Mar 16, 2020 • Podcast

How do I sell during uncertain times?

Between the bear market and the global coronavirus pandemic, salespeople are facing uncertainty. In this episode, Paul shares several tips to sell in uncertain times.

Show Notes

“There is no profession better equipped to handle uncertainty than salespeople. Think about it. Salespeople face uncertainty every single day.”

“You need to embrace an unwavering belief that our best days are yet to come.” Warren Buffet’s letter to America’s CEOs provides some great insights.

Fear creates inaction and people are hitting the pause button. “Don’t hit the pause button, press play. Move forward.”

Focus on the positive and share the good news. Be a merchant of hope. Leave your customer’s office a little bit brighter than it was before.

TURN OFF THE NEWS! Stay connected to information, but don’t obsess over it.

Look to the gray-hairs for their wisdom, confidence, and calmness. Be the experienced calming force on your team. Be the calming force for your customers.

And finally, wash your hands!


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How do I sell during uncertain times?

(Transcribed from podcast)

Here we are in the midst of a global pandemic with the Coronavirus, and I was speaking at a conference in Indianapolis called the University of Innovative Distribution. It’s a wonderful event filled with the experts in distribution. I was there talking with sales leaders and also helping salespeople. There was a great question that came up, “How do we sell in uncertain times?” As I heard this question, I thought the timing was perfect so I wanted to turn this into a show given what’s going on worldwide right now.

Let’s think about this for a moment. How do you sell in uncertainty? When I think about this, there is no other profession that is better suited to handle uncertainty than salespeople. We, as salespeople, face uncertainty all the time—whether the customer will buy from us or the competition; whether they’ll return our call; whether we’re going to get an opportunity next week to go after that big piece of business we’ve been waiting for—we are constantly filled with uncertainty. I can’t think of any other profession that is better equipped to deal with uncertainty than salespeople just because we experience it every single day.

Uncertainty is going to happen. And what we’re going to do on today’s podcast is go through a couple of ideas and tips that will help get your mind right as you go out there and sell through these tough times. Also, for a sales leader that’s listening in, these are going to be some great tips to help you instill confidence and calmness within your team. So, with that being said, let’s go ahead and get started.

Today’s question again is How do you sell in uncertain times?

First of all, you have to have an unwavering belief and commitment that our best days are yet to come—that there’s always going to be something bigger and something better that’s going to happen. I remember seeing a great quote from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He said something along the lines of there’s always something better on the other side of struggle. We think about what’s happened the past couple of weeks with the stock market. You have to maintain an unwavering belief that things are going to get better. When I think about that, I’m reminded of a great letter that Warren Buffett addressed to American CEOs. This was published in The Atlantic. It was in the business section by a guy named Derek Thompson. It was dated all the way back to March 1, 2013. Warren Buffett’s letter was in response to CEOs who were complaining about uncertainty in the economy. Here’ what his letter says:

A thought for my fellow CEOs: Of course, the immediate future is uncertain; America has faced the unknown since 1776. It’s just that sometimes people focus on the myriad of uncertainties that always exist while at other times they ignore them (usually because the recent past has been uneventful).

American business will do fine over time. And stocks will do well just as certainly, since their fate is tied to business performance. Periodic setbacks will occur, yes, but investors and managers are in a game that is heavily stacked in their favor.

His message is clear. For American business, yes, there might be some uncertainty. Globally there is uncertainty. We don’t want to discount the global factor here, and other countries are experiencing this level of uncertainty. But we’ve got to remember that all of our fates are tied together in this global economy—as one goes, we all go. And I believe in the future that we’re going to have better days—days that are better than the ones that came before. You have to have that unwavering belief. That’s the first thing we need to do. Yeah, we’re going to be stressed out. Yeah, you might lose a few orders. Yeah, you might be fearful or scared of what’s going to happen, but just maintain that unwavering belief that things are going to get better.

The second thing you need to keep in mind—fear creates inaction. I was talking to a sales leader at this conference. I said, “What has your response been from your salespeople?” He said, “You know, it’s like they’re gripped with fear. It’s almost like everyone has hit the pause button in some regards. Whether it’s because of travel restrictions, whether it’s because of the media, people are hitting the pause button.” People are letting fear stop them dead in their tracks.

Rather than hitting the pause button, hit the play button. Get back engaged. When you think about it, yes, fear creates inaction. In fact, I’m reading a great book right now by Tali Sharot. It’s called The Influential Mind. In her book, she talks about that—about fear and gain—and how they motivate people. She emphasizes that fear does cause inaction. It causes people to stop. When you think about that, it can actually create an opportunity for you because that means your competitors are also hitting that pause button. Don’t let fear create inaction for you. When you feel that fearful pause, press through it and hit that play button.

Number three: Just two weeks ago, I was up in Chicago working with a large industrial distributor, and one of the first questions I asked them when we got together was “What’s the response been to the Coronavirus, the stock market, all that scare? How is everyone responding?”

The first words out of his mouth were amazing. He said, “We don’t really worry about that. We let our competition worry about those things.”

