My 25 years in business have provided me with numerous messages that appear to be cyclical in nature. They represent the ebb and flow of business growth, it's up to me to learn from them. I started my Sandler Training professional development business in 1994, working out of shared office space and had an initial client base comprised of salespeople willing to take a chance that I might be able to help them. My business grew each year until the 2007-08 time frame when the banking crisis brought it to a screeching halt!
This financial crash caused all my clients and prospects to shut down training as they moved into survival mode! That year, my income dropped to zero and my expenses stayed the same, which is a methodology for despair and failure. I had difficult choices to make as I could either give into the fear that was all around me or change my behavior to deal with the down swing. I chose the latter and crafted a plan to stay engaged.
My number one goal was to stay connected and engaged with clients as I wanted them to know that I placed as high a value on them in the troubled times as I did in the good times. Since they were unwilling or unable to invest, my job was to take money off the table and place "servant leadership" in its place.
Here are some concepts I utilized to show my clients a path to success:
1. Stay in the game: The biggest challenge my clients faced in 2008 was the initial tendency was to totally shut down their sales and leadership efforts and wait for the storm to pass. I advised them to hold strategic brainstorming sessions to stimulate companywide ideas on strategies to deal with the situation. Even if an earthshaking idea wasn't produced, the collective positive energy from these sessions lifted the company and got everyone thinking about the future.
2. Provide value: Each of my clients decided to put professional development on hold and use the money to build a war chest. Instead of accepting their postponement because they couldn't pay for training, I chose to continue their training at no charge. I invested almost $750,000, roughly one-third of my total revenue, to travel to their offices and continue the training. I wanted them to know that money or not, I still valued them as clients and would be there for them. I held on-site boot camps, conducted coaching and even made sales calls with their top performers.
3. Share expertise: My skill set could still have an impact on their bottom line if they were open to it, so I set up regular coaching for everyone from the CEO to the sales/marketing team and conducted problem-solving sessions. We focused on the behavior, attitude and techniques that could be used in their battle plan.
4. Help them see the path: I realized that fear had locked up their ability to see the future, so they were living in the past and present. We conducted on-site, "life after the crash" visionary meetings that help develop a plan that would be implemented the moment there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
5. "Control the Controllables:" I organized Executive Briefings to heighten awareness of the strategies and tactics necessary for business growth. In times like this, we humans feel that everything is beyond our control and this couldn't be farther from the truth.
6. Network clients into an idea-sharing focus group: I served as a conduit for idea sharing with other business owners and found their "shared experience" was a comfort since they weren't in it alone.
7. Elevate prospects to "client status:" I treated my prospects as if they were clients and offered to help them the same way I was helping my existing clients grow. They received training and coaching as if they had paid me for it. On a side note, 80% of them signed up and paid when the financial crisis passed.
These are just some of the ideas that pushed us through the crisis of 2008. I hope this stimulate your thinking in our current situation and encourage you to fight through the darkness. Go conquer your worlds.
• Bill Bartlett owns Corporate Strategies, A Sandler Training Center. firstname.lastname@example.org. Text "salestip" to 35893 to receive Bill's biweekly newsletter.