With an internal soundtrack fueled by Willie Nelson’s hit tune, “On the Road Again,” or perhaps with the melody of the Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ it to the Streets” in your head, it’s time to get back in the marketplace.
As more businesses thaw from their economic freeze, and more “stay at home” restrictions are lifted, it is likely that you, too, will be resuming activity in the “next normal.”
As a sales leader, you have myriad issues to consider as you motivate your team to sell in this environment: How different is the playing field than it was just three months ago? How do we shift the conversation from COVID-19 to a more optimistic posture? And, perhaps most critically, how do I strike the right balance with my sales professionals, who are likely feeling extreme pressure?
The reality is this: Under stress, we are not our best selves. This is true for individuals, for teams, and for organizations.
In times of extreme stress, like we’ve just experienced and continues today, any sort of weaknesses that we’ve had in our sales techniques are magnified substantially. Add in the pressure brought by fewer prospects and less revenue, and it’s little wonder that many sales pros are engaging in the kinds of bad habits that give rise to what we call “Random Acts of Sales.” Avoiding these pitfalls requires a specific and deliberate focus on both pre-call planning activities and execution.
Here are some steps you can take right now to get your team working efficiently:
Shift from Empathy to Intentionality
Though a sympathetic ear is still appreciated, avoid being generic with your approach. Our research has shown that small talk — that kind of casual conversation that usually is used to open a meeting — is something that only about a quarter of all prospects want to hear. Now is not the time for “improv.” Be prepared. Slow down and ask good detailed questions, to make sure your salespeople understand what it is prospects are looking for. When we deliver our IMPACT Selling® training at The Brooks Group, we call this the Probe step — where discovery occurs. Be honest, open, and communicate.
Don’t mistake a willingness to talk with a willingness to buy. Make sure your team is focusing on their best opportunities, and then choose the right medium for the message (virtual or in-person). Given the changed environment for in-person client visits, it will be critically important to call first to ensure you are not breaching protocol – and following your buyer’s rules for social distancing and PPE. Above all, make sure an in-person visit is both warranted – and permitted.
Muscle Memory is Real
It’s just a fact of life: People are going to fall back into bad habits. And, when customers are not buying, it can become quite tempting to take an attitude of, “I’ll do anything to get the deal.” Succumbing to price pressures is a panic response – one which can come either from management insistence downward, or from the salesperson up, as they consider their personal cash flow needs. Though some companies are pushing very hard to move inventory to keep cash coming in the door, it can create a catastrophic vortex that can ultimately reset pricing expectations for your clients and sink gross margin for the foreseeable future. And let’s face it, who can really see into the future with accuracy?
Listen to Current Trends
Understand what’s happening in real time, as currently as you can — whether that’s through social media or via other means. Make sure your sales teams are sharing information regularly, so you can have a holistic view of what your customers are saying. Likely what is setting the pace today, won’t necessarily be tomorrow.
Look for the Triggers
What will make conditions right for your customers to pull the trigger on a purchase order? Typically, this will be more than simply a price discussion – it will delve into things like your ability to deliver at their desired quantity; payment terms; their customer demand cycles; and other signals that your buyer is ready to make a deal.
Use Realistic Goals and KPIs
Finally, make sure your KPIs aren’t driving your sales representatives to make bad decisions. We see some sales leaders who are adjusting KPIs from the number of physical meetings, to a more attainable measure called “total touches” – something that can be quantified via voice, video, as well as face-to-face (or, mask-to-mask, as the times would indicate).