In most complex B2B sales environments, our most significant and consistent competition typically hasn’t come from another conventional “competitor”: it has come from the status quo. For our customers, status quo is familiar. It is often comfortable. And so they have often failed to be convinced of the need for change unless and until maintaining the status quo has become obviously unsafe.
Competing against the status quo has always been a challenge for salespeople who think of their role as selling their company’s products and services rather than solving their customer’s problems. But even those successful salespeople who have mastered the art of consultative, problem-focused, solution-orientated selling are finding that the world has changed.
In the current environment, little is certain, other than that our prospective customer’s cherished status quo is probably no longer safe. The old assumptions, and the old certainties, no longer prevail. It’s premature to predict exactly what the new normal will look like, but it’s likely that the old status quo will not be restored in exactly the same form...
When it comes to selling, it’s likely that we will emerge with an irreversible shift to conducting more sales conversations over the web rather than face to face. Even after the current pandemic has subsided, the threats posed by climate change and global warming and the need for responsible corporate citizenry will remain.
Sales leaders need to ensure that their salespeople have the necessary tools to conduct remote conversations with their customers, and that they know how to use them effectively. Customer research platforms like LinkedIn Navigator, video hosting and recording platforms like Zoom and conversational analysis platforms like Refract are going to be the minimum key foundations of a productive sales environment.
And our salespeople need to be trained in how to run effective video meetings. One-to-one conversations are reasonably straightforward but holding one-to-many meetings with a group of people is more complex to master. Our salespeople need to learn how to ensure that all the participants are given the chance to contribute to the conversation. In the absence of body language, they need to find other ways of gauging involvement.
It’s going to be even more important for our salespeople to prepare before having remote conversations - starting with ensuring that the customer is going to be able to use the proposed technology platform. Now, more than ever, our salespeople need to do their research in advance, to understand what each participant wants to get out of the meeting, to agree an agenda, to manage time effectively, to achieve a balance between asking questions and sharing insights, to come to clear conclusions and to agree clear next steps.
Supporting Decision Confidence
A stream of recent reports from Gartner have already been highlighting our customer’s challenges in reaching a confident consensus about the need for change. The challenges of decision certainty are only going to increase, reinforced in the short term by widespread lockdowns on new spending. What can professional salespeople do in response?
The most important thing salespeople can do is to help their customers make sense of what is going on around them and within their organisations. They need to demonstrate and communicate empathy and a genuine concern for the situation their customers find themselves in. They need to strike a balance between unrestricted pessimism and unjustified optimism. They need to genuinely want to help before they want to sell.
From Always be Closing to Always be Helping
Old-school hard closing techniques were already proving progressively less effective in complex B2B buying decisions. They will be even less productive now. Customers need help. They want to work with and learn from people who can help them make sense of the times they are living through. If we do this with the necessary sensitivity as helpful problem solvers, we could even help them to rationalise why the project we have been working with them on still needs to go ahead.
And even if things get delayed, when the project rises again to the top of the priority list in the future, they will remember how they were treated as a prospect, and that will give them and their colleagues confidence in how they are going to be treated as a customer.
We can and will emerge stronger
Smart salespeople, and smart sales organisations, will use our current challenges as a foundation for emerging stronger in the future. As well as strengthening customer relationships, they will invest this time in developing their skills.
As well as mastering remote selling, they will be enhancing their ability to have effective and mutually successful conversations with their customers. They will become even more adept at asking smart questions and sharing valuable insights. They will share best practices with their peers. They will reinforce a sense of community within the sales organisation.
These next few weeks and months are precious. Let’s not waste them bemoaning our fate. Let’s emerge stronger. And, above all, let’s also strive to do our best for our colleagues, our customers, our friends and family and for the community at large.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a member of the Sales Enablement Society, a founding contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation, a member of the Sales Experts Channel and the driving force behind Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading UK-based B2B value-selling experts.
Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob now works as a strategic advisor, mentor, trainer and coach to ambitious B2B sales organisations - equipping them to create, confirm and communicate their unique business value in complex sales situations.