I've been around our business for a lot of years. I’ve experienced downturns, gas shortages, the Great Recession, banking crises, and a whole bunch of car sales declines. However, I’ve never seen a time when consumer fear grew like it did this last week. Not even close. What a week!
A week ago, we were only washing our hands a lot more. Seven days later, stores are out of toilet paper from panic buying and the stock market is down 20% or so.
Amazing, and a little scary.
Between the coronavirus and the stock decline, the economy has gone from being great to being terrible in just a few weeks.
So, what do we say to our teams and our clients?
First, I think we need to acknowledge that some clients are very scared. When business owners are in intense fear, it’s tough to get them to take a longer term view. In November 2008, I remember seriously thinking about cancelling our company’s Christmas party. Talk about short-term thinking. It was an insignificant expense for a multi-million-dollar company. But, in a time of panicked thinking, it briefly seemed like a good idea. Right now, many businesses are in the “cancel the Christmas party” phase of their responses. The change this week has been so abrupt and jarring that fear is incredibly high.
For clients who are in extreme fear, our message has to be that we’re here for them and want to do anything we can to make a difference, whether that’s next week or down the road. Being a client-focused seller means believing that if it’s good for the client it will ultimately be good for us.
Over the next few weeks, clients will start to realize the world hasn’t ended. That’s when we have to aggressively start talking about the opportunity that businesses have to grow market share in a time of challenge.
Years ago, I met a Louisiana car dealer named Mark Boniol. When I first met Mark, he had just led an incredible turnaround of a Ford dealership in the midst of a major downturn due to crashing oil prices. I’ve been thinking about what he said all this week. “Most people focus on the 20% who aren’t buying. But 80% still are. They’re buying something from somebody. It’s my job to make sure it’s from us.” Mark, and dozens of other businesses over the years, have taught me that growing market share is easier and cheaper in challenging times. Then, when the market comes back—as it always does—you start to win really big.
But market share gains start with our attitude.
In April of 2009, about 6 months into the post financial market recession, I was doing a seminar for business owners in an Alabama market. Before the session, I met the owners of two different furniture stores about 5 minutes apart. The first owner was all “doom and gloom,” bemoaning how bad business was. The second was sharing that his business was actually up a little bit.
Same category… same market… different attitude. Remember the old cliché that our attitude determines our altitude? Turns out, that is absolutely true. And, it's true for us, as well. As leaders, this week we’re charged with reassuring our teams that we will get through this. We’ll start looking for which categories might actually grow during this time of self-quarantine. (We’re working on that list for our clients, plus messages that resonate during crisis.) We also need to start helping our clients see that challenging times are also times of opportunity.
We always have a choice. We can live in the problem or live in the solution. Effective leaders almost always try to quickly work in the solution.
This too shall pass!
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