Selling Into the Headwinds of Today’s Unique Environment

As published on Sales & Marketing Management.com

Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something 

This adage might hit a little different on this year’s National Salesperson Day – Friday, Dec. 10 – as COVID-19 and economic headwinds paint a very different picture for sales teams than in years past. 

Attempting to sell products that can’t be delivered on time is growing increasingly frustrating. Inflation is raising expenses across the board, and companies find themselves with less cash on hand and a limited capacity to take on new expenditures. Sales support teams are shrinking, increasing their workloads and delaying response times and pitch readiness. On top of that, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital and hybrid business models, and many sales teams find themselves holding a playbook that no longer applies. 

So, with the deck seemingly stacked against them, how can sales managers adjust their gameplans and set up their teams for success? 

Start at the End

In the words of Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” 

How many calls or emails have you gotten that say something to the effect of, “Do you have this problem? If so, we’ve got the perfect solution.” If you’re like many, this number might reach triple digits in any given month. And more often than not, you ignore this pitch and move on with your day. 

This is because, as with most other things in life, business needs are specific to each individual company. Starting with a catch-all solution rarely works, and when it does, it usually achieves an objective at far greater cost or with minimal efficiency. 

So instead of telling a prospective customer that they need what you have to offer, sales professionals must start by asking what it is a prospective client might need and work to tailor a custom solution or product mix that helps the client achieve their objective. In other words, it is not “Do you have a problem that fits our tools?” But rather, “How can we fit our tools to your problem?” Start by showing interest in the ultimate personal or business result and work backwards to facilitate achieving it successfully. 

With this mentality, sales managers then can work toward the second pillar required to achieve success in this new business climate: clarify the message. 

Be Clear and Concise 

Clarity and concision have always been important, but they are even more important now. With an increasing share of prospective customers moving toward digital business models, the old way of selling—in-person meetings, cocktail hours, cold-calling an industry list or personal rolodex—is out the door. Instead, individuals can schedule every minute of every day in their online calendar, all while never having to leave the office or their front door to discuss a potential business opportunity. 

As a salesperson, this means you must be able to address a business need quickly and pitch immediately. And to do this, especially when support staff is already stretched thin, requires extreme organization, streamlined internal communications, and a strategic and focused approach when it comes to identifying potential opportunities. 

With the top of the sales funnel shrinking due to external factors, you cannot afford to chase dead ends or waste any time. You must maximize your odds and be laser focused on efficiency. But how? 

When times get tough, the most successful companies throw out the old model and innovate. And the good news is, innovation rarely happens simply by throwing more money at a problem. 

Align Incentives with Desired Outcomes 

This unique moment in time requires creativity. Most companies are looking to cut costs, without sacrificing new business. And this is your chance to incentivize talent procurement, retention, and training that will pay dividends for years to come, even when current difficulties subside. 

For instance, consider a custom, non-cash rewards program or new internal incentive structure that motivates your sales team to acquire the skills they need and equips them to operate in the current environment. Under this model, you are not forced to constantly adjust compensation benchmarks with the ever-changing winds of the economy. You can still award high performers who, in turn, can now effectively boost your bottom line and help you rise above your competition. 

Whatever you do, it is important not to mistake activity for progress. Instead, be willing to break the mold and adjust your sales model both to the needs of prospective clients and to the demands of a constantly changing business climate.

As president and CEO of Quality Incentive Company, Scott leads a team of seasoned associates who, like him, average 20+ years of experience in the incentive and recognition industry. He is responsible for the overall strategic direction of the company and is actively involved in the management and oversight of customer relationships.