In an economic downturn, selling can feel like an uphill battle. With some projections showing slower growth in the year ahead, your customers might become more cautious and risk-averse. You also might see longer sales cycles, experience more shoppers than buyers and hear "no" more often than "yes."

Research from Vistage captured the opinions of 1,518 CEOs from small and midsize businesses. Only 61 percent expect increased revenues over the next 12 months, down from 75 percent last year. These represent the lowest projection for increased revenues since 2009.

That's why now is the time to take a thoughtful approach with your customer engagement strategy, according to Joe Galvin, chief research officer for Vistage. We explore Galvin's five sales strategies that will help you win in any economy in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

1. Analyze your sales process. Is your sales process as strong as it could be? If not, it may be hard to see the absolute state of sales opportunities, notes Galvin. Take a look at your sales cycle definitions, opportunity grading, pipeline integrity and forecast accuracy. Most importantly, dedicate appropriate resources to all your winnable opportunities.

2. Craft messages that will resonate in a downturn. When buyers are feeling cautious, marketing messages that focus on increasing revenues or improving market share tend to fall flat. By contrast, messages about improving operational efficiency and containing costs tend to resonate well, says Galvin. Encourage your sales and marketing teams to customize their communications for different audiences in the buying cycle.

3. Leverage your current relationships. Downturn or no downturn, buyers tend to adapt quickly to new circumstances. As a result, they are more likely to buy from current providers than buy from new ones. Translation: This is the time to leverage your existing relationships with customers. Help them optimize their current solutions by offering add-ons or introducing them to complementary components, suggests Galvin.

4. Be a partner to your competitors' customers. A slowdown is a perfect time to draw business away from your competitors. Perhaps one of your competitors is under-servicing accounts. Perhaps another can't keep up with delivery demands. Galvin says this is your chance to coax those customers away by being their partner and helping them through this tough time.

5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. While discounting may seem like an easy way to keep deals moving, it's not always the best strategy to use in a downturn. Often, it's better to negotiate the finer points of a deal so you can protect your margins without losing valuable business. To support this shift, Galvin recommends creating a negotiating skills module in your training program. Or, form an internal bid desk or strategic pricing team to facilitate special deals.

Don't let the potential of slowing growth set you back. Take time now to adjust your sales strategy to stay on top, no matter what happens in the economy.

Source: As chief research officer for Vistage, Joe Galvin is responsible for creating the most current, compelling and actionable thought-leadership on the strategic issues facing small and mid-sized business.