Selling Through Uncertainty

April 1, 2020
Selling Through Uncertainty

When speaking to salespeople, leaders, and executives in the past weeks, I've noticed an overarching sense of uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.

How long will regional lockdowns last? What’s the potential economic fallout? How will specific businesses and industries cope?

In last week's post, I shared best practices for leaders as they guide their teams through uncertainty.

But when it comes to salespeople, you have your own concerns to deal with. You may be finding it difficult to work from home, or you might have seen your pipeline dry up.

Here’s a summary of the challenges we’re hearing from salespeople and some best practices for selling through uncertainty.

Selling Through Uncertainty
Criteria for Success is hosting a series of group Q&A's about selling during COVID-19. We want to hear how COVID-19 is affecting you and your business. Let's brainstorm a solution together.
Upcoming Dates:
Wednesday, April 1 2020 at 3 PM EST
Wednesday, April 8 2020 at 10 AM EST and 3 PM EST
Click Here to Register

Prospecting Through Uncertainty

I’m starting with the area where I’ve heard salespeople express the most pain and uncertainty.

Many salespeople are finding it difficult to prospect for new business. They may be concerned about what message to send, or worried about whether it’s appropriate to be prospecting right now. And with the economic situation worsening, it may be hard to figure out who to reach out to.

For most salespeople, you can and should continue to prospect throughout this situation. Here’s how to approach it.

First, refine your message.

You need to know what you’re going to market with and why people should want to buy it. The best way to do that is to identify what problems your offering solves.

For example, let’s say you sell analytics software. Your standard message might be focused on how your solutions help prospects understand their businesses and streamline their information processing.

Refining your message doesn’t mean throwing all that out, but instead figuring out how to adjust it in the current environment. So in the example above, that might sound something like, “In these rapidly changing times, we help businesses analyze and act on key information quickly.” Or more specifically, “As brick-and-mortar stores are temporarily closed and retailers move to online-only sales, we help them monitor information so they can make decisions quickly.”

If you can’t figure out what problems your offering solves in general, or specifically in this environment, take a step back.

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You may, for example, be selling luxury goods that don’t necessarily solve problems for people. Or you may be selling commodities where a unique message won’t necessarily be heard. When selling through uncertainty, make sure you work with sales leadership and marketing to adjust your message to meet market needs.

Next, figure out who to target.

Once you have a message that’s focused on solving problems, you need to find some problems to solve!

Determine which types of prospects might both have the problem you can solve and be in a position to invest in your solution. Think about who actually experiences the pain of the problem you solve most directly. They may be most willing to engage with you, but if they don’t have decision-making authority, you’ll have to target one or more levels higher.

When you do that, make sure to think about the different way your targets experience the problem. For example, if you sold a software to help companies better track their warehouse inventory, you solve multiple problems for multiple people. You might make the warehouse employees’ jobs easier if it’s easier to find things. The warehouse manager’s job would be easier because they’d get better information and improve efficiency. Corporate inventory managers might have accurate insight into current inventory to help drive purchasing and logistics decisions.

Selling through uncertainty requires that you adjust the way you talk about the problem you solve to match the role you are targeting.

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As you do this, think about which types of prospects are more likely to have budget right now and which might be locked down and unwilling to consider a new partner. Consider both industry and regional factors.

Finally, plan and execute.

If you’re concerned about prospecting in the current environment, you need to build a plan and execute it.

Think about the methods you’ve used in the past and which you’ll need to stop or change. You should still be able to make phone calls, send emails, and engage in social selling. But if you depended on in-person meetings, networking events, or conferences, you’ll need to replace those lead sources for now.

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Consider whether you’ll just replace that time with more calls and emails or whether you should create new channels for lead generation. For example, if you attended or ran events in the past, can you create webinars to replace them? Balance replacement activities with scheduling in-person meetings and events in the future. You need to generate new business both now and in the future.

Build a prospecting action plan that identifies your goals, the assets and tools you’ll leverage to achieve them, the pitfalls you’ll look out for, and the specific behaviors you’ll implement.

Hold yourself accountable to execute on your plan and consider having an accountability partner, mentor, or coach who can help.

