Convincing customers to buy in a downturn

When people are feeling the squeeze, they spend a lot more time evaluating what they spend their money on. 

Even if their own circumstances haven’t changed, all the doom and gloom on the news about how times are hard still has a negative impact on spending. So how do you convince customers to still buy from you in a downturn?

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Have you found it’s become harder to find customers recently? You’re still doing the same marketing, you’ve still got the same great product and sharing the same glowing customer testimonials, but those enquires are just not dropping into your inbox like they were before.

Well, it’s not unique to you. If you follow the news, then it would be easy to think that the economy is completely falling apart. Many regions have seen an economic slowdown caused by a combination of things: the war in Ukraine made oil prices rocket; we’re still all on rebound from the covid lockdowns; and various governments around the world have been making some extremely short-sighted decisions on the economy.

And this is the background to our lives at the moment. Turn on the news and you’ll hear another report about how hard-up everyone is or how food prices are going through the roof and  how there’s no money to invest in public services. Regardless of your own personal financial situation, all that news has an effect on you. You don’t make the same impulse buys and you spend a lot longer looking at what you are spending your money on. And we’re seeing the result of that across all sectors right now. People are going through their bank statements and canceling their streaming services and gym memberships. Customers are holding back on buying products or signing-up to new services – not necessarily because they can’t afford them, but because they are being extremely cautious and are concerned they might need that money for something else unexpected just around the corner.

No matter how good or bad the economy is doing, plenty of businesses thrive

But the reality is, no matter how bad the economy seems, you will still see plenty of people making money. In fact some of the most successful businesses like Airbnb launched in an economic downturn. And on the flip-side, no matter how well the economy is doing, many businesses lose money and go out of business. So just because the news is all doom and gloom and the price of chickpeas have doubled, don’t use that as an excuse to simply accept fewer customers for your business. People still need your services, people still need to buy your product and many still have the money in the bank, they just don’t feel like they do. So it’s going to take a lot more work to give these customers confidence and convince them to spend their money with you.

In many ways though, if you can master getting customers in a time of low economic confidence, then that means your business can be even more successful when that confidence returns. The systems and techniques you have to develop now will be doubly-effective when the economy and confidence bounces back. 

And it will. The current downturn isn’t even that bad compared to previous ones. If you ran a business through the 2008 banking crisis, then you will remember that it felt like the entire economy was about to collapse as every day another huge company folded.


Customer indecision

So as a business owner, what does this change in consumer behaviour mean to you? Well, it means that those enquiries that just dropped into your inbox a year ago don’t drop in on their own any more – customers stop reaching out to you. Or those products that just flew off the shelves on their own now don’t just fall into people’s baskets like they did, they need a helping hand. 

For instance, let’s imagine you offer a service. When people feel like they have spare cash to spend, they might have just signed-up for one of your packages with only a minimal amount of evaluation. They might have made an enquiry after just seeing a few of your posts online. Now, that same person still wants that service, they still have the same problem in their life they need solving, but now they are weighing up how much your service or product costs with their other eye on the raising food prices in the supermarket. And that indecision might mean they don’t send that email asking about your services or they put your product back on the shelf instead of into their basket.


This means that in order to get that customer, your sales process has to change. Customers have become skittish, meaning you have to better understand what objections are going through their minds and make sure that what you are saying in your marketing answers those questions. 

If they are scared of spending then you are going to have to hold their hand. You are going to have to build a relationship that goes beyond them just seeing your social media on a regular basis. You’ll find that your audience will still be watching you and considering trying your product for the first time or signing up with you, but any niggling questions they have are amplified because they are being far more cautious with their money. 

Sticking with what they know

This means they are going to stick with the product that they have had before and know they like, rather than risking wasting their money on something new and untried that they might not. That person might now need a way to try your product to make sure they like it before they will become a customer, whereas a year or so ago they might have been willing to just buy it and see. 

Or the price of a product is going to carry far more weight in the mind of the customer than the perceived quality. If they can find something that isn’t quite as good but solves their problem at a lower price, then they are going to consider that a lot more seriously than they might have done a year ago. That’s why supermarket own-brands are seeing a huge increase in volume at the moment, while branded products are struggling. But now you know all this, you can do something about it. You can no longer just put out your marketing and expect someone to buy or make an enquiry like they did before, you are going to have to make that first move yourself. 

So what can you do about it?

If you check out this guide here, we show you how to go from social to sales, or how to get the people who are at the moment just following you on social media and move them over to a communication channel where you can have direct contact with them – and that usually means getting them on to your email list. This is hugely important. You need a way to directly communicate with your potential customers and that guide gives you lots of ideas of how to do it.

Next, you need a way to understand what’s stopping people buying. And the only way you will find that out is by talking to them! And I’m sorry, I know everyone hates this part, but you cannot build a successful business if you don’t understand how and why people buy – and just as importantly, why they don’t. You need to get people on to calls and find out what questions they have about what you sell, you need to meet them face to face at events so that they can tell you all their objections. This is why retail products are constantly running focus groups, to find out what’s going on in someone’s minds when they are evaluating your product. 

"The reality is, no matter how bad the economy seems, you will still see plenty of people making money. And no matter how well the economy is doing, many businesses lose money and go out of business.

