No one could hit a baseball the way hall-of-famer Ted Williams could. He knew there was
a lot more to becoming a home-run champ than just swinging hard at every pitch. "To be a
good hitter," Williams once
said, "you’ve got to get a good ball to hit." Here’s a lesson
in there for all of us as sales professionals to apply each time we step up to the plate
in business: it pays to be choosy.
Just like Williams poised in the batter’s box waiting for his good ball, sales
people get their best results when they target their prospects with forethought and empathy.
This is an especially important discipline to engage when selling in a down market, because
resources are tighter than ever and your time is finite to meet your sales quotas.
Follow the money
In the new economy that is taking shape around us, buyer behavior is changing (a point that
I discuss in greater detail in the first
article in this series). It’s incumbent on you as a sales person to sharpen your sleuthing
skills and follow the money. Take time to look at your market and ask yourself how the
needs of buyers are changing and how you can best position yourself and your organization
to meet those needs.
To illustrate my point, consider the changes that we’re seeing in the car industry. Sales
figures for most car markers are pretty discouraging right now (although Jaguar, curiously
enough, posted an eight percent sale increase for the year!) Economists point to all kinds of
reasons as the cause behind this, but the effect is clear: people are keeping their vehicles
longer. There are opportunities here for those who choose to see them. If people are keeping
their cars longer, doesn’t it stand to reason that they have to take better care of them?
It’s not a stretch, therefore, to suggest that car owners could be frequenting garages, auto
repair and tune-up shops more often. To complete this illustration, a smart organization
that targets these customers and caters to their needs will be well-positioned to smack those
sales home-runs with a confidence that would make Ted Williams proud.
Spend money on those who are spending with you
This is not the time to be taking a shotgun approach to sales, trying to sell all things
to all people. Rather, this is when you should be targeting those who know you best—particularly
customers that have a higher propensity to buy from you in good times and bad. Spend money
on those who are spending with you. Don’t make the mistake that so many companies make
during an economic downturn, taking a hatchet to their marketing budget. There’s a real
opportunity right now for smart companies to step up their advertising and marketing efforts—provided
that they are willing to invest the time to target who they are going to reach with their
message and then measure the results.
In addition, consider how you can improve up-selling and cross-selling in your current market.
Look carefully at who buys your products or services. Let’s say you’re a sales rep for a
food-services company and you notice that your product line is selling briskly among women
who are Toronto-based restaurant owners in the 45-65 age bracket. Maybe that’s who you should
be targeting. Find out what their needs are, and market aggressively to them, showing how
your product meets that need.
Success in the new economy is about adapting quickly to change, but these are times that
also offer an opportunity for you to become a game changer, too. Creative solutions to
age-old problems have a way of finding an audience—no matter what market conditions are
like out there. Look with empathy at your customers. Ask yourself,
are there barriers that tend to get in their way of doing business…things that frustrate
them in their work?
Think about how your sales team or your organization can ease that pain, starting with a
simple, bold new idea or approach and give it time to germinate. That’s the essence of what
Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School describes as disruptive innovation.
He notes in a recently published, co-written article: "success
comes from figuring out how to satisfy a real customer who needs to get a real job done."
Don’t underestimate the incredible opportunities that are at hand in this new economy to
change the rules of the game—no matter what industry you work in.
Just remember that targeting is about being selective. Focus on the customers who are spending,
understand how their habits might be changing and find solutions—especially innovative ones—that
can help position you and your organization to remain on top. Which takes me back to my point
about Ted Williams. He stressed the importance of waiting for the right pitch before swinging,
but he also had a poignant follow-up: "the greatest hitter in the world can’t hit bad balls
well." Targeting is as much about staying focused on customers as it is about being able
to distinguish those really exceptional clients from the all the rest."