My friend John Spence is giving a speech today in Seattle to a group of salespeople and asked me to suggest a few ideas for dealing with difficult times. Here’s what I gave him, and I hope you find some value in them as well:
1. Get back to basics. When things are going well, it’s easy to cut corners and get away with it, such as doing less sales call planning, making the prospecting calls, etc. Get more training or at least review the material you already have from previous training sessions.
2. Pay extreme attention to detail. It’s very easy to lose a customer when times are tough. They’re not in a forgiving mood, because the prevailing attitude is that there is a lot of spare capacity around, so they expect to be treated very well. (Think of how you feel when you want to get a contractor to work on your house. When things were busy for them we were grateful for them returning our calls; now we’re incensed when they don’t respond immediately)
3. Work on your network. Extend and diversify it, but most importantly, put effort into helping others, especially those who are not in a position to help you right now.
4. Prepare for the turnaround. It will come, despite how easy it is to be pessimistic. The trick is to come out of this stronger than when we went in. Learn, network, add value, and it will pay off.
5. Give a little extra. When people ask for three ideas, give them 5.
In Part 3 of this series, we saw that there are many different ways to express the value of our offering beyond simply reducing our customers’ costs. In other words, our solutions generally solve a wider range of problems than we give them credit for. In this case, problems are a good thing, because they also expand the range of potential beneficiaries of our solutions.
Every business problem impacts someone in the organization; the people most impacted are the problem owners. This is an important definition. The problem charged with solving the problem is not the owner—it’s the one who suffers if the problem is not solved. For example, the VP of Sales may be concerned about decreasing margins, so she asks the Director of Training to find a course that will teach salespeople to better sell value. The Training Director may be asked to solve the problem by recommending or choosing a course, but in the end the VP of Sales feels the pain of decreasing margins and owns the business results to be generated from the purchasing decision.
I didn’t start my career wanting to be a salesperson, or to be in the business of persuasion at all. In fact, I wanted to have as little to do with selling as possible, so I got a degree in finance and went to work for a commercial bank in south Florida where I could happily crunch numbers without having to have much to do with people. At that time the banking industry was very heavily regulated, so we didn’t have to compete too hard for customers. In fact, we joked that banking was subject to the “3-6-2” rule—pay 3% on deposits, lend it out at 6%, and hit the golf course every day at 2.
In an unfortunate masterpiece of poor timing, I entered the industry just before Congress passed a whole new set of laws deregulating the financial industry, which soon forced clueless hotshots like myself to go out into the real world and try to bring in customers. I had to figure out how to sell, and quickly. I had no formal sales training and no way to differentiate my product (what’s more of a commodity than money?). But, because I like to eat and have a roof over my head, I went out and gave it a go. I’m sure I made every mistake in the book but gradually I got better at it, although with no method or systematic approach.
One day this all changed.
In Part 2 of this series on dealing with the price objection, we saw that the first key to getting out of the commodity trap is to find points of differentiation and then connect those to customer benefits. Thus the two most important words in sales are: “SO WHAT?”
Suppose I say, “Our product is engineered to be the most reliable in the industry.” I might instead say, “This means that you know it’s going to work when you need it.”
Notice something subtle about that last paragraph. Thinking “so what” changed the pronoun from the first person to the second person. They don’t care about you—they care about themselves.
The next step is to get the right people in the customer’s organization to agree to the value. So, ask the next two critical selling words are: “HOW MUCH?” And, just as we saw that there are many ways to differentiate when you take a broad look at the offering, we will also see that there are many ways to assign value to these benefits.