No one in sales can escape the hurricane force of the current business environment. It reminds me of some of the old war movies we see on cable with gritty looking GIs sloshing through the snow and mud lugging 80-pound backpacks. That's just about how almost everyone in sales feels every day, but particularly now.
Just as life has changed on Wall Street, as well as your street and mine, selling has changed, not a little, but a lot. Those who will be the most successful in this new, different — and very challenging — environment will be those who are focused on the basics.
Here they are:
1. Don't blow smoke. Bragging, exaggeration and blowing smoke are out. Customers don't want to hear it. The challenges we are faced with today call for realism. Let's face it; everything isn't "coming up roses." Even though we don't like to admit it, we all know there are some dark clouds on the horizon. The times are tough and many of our customers are not having "a great day." Let them know you understand. Make it clear you're not going to abandon them and that they can count on you.
2. Stop looking back. If you go to trade shows like so many salespeople do, you know how much fun it is to kick back at the end of the day and share "war stories." Looking back can be good therapy; it helps take our minds off just how demanding it is to make every sale. But looking back won't help anyone make more sales calls, look for the next prospect or try to figure out how to present to a buying committee. In other words, looking back doesn't help us move forward.
3. Look the part. "When you walk through the door, I know you're serious," said one of my customers. "What are you talking about?" I asked. "You're wearing a white shirt and tie so I know we're here to talk business." This isn't about me; it's about customers. And what I do doesn't necessarily work for someone else. Even so, none of us can avoid the fact that how we present ourselves to our customers and prospects does make a difference.
Ask yourself this question, "What do I want them to think about when they think about me?" I don't know about you, but I am willing to do anything that will help my customers see me as serious about doing business. If it takes a white shirt and tie, bring them on! As every salesperson knows, we are the product. At no time has it been more important for us to make sure our personal image helps us meet the challenges we face every day.
4. Find ways to help. Companies (and salespeople) send the wrong message to customers when they bombard them with one "great offer" after another in an effort to break loose an order. It's happening, as you know. Before getting caught up in the "do we have a deal for you" frenzy, ask yourself what customers really want right now. The answer is help. If all you can offer is another "super discount deal," that's not what they're looking for. And a free 32" LCD TV won't do it either.
It's time to put your expertise, knowledge and experience to work! Everyone talks about consultative selling, but few really practice it. Now you have a chance to be a business consultant for your customers. Look for information that you can share with them. It's the most effective way to demonstrate your value.
5. Go on the defensive. This may seem like strange advice for salespeople who thrive on charging ahead. But it is easy to forget (although the thought may bruise our egos) that our customers may not automatically think of us when they have a need we can fulfill. Even if we don't like thinking about it, it's a fact worth remembering, particularly now.
Figure out ways to stay in front of your customers — and don't forget your prospects. Every time we send our customers and prospects an eBulletin (a mini-newsletter), the phone rings and emails arrive. With all the pressure today, we all need reminders.