2010: So far, so good?

At the end of last year, Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search conducted its annual Economic Survey and found that more than half of participating executives were optimistic about sales growth in the New Year.  I was curious to see if the first six weeks of 2010 were living up to expectations, so I posed the question to my LinkedIn colleagues.

For the most part, the respondents were in agreement that, though their company may be ready to get out there and sell, customers are just not ready to buy. As the principal of a specialized Enterprise Social Strategy practice put it:  “The world seems to be ‘cautiously optimistic’ with budgets opening a little, people making plans to go back on offense, and companies figuring out that they can’t cost cut their way out of a recession. I think we will see budgets increasing slightly with the top priority, ‘must do’ to create opportunity type projects getting funded and the rest going slow.”

There is no doubt that companies are still hesitant to buy coming out of a year like 2009, though I am optimistic that as budgets begin to open up, so too will buying for top priorities. That cautious optimism can also be seen in responses like this one from an Internet entrepreneur who said he was getting “lots of good feedback on new concepts, but customers are very cautious given the risky financial markets.”

The national sales manager of a company that sells talking envelopes concurred, noting that though clients and prospects “aren’t quite ready in some cases to pull the trigger just yet, they appreciate the follow-up.”

During these times, timely follow-up may be all some can do to ensure possible sales are not lost.  Such is the case for several companies that saw their strong start vanish, including one respondent who said that “it looked like the year was off to an optimistic start in the first two weeks and then it kind of deflated as people realized they weren’t quite ready to rock n’ roll again, In the fourth week, we are still in recession mode and hoping that things will pick up in the beginning of March. As for February, it doesn’t sound too optimistic. There are too many uncertainties in the air.”

I believe the key to overcoming these challenges early in the year is learning from them and tailoring growth strategies. One company has done just that, using the start of the New Year to initiate a major shift in the way they approach sales.

“Our sales efforts are now focused on identifying strategic partnerships, where we can market our programs to their existing and past and future clients. Then, we share the revenues generated. So instead of ‘selling’ something, and looking for a financial commitment, we are now offering a recurring revenue stream, at no cost or risk,” said the national sales director for the internet company.

Patience is key to surviving recession. Only time will tell what sales and revenues will look like in 2010. Until then, honestly evaluate your sales practices, prepare your team for what’s to come and keep the lines of communications open.