us at


Copyright 2006, Jill Konrath - (651) 429-1922