Mar 23, 2020 • Podcast

Part II – How do I sell in uncertain times?

Right now, there is a cloud of uncertainty. In this episode, Paul shares more tips to manage these uncertain times. 

Show Notes:

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” ~Walt Disney

Leadership is critical in these uncertain times. Salespeople are leaders. Leaders for customers, colleagues, family, and friends.

We’re going to face tough times. This will be a defining moment in your career. Some of you will merely go through this tough time, but others will grow through this tough time.

“Here are the three biggest mistakes salespeople make during uncertain times…”

“Don’t commiserate with your customers. Motivate them.”

“Here’s what customers are concerned about during these tough times…”

“We’re in the shock phase right now. That means traditional selling tactics might be viewed as opportunistic. Don’t focus on selling over the next two weeks, focus on supporting.”


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Part II – How do I sell in uncertain times?

(Transcribed from podcast)

We’re getting flooded with questions and requests about selling in these uncertain and tough times. That’s what we’re going to focus on in this episode and probably for the next couple of episodes. We want to give you some tips and ideas on what you can do during these uncertain times.

When I think about what’s going on right now, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Walt Disney.

“All the adversity that I’ve had in my life. All my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Right now, I know many of you feel like you’ve been kicked in the teeth with what’s going on with the uncertainty in the stock market, the coronavirus. We feel like it’s a kick in the teeth. I’m here to tell you, for the next few months, leadership is going to be absolutely critical. Leadership is critical in uncertain times. I don’t just mean formal leadership, like the VP of sales or a business owner. I’m talking about being a leader for your customers; being a leader for your fellow salespeople, for your fellow employees. Also, being a leader for your family and friends. During these trying times, leadership is important. I believe that this moment—these uncertain times—are going to be defining moments in your career. We need to maintain that perspective as we go through these tough times.

I know that when we experience tough times, some of us take the mindset of “we just need to get through it.” I know that some of you will merely just go through this tough time. Others are actually going to grow through this tough time. My mission is to help the sales community through these tough times.

We’re going to talk about some of the mistakes salespeople make during uncertain times. Also, we’re going to talk about how this affects our customers—what concerns they have during tough times. And then, we’re going to get into ideas on how to manage this uncertainty.

Let’s talk about the three biggest mistakes that salespeople make in uncertain times. The first one, they reduce customer contact. I know many of your companies are telling you “Stay at home. Don’t meet with customers face to face.” I get it. But, you can still call them. You can still reach out to them. Part of the reason why salespeople reduce their customer contact is that they feel like, “Nobody is buying, so why should I call my customers and bug them?” That’s a natural response. The other natural response is that salespeople don’t want to appear too greedy or opportunistic. I get that as well, so we’re going to address those concerns and mistakes.

Another mistake salespeople make is that they believe everything they hear. Think about this for a moment. If you talk to four of your customers and it’s all doom and gloom and everything is negative, you think that’s going to impact your fifth call? Absolutely! We’re going to take everything we hear from our customers. We’re going to believe it and we’re going to project that information on to the next person we’re going to meet with. Remind yourself that it’s not always just doom and gloom. Also, look for alternative news sources. If you follow me on LinkedIn or on social media, you’ll notice that I recently shared a message about different business leaders that I’ve been interacting with. Their general message is that business is going on. We still have things to do. Don’t rely on the media circus to give you all your news. And don’t believe everything you hear.

The third biggest mistake salespeople make during these uncertain and tough times, they will commiserate too much with their customers. They’ll take on their negative mindset. I understand wanting to empathize with customers and understand what they’re going through, but we don’t need to commiserate with them. We’ll give you some tips and ideas to overcome that as well.

Let’s take a turn now and look at our customers and buyers. What are they concerned about during these uncertain times? The first thing is, there are a lot of financial concerns. They’re concerned about having enough money to operate. They’re concerned about what this is going to do to the financial future of their organization. They’re concerned about budgets and having cost containment. Yes, there are going to be a lot of financial concerns. When people have financial concerns, it’s important to show them how you can alleviate those concerns. For example, many of the solutions you’re selling help the customer make more money in various ways by either helping them serve their customers, by helping them produce parts, by helping them be more efficient. When you’re talking to your customers and you’re reassuring them, be able to explain how your solution helps them make more money and helps provide more budgetary numbers, helps reduce cost, things like that.

During tough times, customers do have clear buying priorities. In Value-Added Selling, we talk a lot about needs versus wants. During uncertain times, people focus more on what they really need. You look at the media for example. People are not going out there and buying all the niceties; they’re buying the toilet paper, the hand sanitizer, they’re buying the things they have to have. That’s what buyers do during uncertain times. They focus on what they have to have versus what they want to have.

