There’s always some level of uncertainty in the world of sales but external changes can make it challenging to know where to focus, what to do and what not to do. Neil Rackham, author of SPIN® Selling, consultant, academic and founder of Huthwaite International, discusses the three big mistakes that salespeople make when times are hard and how to avoid them.


Too much unfocused sales activity

As businesses attempt to return to output levels before the pandemic, sales people in particular may find themselves feeling out of sorts. It’s easy to panic during a turbulent time and believe you’re not doing your role as a sales person as well as you should.

When business is hard and the economy is bad, people tend to chase after everything that moves. More sales calls are made, more contacts are connected with and your initial thought may be that this seems like the correct behaviour – after all more calls and more connections should result in more sales, right? Wrong.

You may be thinking; activity brings results so why be wary of increased activity? Here’s something a lot of sales people don’t necessarily think of – by pushing yourself or your teams for more activity, they will start to focus on the smaller, easier sales that will appear as more activity, resulting in more sales. However, focusing on the small wins often results in the more strategic and profitable sales falling by the wayside. If you look at how the most successful companies handle sales in difficult times, they’re very selective and focus on the best opportunities.

A good rule of thumb is; if you wouldn’t chase a piece of business in good times, don’t chase it in bad. Put more resources into the leads you want and it will pay off in the long-term.


Negotiating when you should be selling

You may see this tactic a lot in inexperienced sales people, when the going gets tough and pressure is coming in, people resort to compromise. It’s essential to remember that negotiating and selling are two very different things. Selling is being persuasive or reaching an agreement without varying the terms, whereas negotiating is reaching agreement through varying terms or making concessions. If you make concessions too soon in the sales process, you’re much more likely to give away too much. Afterall, concessions create an appetite for concessions.

In hard times, most salespeople start negotiating too soon. They erode their margins and reduce their chances of winning the business. In doing so, you can seem anxious or pushy and customers won’t trust you. Those who negotiate as late as possible in the sales process maintain better margins than those who negotiate early. This gives you time to build the relationship and take the customer through the buying process. When the time comes to negotiate, you will have already built trust with the customer meaning little negotiation is required.


Believing all decisions are made based on price

In sales, there is often too much focus on keeping costs low and undercutting competitors. It’s easy to believe that the be all and end all of a business decision is cost, but that isn’t necessarily the case. More often than not, businesses will not go for the cheapest option – the cheapest option can raise alarm bells. Customers want to know that someone is going to be around and they want to believe that they can feel safe in your hands.

In hard times like those many businesses have faced this year, people are more likely to be looking for safety over price. Be aware that the customer’s buying cycle may have shifted due to the uncertain scenario the world is facing and tailor your approach accordingly. The resolution of concerns and minimisation of risk is going to be more important than ever before. The priority is to make customers feel safe. You need to deeply understand them and their needs, the more you can do this, the more comfort and safety you create.

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