Today is not the day for excuses. The preverbal “the buck stops here” provides a very real message, if you’re serious about succeeding in today’s challenging economy. I’ve interviewed many sales and marketing people over the years, but very few sales and marketing professionals. What separates these two groups is attitude, determination, motivation and the ability to connect with their customers and clients.
While many companies may be trimming their budgets and their head count, others will be out in the marketplace advertising, promoting and selling to their constituents. These companies understand that when the economy turns around, they’ll be top of mind.

What will bog down business are the people who are consumed with fear regarding the down economy. They will be paralyzed instead of taking action. We are all in this economy together: your boss, your colleagues and your clients. The movers and shakers in business today are picking up the phone and emailing; they are most likely connecting with past, present and future clients — not spending their time belly-aching about the stock market. It’s what separates the good players in a great economy from great professionals in a down economy. Here’s what separates the good from the great players:

    • Heartfelt business conversations
    • Great listening skill
    • Persuasive questioning that will turn resistant individuals into buyers

During the dotcom bust in 2000-2001, many industry experts believed that the internet was dead. Conversely, smart marketers turned their businesses around and refocused their efforts on fundamentals, and today the internet is a multibillion-dollar industry. That’s exactly what we need to do: When the economy goes south, go back to basics.

Many of my clients have indicated that they are looking for doers, salespeople, managers and people who deliver. These are people with a winning attitude and a consistent track record. These clients see the upside in this economy, the ability to ‘clean house’ and hire individuals that will take action. I have a candidate whose W2 form totals in excess of $800,000, but his base is only $250,000. He’s a business sales and marketing manager who is a producer — a “show me the money” professional who knows that connecting with the client is king. I asked him last week what he plans to do differently as he moves forward in a down economy. He said that he is getting even closer to his clients and actually spending more time and money to retain business. In short, the time of low-hanging fruit is over.

We certainly should expect many companies to experience hiring freezes, and layoffs will be an increasing reality. However, even in the face of this challenging climate, true deliverables will still be valued, and star talent will be retained. My advice is to sharpen your skills, hone in on your business and reach out to your current clients for referrals. Having a product and or service that delivers is going to close the deal, but there is something to be said about the premise that “it’s who you know that counts.” Don’t stop cold calling either; the calls you make today will turn into new business relationships tomorrow.

Surviving in a downturn is very much up to smart individuals and companies. Understand that bonuses may not be in your payout at year’s end, but the future of your business relies on your determination and smart thinking today. Targeting business objectives and determining realistic goals is paramount to business success. Employers will be carefully monitoring the costs while evaluating their assets. Make sure that you’re an asset.

The key to success is authenticity. Whether you’re marketing a product or service, everyone wants the real deal, especially in a down economy. Here are some tried and true guidelines for growing your business:

    • Go deep. Understand your client and his or her business.
    • Don’t assume anything. Even though you’ve done your homework, ask questions. Well-thought-out questions can demonstrate your strategic thinking and knowledge of a particular business subject.
    • In a time of cuts and or budget freezes, you need to be empathic. Remember, we are all in this economy together. Plan on having several conversations; it’s how relationships are built.
    • Shepherd your business through the process. Be detailed and diligent, and always remember that client service is king.
    • Be the type of person that is thought of as a partner, not a vendor or sales person.
    • Take advantage of any cross-selling or added value opportunities that you can offer to a client.

Erika Weinstein is co-founder and president of Stephen-Bradford Search.