This guest blog post is by Matt Monroe. He is a senior sales leader with a national beverage company. Matt also writes about his experiences and thoughts in a new column called “The Monroe Doctrine.” In the past, Matt facilitated training for multinational companies, including advising them in their sales processes for complex selling situations.
Today, selling is as challenging as it has ever been. The good news about challenging undertakings: they usually pay off tremendously for those who succeed in the execution.
Why is selling so tough right now and, more importantly, what are the opportunities?
I believe it's so challenging because, right now, cash is king. In the '90s and early '00s, cool was king, but not anymore. Cash is now more critical than cool. And when cash is so precious, spending is scrutinized, delayed, and prioritized more than ever. This spending scrutiny is one of the reasons why many mass-media outlets and politicians accuse "awful" big business of sitting on piles of cash and not using it to put people to work. It's not so much greed as it is prudence in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
We once lived in a sales arena that called for the building of a solid value proposition that needed only provide a logical shot at a win for the decision maker; now we live in a kingdom ruled by more "sure things." This environment demands that we, the seller, shoulder the argument, the implementation, AND the results of our proposed solution. This is a very comfortable place for the holder of the decision. Based on the demands on the seller and the power and need of the decision maker, the stage is set for possibly the purest of win-win scenarios, but only the truly professional salespeople need apply.
How do we make sure we are those strong sellers who succeed? Haven't we already read all the books on the tips, tactics, phrases to use, and self-talk to ruminate on? And adding to the challenge, the margin for error, the tolerance for mediocre execution, is now microscopic. We see now more than ever that selling without effort is farce, but also that effort without meaning is waste.
The opportunities are for only those who have the skills to identify substantive points of entry into vital organizations and then to leverage that small sliver into an open door – to find a seam and exploit it relentlessly.
Below are five practical steps for overcoming reluctance to spend. As we look at them, remember that if cash truly is king, the real decision makers will be focused on strategies that protect and/or grow cash flows and reserves.
1. Know the players, starting as high up in an organization as possible. This is information is available on 10-Q forms, Websites, LinkedIn, etc.
2. Concentrate on positions that are most tuned in to – and can enable – change: the C-suite, VPs, directors, etc. While these are not the only folks who can affect change, it makes a statement if they're referring you down to executors. And they are more willing than ever to listen to outsiders (with a compelling message). They are actively looking for answers and solutions to their most obvious and critical-to-success challenges.
3. Craft a brief message that deals specifically with that role’s most likely focal point(s). It's OK to generalize here, e.g., "CFOs are watching for ways to maximize capital and minimize risk. CEOs are looking at survival, making forward moves in the current recession, and/or being positioned to take advantage of the turnaround we all await."
4. Know specifically what you will use to back up your claim of being able to help achieve positive results through change. Numbers that have occurred for others you've worked with can be very compelling. The key is to be as specific as you possibly can.
5. Look at relationships that you have and see if you can tie those relationships to your target decision makers. Here's a personal example of a successful tactic I used to engage with the president of a target public company: I researched the company's Website and saw that it used the law firm that represented us. I contacted our attorney, and he facilitated the initial contact for us. Next, the president of the target firm suggested that the person over our solution's implementation meet us. We met with him and initiated the professional relationship. Eventually we got a large contract that we service to this day. Obviously this is but one example of using strong relationships that have some connection to open a door for initial contact and targeted conversations.
The challenge for you and your sales organization: execute with passion, precision, and an eye toward improvement and results, and you will overcome prospects' reluctance to move, even in – no, especially in – today's economy.