I'm a little disappointed in many of the conversations I’m having with salespeople lately. I've been hearing things like:
"My phone isn't ringing."
"I'm having a tough time even getting clients to call me back."
"No one is spending right now."
"I have to cut my prices to just stay in the game."
The last time I checked, a salesperson is in the business of selling. Were times just so good before that we didn't have to actually sell? I am certainly not suggesting that these days are not unusually hard—perhaps the hardest we’ve seen in a lifetime. However, these are the days that give those who are truly salespeople the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the pack. It's time to be a salesperson.
If you are truly a salesperson, you're seeing opportunity in these trying times. This is the time that separates real salespeople from the pretenders. Real salespeople are recognizing that their clients and prospects are open to change now more than ever, and they are thinking through how they will leverage their products and services to help those companies with immediate priorities. Real salespeople are thinking through how to have strategic conversations with executive level buying influences because the current economy has C-level decision makers involved in the buying process like never before. Real salespeople are crafting proactive business development strategies and not waiting for the phone to ring.
Solve and Sell
I spoke to a sales VP recently from a company that is facing no fewer challenges than anyone else. He commented that one of his competitors is "rethinking" their strategic accounts program in the face of the current economic conditions. His response? “Let them think while we act and go after those accounts,” he told me. He is a salesperson who sees opportunity amidst chaos.
Real salespeople are standing up to the challenge and not allowing the business wire to serve as their guide. Anecdotes are killers to productivity and good salespeople know the opportunities are in the details of every client and every deal. There are companies spending money. The budgets are tighter and the dollars are being spent in wiser ways, but there are salespeople who are winning. They are winning by being better than their competitors. They are focused on solving strategic issues for their clients. That means they are having more meaningful dialogue with clients about problems they are trying to solve. It means they are coming to the table with ideas on how they are solving similar problems with similar organizations. It means they aren’t selling products, but instead tethering their solutions to strategic priorities. They are problem solvers. They are salespeople.
When you solve problems, you get out of the price discounting business. At worst, you can come from a position of getting something in return for your discount. You can have a true negotiation because C-Level decision makers are interested in partners who can help them fix, accomplish or avoid something key to their strategic priorities.
Salespeople that solve problems are relevant and get their calls returned. Are you relevant? Instead of spending your time piling up the general business news reports, spend it on understanding the news inside your customers and prospects. Very few companies are status quo today, so there’s real opportunity in the strategy adjustments being made in every organization. Those that spend there time making it their job to know what's happening inside the specific accounts, prospects and their industries will have a greater chance to be relevant.
If you're an effective sales leader, you have already communicated the reality of this tough environment but you’ve also rallied the troops to stay focused on securing time with key buying influencers inside of important accounts and prospects. You’re encouraging them to get better at understanding the buying process deal by deal in the funnel and not operate on anecdotal information. You're pushing the team to proactively create opportunities and not wait for the phone to ring. Real sales leaders are recognizing the movement of buying decisions to more senior levels and thinking through how to arm their teams with resources to navigate that shift.
I believe this is an exciting time for the sales profession. We have an opportunity to validate the craft and demonstrate why the sales force should be a significant strategic lever in these challenging times. Many of you will look back on this time period as the one in which your career was made because you provided value at a time when the company most needed it.
Stand up, get out there and be a real salesperson.
As EVP of business development at Miller Heiman, SMM columnist Bill Golder has a reputation for taking on tough assignments and successfully turning around difficult situations. He has extensive sales and operations experience, especially in leading business-to-business sales of professional services and multi-unit operations management. Available for keynote speaking opportunities, Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 1-877-678-0397. Additional information about selling in an uncertain economy is available at www.millerheiman.com.