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As weeks go by, look back at your previous plans and results to see if you need to adjust your plans. If you’re executing your plan and not getting results, consider whether you’ll need to ramp up your activity or figure out different activities. Remember that it’s ok to prospect and you’re doing yourself, your company, and the economy as a whole a service by doing so. Engage people with a problem-solving mindset and you may be surprised by the interest you generate.

Selling Through Uncertainty

While prospecting is the number one challenge I’m hearing, selling through uncertainty is a close second.

I’ve heard from a number of people who’ve seen their pipelines dry up. Existing opportunities may have been canceled or put on hold. Clients may have paused recurring orders or up-sells.

And your forecast for Q2 may be looking like a pipe dream.

If you’re in this situation, here are a few actions to take.

Keep all of your opportunities engaged.

When opportunities go on hold, it can be easy to fall out of touch. Don’t let yourself do that!

Develop a schedule for engaging all of your active opportunities. I’d recommend weekly or semimonthly touch points. Remember that these touch points don’t necessarily need to be phone calls or meetings. You might send a resource or just check in on how their business is doing.

Just make sure your focus is on the prospect. Your goal should be to get through this situation with a stronger relationship on the other side. If you stay engaged with your opportunities, you should be able to identify next steps for each and continue to move forward, even if the pace has slowed considerably.

Your next step might be as simple as getting introductions to other stakeholders and beginning to build relationships with them. Or it might be rescheduling a meeting to later this year and working with your prospect to prepare. Just don’t let your opportunities go cold and expect to restart them in the future.

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Reach out to current and former clients.

If you find yourself with a little more time available, now that you’re not spending a lot of time on the road or commuting, consider upping your engagement with current and former clients.

For active clients, reach out to ask what’s going on in their businesses and see if there’s anything you can do to help them. The insights you gain will help in your conversations with prospects, and you may identify new opportunities for up-selling. It’s also a great time to reach out to former clients. Again, approach them with a mindset of contribution. Really engage to hear how they are doing and what’s happening in their businesses.

If you really care about people, that will come through in your conversations. And because current and former clients should already know, like, and trust you, they may be interested in engaging you for new business.

If clients or prospects are in crisis, see how you can help.

Depending on your industry and who you sell to, you may find that many or all of your prospects and clients are in crisis right now. If that is the case, and your offering would help, you may be able to continue to engage in a selling approach.

But whether or not your solution can help them solve their urgent business needs, make sure to connect with people and see how you can contribute. You might help provide small business owners with links and information about how they can access economic stimulus measures and get relief from their expenses. You could help connect them to key people who are positioned to help with their problems.

In order to get through this situation as a part of the global economy, we can all help each other make it through. Even if they can’t buy anything from you right now, it’s better for you if your prospects and clients are still in business when things stabilize. So see how you can help them stay afloat when selling through uncertainty.

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Leveraging Organizational Support

Now, more than ever, your organizational support is key to helping you succeed.

But since you’re likely no longer in the same place as the rest of your organization, you may be finding it difficult to engage them.

Consider how you relate to and leverage the various parts of your organization that support the sales function.

  1. Help your manager help you by scheduling one-on-one meetings to stay connected and get coaching.
  2. Give marketing insights into what you’re hearing from prospects and clients, and make sure you’re getting the latest messaging from them based on their research and strategies.
  3. Stay connected to your delivery organization to make sure you are providing accurate information to prospects. You may be experiencing supply chain disruptions or changes to how services are delivered.
  4. Adjust how you interact with inside sales, sales enablement, and other key functions to successfully work together in the new environment.
  5. Work with IT to make sure your home office system meets your needs.
  6. Stay engaged with training initiatives. Now is not a time to let your skills or subject matter expertise go stagnant.

Your organization wants you to succeed and knows you're selling through uncertainty, so make sure you stay connected.

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Using Systems

While salespeople, more than most other functions, have worked remotely in the past, the volume of working from home has increased dramatically.

Systems and processes can make the difference between success and failure in remote work and when selling through uncertainty. This should include both technological systems and personal systems, as well as measurement and accountability.

