New Rules for Selling in the New Economy

It’s been called everything from an economic downturn to one of the most important challenges of this generation, and no matter how you choose to define the state of the economy today, everyone recognizes a simple fact: these are game-changing times. Old rules and old assumptions must yield to new ones. And indeed, that transformation is already taking place in businesses and professions of all kinds across North America and around the world.

A hallmark of successful sales professionals everywhere is that they possess a keen sense of recognizing when changing conditions are upon them, and that they adapt quickly to those new conditions. Adapting (and by that, I include the act of making good decisions that give you the results you’re looking for) starts by asking the right questions.

With that in mind, let’s start by considering three key questions. Each provides us with solutions we can use in the times that are ahead of us.

When will it end?

The first question is one that plenty have been asking for the past several months…when will this uncertainty end? Like being an unwilling passenger on a long, twisty roller coaster ride, many are hoping that an exit sign is going to present itself soon. But just as the root causes to what ails the economy are complex, so too are the solutions. Put another way, this has not been an easy ride so far and it’s a mistake to assume that it’s going to get any easier. Granted, things will settle eventually, but we need to recognize that as we move forward, the economy and the marketplace are going to look very different than before. Rather than assuming or wishing that things get back to normal, expect a new normal and a new economy.

The Bank of Canada has just announced that Canada is officially out of “recession”. Great news. That being said….our economy is likely never going to look exactly the same as it did 2 years ago. That’s not a bad thing. Unless you refuse to adapt. Its just different so smart sales people know we will have to sell different.

Smart sales people—those with their ear to the ground who recognize the hoof beats of real change announcing its arrival—are going to retool and rethink the way they sell so they can meet the challenges of that new economy. We also need to be mindful of another important fact about the times we’re living in: no one knows for certain what the future has in store. Just as very few would have predicted that the price of gas would drop to almost a ten-year low just months after being at record-high levels, the future has a tendency of being full of surprises. That’s why it is important to take a smart, defensive posture—to mitigate risk so that you’re positioned to take on new challenges, especially the unforeseen ones, quickly and effectively.

What has changed?

This brings me to the second question we all need to ask ourselves. What has changed in this marketplace? For sales people, there are really important, dramatic shifts taking place in buyer behavior that may well reshape the way you do your work. In the past, it was the economic decision maker who was sought out in an organization—that key executive who made the decision to buy. In many businesses, that authority is being replaced by a committee. Officials now have to obtain sign-offs from several people to close a deal. For sales people, this presents a new challenge. You need to broaden your networks to ensure that you’re selling in broadcast rather than narrowcast mode, extending your reach as widely as possible across each customer’s organization.

Another important change I’m seeing—and that my clients are confirming in their own experiences—is that buyers are taking a longer time to make decisions. Some of my clients are seeing sales cycles increase from an average of 30 days to 90 days. Some are seeing delays of up to 20%. The reason this is happening is that customers want to make sure that they’re making the right decisions. And in challenging times, who can blame them? They want proof to back the claims you’re making about your product or service. They want someone to demonstrate how good the return-on-investment will be to choose what you’re selling versus that of a competitor. This means your sales message has to be adjusted accordingly.

There’s one more key change that I’d like to share with you. Companies are entrenching their existing business relationships. For sales people, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new customers, but existing relationships have become invaluable. Buyers want to stick with vendors they trust. As I mentioned earlier, it comes down to a matter of risk. Just as you need to position yourself correctly in this new economy, buyers are also doing this. Recognizing this fact, your task as sales professional is to demonstrate to your customers that buying from you is a good choice—one that reduces or even eliminates risk.

What must I do to remain successful?

How can sales people remain on top of their game and be successful in this new economy? In times like these, that’s the veritable $64,000 question, isn’t it? In fact, there are a range of field-tested activities you can embrace as part of your sales approach. And over the coming weeks, I’m going to share with you, point-by-point, a range of solutions that you can implement within your work and that of your sales team.

Changing economic times are an opportunity to reexamine the way we work at sales people—to  hang on to the approaches that serve us well and to seek out new ways of doing business that have helped others be successful.

4 responses to “New Rules for Selling in the New Economy

  1. What you say about relationships is key! As a Marketing Manager of a startup I know the importance of relationships in today’s economy. Also, as somebody who has spent a lot of time as a salesperson I’ve learned that focusing on the short sales cycle and the quick sales didn’t create long term relationships that are necessary today. I attribute most of my success now to the value I established in myself. My network introduces me because they trust me — not necessarily my product or service.

  2. Great post, Colleen. A number of the analysts we work with are also seeing longer sales cycles and many more decision-makers in each deal. Each sales conversation is absolutely harder than ever before. To your question about remaining successful, in times like these a lot of companies are turning to Sales Enablement in their sales organizations. Whereas in good times, companies can hire additional salespeople to make their growing sales goals, in poor economic times, they must still make their numbers with the same, or decreasing staff. The goal of Sales Enablement is driving a better sales conversation every time, no matter whether a salesperson is a top performer or a mid-level performer. It’s about leveraging not only the marketing materials that salespeople need, but the “tribal knowledge” (anecdotes from the field, objection handling tips, win stories, competitive intelligence, etc.) along with access to the best subject matter experts from within their company… institutionalizing it, and redeploying it on demand in order to drive a better sales conversation. Because as you said, when it’s hard enough for sales people to sell in this environment, no one can afford to waste a single sales conversation.

  3. You make some excellent points Colleen! The economic turmoil, combined with the way large companies like Walmart and the Automotive Manufacturers have shifted and influenced the process of vendor sourcing, selection criteria and decision making has certainly changed the game of selling! They have in essence done everything that they can to diminish and negate the intangible factors that really must apply in making sound quality decisions! As you say, sales people need to step up their game and be even more polished, professional, knowledgeable and relationship oriented than ever before otherwise they will be reduced to a comodity themselves.

    Thanks for sharing!

    All the Best!

    Marshall W. Northcott

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