Letting your customers teach you how to sell to them

When you make your customers your best friends, they will tell you everything you need to know about how to sell to them. What will it take to get someone to try your product for the first time? What questions did they have and what’s stopping them moving forwards? Is it cost? If so, then it’s your job to show your customers the value of the outcome, making the price they pay secondary. Is it that they just don’t know you well enough yet? In which case a free 20 minute call might make that final personal connection that they feel they need to sign up with you. Is it a lack of confidence in what you sell? In which case would a money-back guarantee help? Would you be more likely to sign-up with a weight-loss coach who said that if you haven’t lost weight in the first month then they will give you your money back?

You need to know what’s stopping people buying your product or service so that you can lead people past that objection. Because, when you boil it down, there are only five objections that every potential customer has, and that is: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, and no trust. And if you can get potential customers into a conversation with you, then each one of those objections can be worked around. Yes, even people telling you they can’t afford what you sell – trust me, they are lying to you. What they are actually saying is that you just haven’t framed the value of what you sell to them well enough yet.

>> Note, check out our course on How To Get Customers which explains all this in a lot more detail.

So if you were getting plenty of enquiries twelve months ago and now they have dried up but you’ve not changed anything, then know that those customers are still there. It’s just that the tide has gone – they are hiding under the rocks and it’s up to you to go and needle them out!

Have a process you can use to start the conversation with people instead of waiting for them to talk to you. Have a ‘tool’ that you can pull out to give them more confidence in buying from you, like a free trial or an amazing deal or a money-back guarantee. And focus your energy on what we call the bottom of your funnel rather than the top. Instead of trying to get in front of more people, focus on those people who already know you, seem like they are ready to buy or have already made an enquiry but not gone ahead yet, to find out how to help them over the line.

Get sneaky with your marketing!

There are lots of ‘sneaky ways’ to identify the people who are at the bottom of your funnel, or those people who are closest to becoming customers. 

For instance, if you use a platform like MailChimp or Active Campaign to send out your email marketing, then you can use their reporting to see who’s clicking on what links. If you send out an email talking about your latest service, and someone clicks on the link in that email to read more about that service, then you want to be asking that person if they want to dance! 

Use email automation to send that person a very specific follow-on email related to the link they clicked on. Or you can send them a personal email manually, asking if they wanted to chat or if they had any questions. Most of the time, that person will have a specific reason that’s stopping them making the next move and it’s likely one you can easily address – plus it gives you the opportunity to give extra reassurance in a personal exchange with them

You can use other technologies to help follow-up with people who took an interest but didn’t buy. You will be familiar with ‘remarketing’, where you look at company’s website or product and then adverts for that company follow you around the Internet! They are far easier to set up than you think, needing only a drop of technical know-how, and this way you are only paying to show adverts to people who you know already have an interest. 


Improving both you and your business

So has it got harder to find customers in the last year? Yes, yes it has. Does that mean that you need to accept fewer customers? No, not at all. It just means you need to take your customer game to the next level. 

Before, you might have been able to just sit back and enjoy sales and enquiries rolling in; now you need to make the first move, and that means understanding how and why people buy a whole lot better. 

But the thing is, all this new learning will have a huge positive impact on your business. Because when customer confidence returns, and it will, you will already have the strategy in place to generate far many more enquiries than you were getting before. You will understand your customers better, and might have even changed your product offering to better match what they are looking for. You might have even looked at different ways for people to buy your product based on what you’ve learned, like offering subscriptions or introducing payment terms to make what you sell seem more affordable. It will also take you to the next level in terms of being a business owner. You will no longer be wrestling with a process that you don’t fully understand and might have simply been leaving to luck.

A bullet point recap of what we’ve covered in this article:

  1. We have genuinely seen an economic slowdown and this has put pressure on a lot of people. But the news has amplified this. Even people who are doing fine financially are feeling the physiological money pressures from being constantly being told times are hard. This means that everyone is being careful with their money, regardless of their financial situation. People are stripping back the non-essentials but also spending longer evaluating where their money goes.

  2. However, people still need what you sell, and many still have the money to buy it. Plenty of successful companies have launched and thrived in tough economic times, it’s just that people need a lot more confidence in your product or service. If your customers are scared of spending, then it’s now down to you to reach out and take their hand instead of waiting for them to make the first move.

  3. To be able to do that, you need to get people off social and on to your mailing list or a communication channel that you control. You need people to not just be a passive audience.

  4. You need to talk with your potential customers and the people in your audience so that you can find out what objections are stopping them from taking that first step. This might be at events and tradeshows, it might be you can get them on a Zoom call or even just start an email exchange with them.

  5. Every objection has a route around it. Even if someone tells you they can’t afford what you sell, they are probably lying to you. You just haven’t correctly framed the value of what they are getting yet.

  6. You can develop tools (and we actually call these ‘conversion tools’) to help lead people over the line. What’s going to give your potential customers that last bit of confidence? Is it going to be a free trial, a money-back guarantee or even giving them the opportunity to talk to your other customers?

  7. There are also a number of sneaky ways you can use technology to help you identify people who might be thinking about becoming customer so that you can engage them directly. For example, monitoring who clicks on the links in your emails and then having either automated or manual follow-ups to try and get them into a direct conversation.

  8. It is important that you embrace this process. It’s not just part of you learning how to get customers, it’s part of you becoming a better business owner and building a more robust and successful business. When customer confidence will returns, which it will, you will then be generating twice as many customer enquiries than you were before!

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