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Overcoming the Fear Factor: The Key to Your Business Development Strategy
By Dirk Gorman

The economic recession is forcing businesses to rethink their strategies and retool their processes as they operate in worsening and ever changing conditions. In the midst of corporate reorganizations, layoffs, budget cuts and process improvements to create greater efficiencies, most businesses overlook how fear, and the lack of a clear plan to reduce it, is an impediment to their success. The fear epidemic perpetuated by the financial markets, government, ongoing negative media coverage and anxious individuals is a deliberate assault on our very nature and must be reversed.

The constraints of fear without answers are the catalyst for inaction. Without solutions, denial sets in as people either begin to think they will not be affected, or simply feel hopeless. Either way, inaction takes place as the body experiences sensory overload. The adage "stopped in your tracks" holds true here just as a mouse in a maze becomes immobile with no options for escape.

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Without A Plan
Once fear is accepted as reality it takes rare and powerful leadership to reverse it. The upside of fear is that it can be harnessed and used as a powerful motivator to bring people to act. Therefore leaders must have a clear, viable plan to minimize tension and take bold action now to challenge and reduce the fear. Corporate leaders can rise to this unique challenge and transform it into opportunity. Revising FDR's famous quote to take human nature into account, "The only thing we have to fear is fear without a plan."

Reinvest to Renew Confidence
Success starts with re-investment and a renewed confidence, demonstrated simultaneously. Layoffs have never been in the equation for growth or long term success. One critical way for business leaders to reverse the trend of fear mongering without solutions is to focus on business development. Nothing happens in the economic world until money is exchanged and that occurs once a sale is made. There are currently phenomenal opportunities to aggressively acquire unclaimed and available talent.

1. Allocate your resources to build the best sales force in your industry and start making sales. Upgrade your sales force through skills development and headcount. This sends a very strong message to the organization. It demonstrates that you are proactively focusing on your company's future to which the sales force is so vital.

  • Always be optimistic: Sales people are emotional and must stay optimistic and confident to sell effectively. Pessimism only sells newspapers, not products or services.
  • Assess resources: Take a long, hard look at your current sales force. Unclaimed talent in this market makes it easier to honestly assess the numbers internally and confirm the competencies needed to excel.
  • Reverse the trend: In good times, ride your sales force hard demanding more and more. In tough times, the reverse is necessary. Re-educate, re-train and console to build confidence not tear it down.
  • Develop competencies: Ensure your sales force has adaptable skills to produce in this changing market. For example, if they no longer had access to sell in person, could they begin selling over the phone?
  • Solidify your sales force: Uncertainty clouds progress. It's critical to ensure these improvements produce top performance levels and reduce underperformance.

2. Let your veteran force know the talent and backgrounds of the people you are bringing in. This should inspire them. If tenured employees are paralyzed or jealous about new talent being added to the team, they may be another case of "tough times" exposing those who don't have the drive to take advantage of the current circumstances. They will weed themselves out.

Use your network of relationships to acquire talent with preferred competencies based on the performance metrics of your top performers and your ideal candidate profile.

3. Communicate clearly and regularly that the down economy is an opportunity for success. Though far from an ideal business environment, the recession still offers a rare opportunity for achievement that your sales team may never have again. This is a time to dominate and gain market share. Make your message clear so people recognize this challenge as an opportunity for growth.

  • Do not panic: Management cannot show signs of pressing the panic button; otherwise you are in jeopardy of not only losing your best sales people but also removing their effectiveness as a sales person.
  • Reaffirm your vision: Sales people cannot doubt the vision and company direction. They must know it and trust it. They must be spoken to directly and allowed to express concerns. Address all concerns letting them know what, how and why certain actions are being taken.
  • Be direct and honest: If layoffs must happen, they cannot occur in waves, it must be swift, quick, and final. Nothing demoralizes a group more then to wait and anticipate when the ax will fall on them next.

4. Seek Out New Market Opportunities: Just as employee layoffs have forced the unemployed to rethink how their skills can be transferred to new industries, businesses should deploy the same strategy to grow new markets.

  • Assess your current market: Does this economy place you in position to dominate? Are your competitors less capable of excelling at this time?
  • Create partnerships: Research companies that complement your business and help you expand your footprint and your ability to gain market share. Create synergies through strategic alliances, for instance licensing agreements that can reduce capital expenditures.
  • Acquire another company: Acquiring the right business can reduce upfront risk of failure and start-up cost. Cash flow is generated from day one from a proven business concept and process. Barriers to entry are avoided and less reaction from competitors are experienced.

While there are no guarantees in business, these four steps will instill confidence in your sales force and harness the fear espoused in the public dialogue by motivating them to act and produce to their potential. At a time when leadership is needed most, the opportunity to lead is here for the taking.

Dirk Gorman's expertise is in turning around and building successful sales organizations in the business-to-business space. He is founding partner of Empire Surgical, a multi- faceted sales solutions company and exclusive distributor of Depuy Mitek, a leading Johnson & Johnson sports medical device company. Visit www.empiresurgical.com

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