By Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International.
As we adjust to our new normal, business owners are emerging with a new sense of determination. Entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing, and resilient businesses are acclimatising to uncertainty. It’s time to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.
Consistency is key, but so is the customer
Regardless of your delivery method, service or product, ensuring a consistent sales methodology is essential. This applies even if you’ve had to temporarily close your operation. Focusing efforts on streamlining and perfecting your sales process during this time can help to futureproof your business. At the very heart of this sales methodology should be customer need.
A quick and significant reduction in your sales figures at the beginning of the crisis is pretty much certain for most sectors, so it’s best to address what is happening honestly and as practically as possible. This builds trust with customers.
Approaching this situation in the right way can lead to improved relationships in the long run. Importantly, consider where you can add value in a viable way to customers amidst economic challenges.
For some this may be offering light relief, advice or entertainment to your community across social media, for others it may mean adapting your service offering to meet your client’s new needs. No matter the approach, ensure your sales methodology remains consistent in considering the real needs of your customers at any given time.
The impact of Coronavirus on the buying cycle
The latest research suggests that now, on average, there are 6.8 people involved in a buying decision. At times of crisis, it is more than likely you will see the decision-making unit expand even further, as your customers seek approval from the top C-level executives.
Just as you may be feeling nervous in the current climate, your customers will be hesitant to make deals too. We know customer needs and priorities are changing rapidly and it’s essential they see you, their supplier as someone they can trust. The negotiations will likely require extra time and attention and should be used as an opportunity to nurture your relationships. It’s important that people who are worried about their business outlook have an opportunity to share those worries in a structured way with somebody who can be – genuinely, not cynically – a trusted adviser.
The buying cycle will still follow the same processes as usual; changes over time, recognition of needs, evaluation of options and resolution of concerns, however some parts of the cycle may require more time and consideration than usual.
Skilled sellers would avoid jumping in with any ready-made or quickly concocted answers during the changes over time section. Instead, they’ll try to understand, as forensically and unemotionally as possible, how customers see the business and personal dislocation affecting different aspects of their operations, and the same skilled sellers will consider (without necessarily yet talking about) whether any needs start to emerge that they could meet – possibly in innovative ways.
During the recognition of needs part of the cycle, a skilled seller will focus questions on those impacts, all the time thinking about, but not yet describing, what the right solution could look like and how they could provide it. People who talk and ask about the future state (whatever it may hold), are often the most persuasive. They don’t dwell on how we got here, or even the harm is has done, but instead on how to mitigate that harm and what positive steps might have to be taken to confront the challenge.
Once the buyer reaches the evaluation of options stage, they’ll be asking themselves, “how can this supplier and their solution, more than anyone else I can see in the landscape, help us to mitigate and improve our situation?”. Anything that customers spend money on in abnormal times also has to meet needs in normal, business-as-usual times. But they’ll be more focussed on moving solutions that will get them through the present crisis up their corporate spending agenda – and they’ll be wondering if the solution they are currently evaluating really does that.
At the moment, customers might perhaps be bringing thoughts that normally crop up in resolution of concerns forward into their evaluation stage. More than ever, it’s about risk. If the seller can genuinely, by revisiting (in consultative, not declamatory, ways) the original benefits and guidelines that made the case persuasive and the supplier credible in the first place, that will help. So will re-treading with the customer again how the solution in question mitigates rather than enhances risk – and perhaps show how and where other customers are already finding this to be the case. What the research tells us without doubt is that minimising and making light of buyer’s concerns, prescribing a solution in defiance of the consultative conversations that have gone before, or pressuring the customer at what ought to be the final stages of the sale, are the highway to failure. Now, more than ever, buyers will be anxious about the consequences of their actions. Sellers need to uncover, clarify and help resolve these anxieties in full co-operation with the buyer.
The nuances of remote selling
Whilst employees are used to spending the majority of their time on their phones, computers or other technology, getting used to closing business deals over conference call and skype meetings can be a challenging prospect.
When developing your sales call plan, it’s important that you are strategic in your approach. You should consider who you contact and when, how likely you are to get a hold of someone and how likely they are to take your call and enable access to decision makers. This will increase your chances of success, creating a higher conversion rate and ensuring you invest your time and energy in the right areas.
When making calls, always have an objective in place. What do you want from your chosen contact? Is it to make a sale, or is it to get the contacts details for another decision maker, or even to try and arrange an appointment with their colleague? A good idea here is to work out both a primary and secondary objective for your call to give you more of a sense of achievement as you will not have to rely on pressing for just one outcome.
And when conversing with your contact, consider your credibility statement. Whether this is your ‘value proposition’, ‘hook’ or ‘elevator pitch’, it often makes up the basis for why your prospect will answer your call. Your credibility statement should include a solid business reason for your call, stating how your product or solution will add value, by either solving a problem, meeting a need, being relevant to the prospect and their role, being linked to your sales objective or being linked where possible to previous contacts or conversations.