It’s been called everything from an economic downturn to one of the most important challenges of this generation, and no matter how you choose to define the state of the economy today, everyone recognizes a simple fact: these are game-changing times. Old rules and old assumptions must yield to new ones. And indeed, that transformation is already taking place in businesses and professions of all kinds across North America and around the world.
A hallmark of successful sales professionals everywhere is that they possess a keen sense of recognizing when changing conditions are upon them, and that they adapt quickly to those new conditions. Adapting (and by that, I include the act of making good decisions that give you the results you’re looking for) starts by asking the right questions.
With that in mind, let’s start by considering three key questions. Each provides us with solutions we can use in the times that are ahead of us.
When will it end?
The first question is one that plenty have been asking for the past several months…when will this uncertainty end? Like being an unwilling passenger on a long, twisty rollercoaster ride, many are hoping that an exit sign is going to present itself soon. But just as the root causes to what ails the economy are complex, so too are the solutions. Put another way, this has not been an easy ride so far and it’s a mistake to assume that it’s going to get any easier. Granted, things will settle eventually, but we need to recognize that as we move forward, the economy and the marketplace are going to look very different than before. Rather than assuming or wishing that things get back to normal, expect a new normal and a new economy.
Smart sales people-those with their ear to the ground who recognize the hoof beats of real change announcing its arrival-are going to retool and rethink the way they sell so they can meet the challenges of that new economy. We also need to be mindful of another important fact about the times we’re living in: no one knows for certain what the future has in store. Just as very few would have predicted that the price of gas would drop to almost a ten-year low just months after being at record-high levels, the future has a tendency of being full of surprises. That’s why it is important to take a smart, defensive posture-to mitigate risk so that you’re positioned to take on new challenges, especially the unforeseen ones, quickly and effectively.
What has changed?
This brings me to the second question we all need to ask ourselves. What has changed in this marketplace? For sales people, there are really important, dramatic shifts taking place in buyer behavior that may well reshape the way you do your work. In the past, it was the economic decision maker who was sought out in an organization-that key executive who made the decision to buy. In many businesses, that authority is being replaced by a committee. Officials now have to obtain sign-offs from several people to close a deal. For sales people, this presents a new challenge. You need to broaden your networks to ensure that you’re selling in broadcast rather than narrowcast mode, extending your reach as widely as possible across each customer’s organization.
Another important change I’m seeing-and that my clients are confirming in their own experiences-is that buyers are taking a longer time to make decisions. Some of my clients are seeing sales cycles increase from an average of 30 days to 90 days. Some are seeing delays of up to 20%. The reason this is happening is that customers want to make sure that they’re making the right decisions. And in challenging times, who can blame them? They want proof to back the claims you’re making about your product or service. They want someone to demonstrate how good the return-on-investment will be to choose what you’re selling versus that of a competitor. This means your sales message has to be adjusted accordingly.
There’s one more key change that I’d like to share with you. Companies are entrenching their existing business relationships. For sales people, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new customers, but existing relationships have become invaluable. Buyers want to stick with vendors they trust. As I mentioned earlier, it comes down to a matter of risk. Just as you need to position yourself correctly in this new economy, buyers are also doing this. Recognizing this fact, your task as sales professional is to demonstrate to your customers that buying from you is a good choice-one that reduces or even eliminates risk.
What must I do to remain successful?
How can sales people remain on top of their game and be successful in this new economy? In times like these, that’s the veritable $64,000 question, isn’t it? In fact, there are a range of field-tested activities you can embrace as part of your sales approach. And over the coming weeks, I’m going to share with you, point-by-point, a range of solutions that you can implement within your work and that of your sales team.
Changing economic times are an opportunity to reexamine the way we work at sales people-to hang on to the approaches that serve us well and to seek out new ways of doing business that have helped others be successful. Over the coming weeks, I look forward to engaging all of you by way of this discussion, sharing with you vital solutions based on the business habits I’ve observed among the top 10% of sales professionals in organizations of all sizes. The outcome will leave you better prepared for the challenges ahead, so that you can thrive in this new economy that’s taking shape right before our eyes.