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First, ensure you have the right technical setup to succeed.

Consider all the functions in your prospecting and selling process and whether you have the right systems in place to follow the process. At minimum, you need to have access to phone, email, your server, and your CRM system. Hopefully you’ve always had access to those systems remotely.

Beyond that, you should probably have access to a videoconferencing system. It won’t replace face-to-face meetings, but it’s a much more personal connection than just a conference call.

Consider any other key tools you use in your prospecting and selling process. This could include things like lead lists, a scoping or proposal platform, research systems, or inventory reports. If you can’t access some or all of them remotely, work with your manager to find a solution. In some cases, now might be a good time to invest in new systems like an eSign platform so people don’t need to print and sign contracts. Think about both your selling process and your customers’ buying process.

More importantly, make sure you have a personal system for success.

If you have rarely or never worked remotely before, this might be a difficult transition. It can be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day or to work all the time. Don’t let yourself fall too far into either end of the spectrum. Your goal is to develop a personal system to make sure you can successfully do your job.

Starting each day by showering and getting dressed, even if no one will see you, can help put you into “work mode.” Some people find that wearing their normal work wardrobe is helpful, while others don’t really see much of a difference. That might be something to test for yourself.

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If at all possible, create a dedicated home office space for yourself.

That can help you mentally distinguish between home life and work life, and it will help you ensure that everything you need is in one place. If you’re varying between working in your bed, your dining table, and your couch, it’s easy to lose track of things.

Consider how you’ll replicate your normal daily habits. Think about everything from continuing or adjusting your workouts to figuring out how you’ll maintain your coffee addiction. Figure out how you’ll prepare lunch so it’s quick, easy, and healthy. And don’t forget to plan for smaller interactions with colleagues. Morning check-ins, team meetings, and quick chats or calls can help you stay connected to your company, your teammates, and your job.

Work to follow a normal schedule, if possible. Start and end your day, and when work is done, make sure you disconnect.

If you have a complicated family or personal situation, with young children, pets, or a lot of people fighting over space for working or learning, work with your manager and your housemates to develop a schedule and process that meets all of your needs. You’ll all need to be flexible and patient.

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Finally, measure your activity and hold yourself accountable.

When you change the way you work, your perception of your own activity can be skewed. You might feel like you’re not doing anything, or you might feel that you’re working all the time.

Make sure to log your activities the same way you did before and keep track. Are you still making the same number of calls and sending the same number of emails? Are you doing more? Should you be doing more? It can be tempting to give yourself a pass if your activity slips. And depending on your family situation, you might need to step back a little in the time you spend selling.

The key is to develop a plan and expectations for yourself and align with your manager or coach. Then hold yourself accountable – and ask them to hold you accountable – to follow through on your plan. Don’t let yourself fall into a slump because you stopped tracking and measuring activity.

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Leveraging the Power of Team

Even in more “normal” times, some sales teams functioned more as either individual islands or as a silo within their organization. Both of those situations are missing out on the power of team. And both of those situations are easy to fall into when everyone is working from home and selling through uncertainty.

It’s up to everyone on the team to stay engaged, share best practices, and work together to succeed.

Everything I shared above works better when done as a team than when done individually. When you collaborate with each other, you’ll get the best ideas from everyone. And if you stay connected to encourage and motivate each other, you’ll all have a team around you when you’re in a tough situation or feeling down.

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Consider both fun team building and more operational best practice sharing. Make sure it’s still happening and you are participating. If your team isn’t sharing best practices, or isn’t working well together and supporting each other, share your concerns with your manager and see how you can work together to improve the team.

A team is stronger together than the sum of each individual’s strengths alone. When selling through uncertainty, you need to leverage the power of team.

Selling Through Uncertainty
Criteria for Success is hosting a series of group Q&A's about selling during COVID-19. We want to hear how COVID-19 is affecting you and your business. Let's brainstorm a solution together.
Upcoming Dates:
Wednesday, April 1 2020 at 3 PM EST
Wednesday, April 8 2020 at 10 AM EST and 3 PM EST
Click Here to Register

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