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7 best tips on how to sell during a recession

Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. That’s a super old-fashioned way to look at things, but resiliency is a skill that is a requirement for every generation. The ability to navigate a hostile environment and survive is paramount. If it isn’t taught, then it’s learned. But it rears its head up one way or another in generation after generation. Especially in business, and even more particularly, the sales world. Resiliency is crucial when talking about how to sell during a recession

Opportunities are always out there. In a downturn, though, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Knowing how to find that needle can be crucial to your future success as a salesperson in a recession. 

It’s important to be prepared for the future. Both when it’s looking good and when it’s looking well, not good. The life of a salesperson never slows down, even though the economy might.

With that in mind, here are seven tips on how to sell during a recession. 

Expand existing customers 

Probably the most important but criminally underrated part of selling in a recession is putting more time and effort into your existing customers. Which is a misdirection. It should be a priority. Why? Because these people have already become your customer. They (likely) enjoy your product or service. If they were willing to buy once, it’s not a stretch to assume they’ll buy from you again. 

If you’re having trouble finding new customers, take care of your current ones. See if they want to upgrade, buy more or add on in any significant way. Leads and customers are harder to come by in downturns. Paying extra attention to your current ones and checking in on them is a path worth pursuing for some extra cash flow. Plus, it’s a good way to enhance the relationship you have with current customers.

How to sell in a recession globally

Don’t give up 

Persistence is key. They say that winners never quit and quitters never win. Again, some more cheesy inspirational sayings, but there’s truth to it. The things in life worth having are worth working for. And when you’re in a recession, deals don’t tend to land in your lap. You’re gonna have to push through the “no’s,” the “now isn’t a good time’s” and any resistance you meet in your path.

For a sales professional, rejection is part and parcel of the job. In downturns, it comes with an even higher frequency. Which is to be expected. Don’t take things personally. Just move on to the next one and keep going. So staying positive and resilient is even more important in times like these. 

Read also: How to survive and thrive in a recession?

Take a solution-selling approach

This is a method that you should apply even when there’s not a downturn currently going on. As it’s an effective way of selling, full stop.

When selling, come from a perspective of how your product solves a problem for your prospect. Sell it as an essential rather than a nice to have. People and businesses spend more practically when the tough times come around. They won’t splurge on the “nice to haves,” they will track their spending and only dish their money out on the necessities. 

That means, you have position what you’re selling as a necessity.  If you’re selling sunscreen, sell them a sunburn-free summer. Not that your product has the highest level of SPF on the market.

What’s one thing people don’t like about the summer? Getting sunburnt. It’s not likely that people will be able to avoid the sun all summer, or that the sun is going to disappear anytime soon. So the problem of sunburns is an ever-present one, and we all need sunblock. So by selling them the solution, which would be a burn-free summer, you’re positioning your product as the key for solving their problem.

Apply that approach to what you sell and it will lead to better results, and happier customers. 

Sell with empathy

This is an incredibly important aspect to take into account when selling in a recession. Understand where your prospects are coming from. Be accommodating to them. Budgets are tight. People are getting laid off left and right. Inflation, stocks falling etc. It’s a chaotic time full of uncertainty and stress. You yourself are likely feeling some sort stress as well.

Be an understanding and empathetic person in your calls and interactions with everyone. Respect their time, their answers and their point of view. Your message and value proposition is important at all times. But when selling in a recession, you need to adapt yours to fit the time and environment. As mentioned above, people aren’t going to spend frivolously. But if they feel like they’re getting a good deal, or are buying from a trustworthy and genuine person, that can go a long way. So be kind and sympathetic when selling. 

Read also: What is a recession, and what happens during a recession?

tips during a recession

Quality vs. quantity 

Ah, the age-old debate of quality versus quantity. Both have their pros, and both have their cons. Typically, when it comes to sales, it’s a numbers game. You can break it down by how many leads, opportunities, and calls you need to make in order to hit your quota. But, in times of downturn, those numbers skyrocket or aren’t correct anymore. Which leaves you with two options. Turn up the dial and crank out more activities. Or focus on finding better high-quality opportunities. 

Focusing on the latter, while you may be doing a bit less, can have a larger impact. There’s not much of a point in doing busywork just for the sake of it. Of course, you want to look busy to your managers, but if it doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. In crunch time, when everyone else is increasing their activities as well, quality becomes important. 

If you know that by focusing on five prospects, being proactive, answering their every question and being incredibly accommodating that you’ll hit your quota, then that’s the way to go. Rather than just being partially there for 13 prospects, trying to play the numbers game and hoping that you hit your quota that way. Quality versus quantity is a smart approach selling in a recession. 

Go after deals you’ve lost

Everyone is suffering in some way during an economic downturn. You are, your competitors are and your customers are. Even the prospects that turned you down are too. That means, that now is a good time to reach back out. Maybe they are looking to save money and go with another solution that will help them save costs. Maybe that solution is what you have to offer them?

As long as you haven’t burnt any bridges with your prior prospects in deals that you’ve lost, there is no reason not to reach back out. Just to check in on them. See if they’re happy or if there’s anything you can do solve their problems during the current situation. You really never know what will happen unless you try. And during an economic downturn, you have as good of a reason as ever to circle back and knock on doors that were closed to you in the past. 

Find recession proof businesses or industries

It may be a recession, but an economy is made up of people and businesses. Those people and businesses still need to buy things to live and to work. So, a smart idea is to look for businesses that are crucial to everyday life. People still need to drive, they still need food, they still need clothes, they need medical care. 

One thing to keep in mind is, it’s easier to classify consumer goods as a necessity. However, a good strategy for a B2B sales person to pursue during a recession is to look for companies adjacent to B2C companies or are necessities. 

For example, if you sell procurement software, look for companies that are distribution partners for automobile parts. Or if you sell accounting software, try to sell to companies that manufacture food. A key component of surviving a recession is being able to fit your product in the right market environment for it. Finding a company that produces a societal staple, something that people must buy and introducing your solution to them is a sound strategy. 

No one said it would be easy

Selling isn’t easy. It takes a lot of resilience to work in sales. A certain kind of person to willingly deal with so much rejection. But those who are successful have forged themselves in the fire of refusals. With that attitude and mindset, even in an economic downturn, they can come out on the otherside looking just as good as they did when they went into it. It might not be a glorious path, a pretty path or a fun journey. It’s the resilience that they’ve acquired that will get them through the tough times and help them enjoy the good times when they finally come again.


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