There’s going to be a time and a place when we revisit what customers really want and how we can sell to those wants. But, keep in mind, over the next several weeks, customers are really going to clamp on to what they need—what they have to have.

The third thing that customers are concerned about is uncertainty. It’s one of our most basic needs as a human being. We like having stability in the status quo. They’re concerned about layoffs, the uncertainty of market conditions, the uncertainty of the stock market, the uncertainty of their company’s stock price right now. There’s uncertainty everywhere. Let’s talk about how we manage these uncertain times and what you can do as a salesperson.

We mentioned that the biggest mistake salespeople make is that they reduce customer contact. I’m going to suggest an alternative approach. Increase your customer communication. In one of our books, How to Sell in Tough Times and Tough Markets, we highlight a purchasing management study. What we found is that during tough times, purchasing managers indicated that salespeople reduce their selling time to 62 percent of what they normally call at. That means that if a salesperson usually makes 100 customer calls per week, they’re now making about 62. Here’s what you can do. You can actually bump up your call activity. Just call at your normal rate, even if it’s over the phone, bump it up by 25 percent. Think about that. That means if you’re calling at 125 percent of your normal rate, and all of your competitors are at 62 percent of their normal rate, you can effectively double your coverage.

Reach out and connect with your customers. I realize that we’re not making as many face-to-face visits. During these times, people can feel isolated. People are stuck at their home office right now. People are not meeting with each other. Your customers might feel a little isolated. A call from one of their suppliers or partners is going to be welcomed. They want to talk with you. They want to hear from you. In fact, the technology we once thought might isolate us is actually giving us an opportunity to connect at a deeper level. Get on a Zoom call, have a webinar with your customers, talk to them over the phone, have a FaceTime call. Just make sure that you’re connecting with your customers. During these uncertain times, people need each other. And when they can come together with other people, it gives them a certain level of comfort. People are going to feel isolated – reach out to your customers.

Next, don’t commiserate with your customers. Too many salespeople are going to be tempted to just wallow in self-pity, talk to customers and complain. When the customer starts complaining you feed off of each other. Don’t commiserate with your customers. Instead, motivate your customers. People don’t always remember what you do or what you say, but they do remember how you make them feel. During these uncertain times, support your customers. Give them a sense that we’re in this together. By coming together with them, by motivating them, by lifting them up, they’re going to remember how you made them feel.

One thing I should mention…I said support the customer. Right now, we are in the shock phase of what’s going on with the coronavirus, the world economy. Things are shutting down. That means our approach has to be different. When customers are in this shock phase, they might view some of your traditional selling tactics as opportunistic. They might say, “They’re just trying to take advantage of the situation.” We want to avoid that perception. During these times, don’t focus on selling. I know that sounds crazy, but for the next couple of weeks until this shock phase wears off, don’t be focused on selling. Instead, focus on how you can create value and support your customers.

Third, show some stability. People crave certainty. We want to know that everything’s going to be okay. What’s happening right now is that people are in the shock phase, so they’re not sure what to do. There are a lot of eerie feelings. It’s almost feels like we’re in a dream. People are off their regular routines, so I would encourage you to show some stability and balance throughout these uncertain times. Make regularly scheduled calls to your customers. Send them a message, set a time, and stick to it. Create a routine. Set up a monthly call or weekly call with some of your top customers and clients to show them some sort of routine and stability. Schedule some communication via email that sends out a positive note or a positive newsletter. Better yet, share your company’s response plan with your customers and clients. I’ve received many notifications via email from service providers about what they’re doing during these uncertain times. They’re showing stability, and that’s going to be important to your customers and clients. They want to know that you’re going to be here for them, that you are their stable partner, that you are there when they need you.

The final tip for you today: focus on creating value versus making a sale. Value-added customers view your relationship as an investment, not a transaction. During these tough and uncertain times, they want to cash in on that investment, meaning they want you to help them create more value. Customers need more value during these uncertain times, so ask yourself some of these questions to help you create more value for your customers:

  1. How can I help my customer maximize the return on the investment that they’ve already made? If they recently purchased a piece of equipment, take the time to go back and show them how they can capture the most value from it.
  2. How can I make it easier for our customers to do business right now? What added services can I provide? I was speaking with a distributor the other day, and one of the first things they did, they said, “You can call us to place an order. You don’t even have to get out of your car. We’ll bring the package out to you. You don’t need to come into the store.” They’re adding services to make it easier for the customer to do business.
  3. Ask your leaders within your organization, “How can we offer additional support at this point in time?” Even ask your customer. “I know we’re facing uncertain times right now. What can we do to help you during these tough and uncertain times?”

Those are the tips today. Stay calm out there. Be a beacon of light and hope for your customers during these tough and uncertain times.

Make it a big day!

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