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Selling Through a Downturn

Author: David Clayton, Managing Director at True & North

Startups in Israel and around the world are facing unprecedented challenges to survive the COVID-19 crisis. One of those challenges is how to sell.

David Clayton of sales training firm, True & North, weathered the storm of the 2008/2009 recession, and although the circumstances of the COVID-19 recession are different, some learnings still hold weight.

Here, David tells us what he thinks are the key things to think about when selling in times of economic crisis.


Uncertainty makes it difficult to price investment. In times of uncertainty, trust becomes even more important than it was before. Relationships and likability won’t be enough in a crisis, focus on making every engagement with you and your organisation ‘worth paying for’ in its self.


The pandemic has accelerated trends that were already inflow. In the short term, businesses will be reactive, which may mean they need less time to make a decision. If what you’re selling helps clients tackle immediate challenges, don’t wait, act now.


In times of recession, budgets will change - some will shrink and others will disappear altogether. However, as new challenges need to be addressed, some budgets will increase.

Think about what the company you're pitching to needs now and why. Positioning yourself as the answer to that need.


Rapport building and problem-solving, are poorer over virtual. Factor this into your forecast and implement best practices to give your team the best chance of success.

But, remember, everyone is in the same boat and the client relationship is levelled - both the client and the seller are inviting each other into their homes - this levels the playing field.


During the 2008/09 recession, it became common to get creative when it came to payments and terms. Consider accepting a mixture of cash and an exchange of services. Explore if the client would sign up to a payment plan.

Brush up on the fundamentals

With people stuck on an endless loop of zoom meetings, it's even more important to make sure you’re getting the fundamentals right.

● Know who your perfect client is; speak to them.

● Be rigorous. Don’t rush ahead. Make time and engage to truly fall in love with your client’s situation.

● Be humble and strike the right tone. Remember - your client is experiencing a pandemic too.

● Listen, really listen. Play it back to let them know you’ve heard. It’s key to get a deep understanding of your client’s situation and where they need to get to.

● Don’t assume. Check with the client if you aren’t sure. It shows your interest and builds a basis of mutual understanding.

● Help and reassure. Risks are multiplied when times are uncertain, so people will have questions and doubts.

● Engage and support the client as they get closer to a sales decision. Be emotionally aware.

Get truly client-focused

At times of struggle, it can be easy to focus on how things are affecting you and your business. However, the most effective way to sell through a downturn is to be 100% client-focused in everything your company does.

Client-centred thinking is the core of what True & North do, and so we developed a three-step method to make client centred sales strategies and tactics simple to implement whoever you are:

Care: Show your client you deeply understand their world

Co-creation: Explore and test solutions with the client

Consensus: Reach agreement by addressing risks and planning together

If you fulfill these three things, you should be able to continue selling in even the worst of times.

This too shall pass

It might seem hard to fathom right now, but things will recover. It’s a useful thing to remember when things seem insurmountable.

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