There are things you can control and things you can’t. You can’t control Coronavirus. You can’t control how the stock market is reacting. You can’t control if your travel is restricted. But, there are things you can control; you can control your attitude. And that’s what this business leader we doing. He was saying, “We’re not going to let the things that we cannot control weigh down on the things we can control. We’re going to make sure that we press on – that we move forward.

So, here’s an idea. Draw two circles. In one circle I want you to write down all the things that you can control as we move through these uncertain times. Then, I want you to make a circle that says CAN’T CONTROL. These are going to be the things that are out of your control. Fill up both of those circles. Once you get done, erase the things you can’t control. Just focus on that circle that you can control. That circle should include things like your attitude, your commitment, your ability to follow up, your ability to be professional, your ability to make things happen and maintain a positive attitude. Those are the things we focus on during uncertain times.

Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with that, you can control your attitude. One thing we’d recommend is to be a merchant of hope. When there are uncertain times, people tend to focus on the negative. They tend to focus on the fear side of it because that’s what they’re naturally drawn to. Instead of being another fear mongerer out there and worrying about things and focusing on that, focus on the positive. Share good news with your customers. When they sound fearful, when they sound frustrated, lift them up. Be a merchant of hope.

Early on in my sales career when I was selling in construction, there was a colleague of mine. He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met in my life. In fact, he sold during the Great Recession. We all remember that—not too far back—just ten or eleven years ago. During the Great Recession, he would often go visit with customers, and these customers couldn’t buy anything from him. They kept asking him to come by their office. The reason they would do that is because he was such an uplifting spirit. He was such a positive person that people just wanted to be around him. That’s what it means to be a hope merchant. So, during these times of uncertainty, make sure that you’re spreading a positive word. Make sure that you’re lifting people up and not going down with them. When you’re leaving your office or your customer’s, make sure that you’re leaving it a little bit brighter than it was before. People are going to remember that. People are going to remember the Coronavirus. They’re going to remember this few weeks in history when people freaked out about everything and the stock market was tanking. What are they going to remember about you and how you responded? Are they going to remember you as that calming confident force that helped build people up, or, did you just contribute to breaking everything back down? People will remember that.

The next thing…Turn off the news! The media loves this! If we think about it, the media is a business, and, the more people are fearful, the more they’re going to tune in. They’re going to obsess over every little detail that comes out. I understand wanting to be connected to information and staying up to date with what’s going on, but, don’t become obsessed with it. Don’t watch every single minute of the news because it’s going to drag you down.

Another tip – make use of the extra time that you have. With what’s going on, people are going to hit the pause button and you might find yourself having a few extra hours here or there throughout the work week. Make use of this time because things are going to get busy again just like they have been. And when they do, you’re going to tell yourself, “I wish I would have done this when I had a little bit more time.” If you had a little bit more time, what would you do? Would you research certain industries. Would you study some of your products. Are you tweaking some of your presentations at this point. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to invest in the time that I have?” Because, this time that you receive, you’re never going to get that back. If you have a few extra hours every single week—if you have an extra hour per day—figure out a way to get the most value from it. Research, study, become a student of your profession and use this time wisely.

And, finally, the last tip. Be a calming force. During these tough times, when you are a calming force, it not only builds your confidence, it builds the confidence around your team. So, if you’re a sales leader, be that calming force. If you’re a salesperson, be that calming force for your customers, your colleagues, your fellow employees. Calmness is key here.

The reason I think of this, I was having breakfast with my dad, Tom. (Many of you know Tom from his previous work as the guy who created Value-Added Selling.) We were having breakfast and talking about the uncertainty of the Coronavirus and all these other things. He used a great analogy.

He said, “Back when I was on the road hundreds of nights a year, I was in and out of flights. You’d experience some nasty weather occasionally when you’re up in the air. As I looked around, I was one of those guys who had been through turbulent air before, literally and figuratively, you could say. I’d look around and all the people with gray hairs were kind of calm.” He continued, “What also was very calming was that when we did face the turbulence, oftentimes, the captain would come out and address the group. It was always great to see that he had some gray hair too.”

What my dad was going for was simply this. People that have been through uncertain times before in their life can be a calming force. When you look at the generation of workers we have right now, you have millennials who are the biggest majority in the workforce, you’ve got Gen Xers, Boomers, everyone. We have different generations. And during these uncertain times, we need to think about those that have been there, that have been through it, and I would even reach out to them. Reach out to the experienced people on your team—the folks that have seen numerous tough times before, or uncertain times. Get their perspective; ask for their thoughts. What you’ll find is a certain calmness that “we’ve been here before.”

We’re going to make it through this on the other side, and we’re probably going to be a little bit stronger as a result of it. Don’t freak out, be calm. Wash your hands, obviously. I think that goes without saying. But, as the sales leader, or as one of those individuals who does have a few gray hairs, make sure that you’re the calming force. And for those of us that may be a little bit younger but have some (but not a lot) of gray hair, you can be the calming force as well.

Make it a big day!

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