3 Not-So-Obvious Shifts You MUST Make to Sell in Uncertain Times

I have two skills that I haven’t needed to bust out for a long time.

The first? I can ride a unicycle. I’ve actually never had a need for that skill.

The second? I happen to have a knack for combining behavioral science with sales methodology to successfully help companies shift during times of uncertainty. Fortunately, that’s a skill I haven’t needed to use for twelve years, but here we are.

When asked, “What are the top three recommendations would you give your sales team today?” my answers may not be exactly what you’ve seen posted throughout the blogosphere.

Here goes… my three tips for selling in uncertain times.

  1. Optimize the message
  2. Optimize your buying journey
  3. Keep selling!

1. Optimize the Message

We are now in a period where we can actually read the minds of your buyers. When the market is on an upswing, our customers and prospects may be focused on a whole host of things. However, during a period of uncertainty and the resulting downturn, every customer, buyer, and human being is essentially thinking about the same three things.

1. Eliminating discretionary spend

Any nice-to-have expenditures have gone away. You, personally, have probably cut out your personal trainer sessions and put off buying that new living room couch, right?

2. Extending runway on the essentials

In recognizing your must-have items, you have likely sought ways to both (a) make sure you have enough (money, food, supplies) to last if things get worse, and (b) reduce costs on those must-have items.

Do you really need a gallon of ultra-pasteurized organic milk for $6.50 from Whole Foods, or will you be ok with a gallon of regular milk for $3.25 from Aldi?

3. Minimizing risk

While already identifying what the worst-case scenario might look like, you have likely taken every precaution to ensure that “worst-case” doesn’t happen to you.

It’s why we hoard toilet paper. It’s why we’re ok with barricading ourselves in our homes.

Worst-case can’t happen to us!

We’re all human beings experiencing the same things in our personal lives — but these are the exact same priorities our prospects and customers are experiencing. You can read their minds! They’re all eliminating discretionary spending, extending their runway on the essentials, and minimizing risk.

Evaluate your message and optimize it with a sole focus on extending runway on essentials and cost reduction while reducing downside risk against the worst-case scenario.

The counterintuitive part?

Did you notice that I didn’t mention “revenue growth” as a priority right now?

For most organizations, revenue growth has become a “nice-to-have.” It’s almost discretionary — it would be a bonus!

If your messaging includes helping companies achieve or maximize revenue growth, take it out. Your customers all have the same priorities. Hone your message accordingly.

2. Optimize Your Buying Journey

Practice extreme empathy by putting yourself in your buyer’s shoes. In times of uncertainty, purchases must adhere to the three priorities mentioned above, but they also must be easy.

Your clients are at home, too. You thought consensus selling was hard before? Imagine being a buyer — at home, unable to just walk down the hallway and build consensus for a purchase.

With that, examine your process from the buyer’s perspective.

Remove steps from the process.

If you currently have a separate “qualification” call from a “demo” or “presentation” call, stop it! Take advantage of a prospect’s enthusiasm by giving them all the information they need as quickly and easily as possible.

Embrace transparency by giving the buyer both the pros AND CONS of buying from you.

Do you know why you (around 96% of you) read reviews before making a purchase? Do you know why (at least 82% of you) look at the negative reviews first when making a purchase of substance you haven’t bought before?

We’re wired to try to predict our experience with a product or service. If all we see is perfect “5-star speak,” we seek that predictability elsewhere, and often don’t come back.

Don’t make the buyer do that homework. Just give them the pros and cons!

Negotiate transparently.

Give the buyer the tools to negotiate their own discount through accelerated payments, longer commitments, or predictable deal signature. Organizations are willing to trade “terms” for “dollars.”

Don’t just give discounts like you’re giving to a charity. Pay for those terms in the form of a discount only.

Ensure you’ve optimized implementation.

Does the path to realization of the benefits provided by your solution look relatively easy? Is it actually easy? Both better be. Big, high-risk projects get deprioritized — regardless of the benefit.

The counterintuitive part?

Remove any 1-way terms from your contracts. If you have “auto-renewal” language, automatic price increases, or anything else that is all about you, take it out for now. Make buying easy — lawyers are people, too.

3. Keep Selling!

For most of your customers and prospects, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what to do right now. They’re often trying to figure it out on their own. None of them were in their current positions during the last downturn.

As a matter of fact, a decent percentage of your customers and prospects probably weren’t even in the workforce when we last went through this. We’re all learning right now.

With that in mind, imagine you had a neighbor who was struggling, and you knew how to help them. Would you:

  • Leave them alone – as you don’t want to be a bother during their crisis, or,
  • Share the idea – and let them decide whether they want to engage or not?

I’m going to guess you chose “b.”

If you have something that can genuinely help your customers or prospects with the three priorities mentioned in item 1 above, it’s almost an obligation to let them know. Try. Keep going. Be a giver!

The counterintuitive part? Practice EXTREME firmographic focus.

Find a vertical you can really help and focus completely on it for a couple of weeks. You’ll find that you’ll quickly become an expert on those prospects’ issues.

That’s going to give you tons of credibility while minimizing the amount of homework you have to do in between calls. Better still, credibility and confidence are contagious. Buyers will sense your expertise, which will give them confidence.

Then you can expand out slowly from that initial vertical.

In 2008, we chose “aerospace” and won three massive customers. We then moved to defense, then oil and gas.

One of my advisory clients is now focused on “apparel — shoes” and is crushing it… and now expanding slowly to women’s apparel.

Bottom Line

Messaging developed during an economic upswing often will not work during a downturn. If you haven’t already, optimize your messaging, remove friction from the buying journey wherever possible…

And keep selling!

Todd Caponi is the author of the book, The Transparency Sale. His passion is for all things sales methodology, learning theory and decision science. He’s led multiple sales organizations, he’s owned/operated a sales training organization, he’s helped two companies to successful exits, and won the American Business “Stevie” Award for VP of WW Sales of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or check out www.transparencysale.com.

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