The Secret to Selling in a Crisis

What do we do now?

I’m asked for sales advice dozens of times a day. Questions come from clients, friends running their businesses and/or sales teams and, often, from complete strangers who have become aware of me on LinkedIn. This particular question comes up a lot lately, and in a sales context means: How do we even sell in this current market?

My answer never changes.

You don’t need to do anything differently. How we sell as we move through this crisis is how we should have been selling since day one. Sales is not just a process driven by a formula. Remember that you are selling to humans – so, to be successful, you should in fact be human. Now, and always.

How we sell as we move through this crisis is how we should have been selling since day one…

Proceed with Genuine Curiosity

When I coach anyone on how to run the perfect discovery call, the start of it is very simple; your job in speaking to a buyer for the first time is to solve their challenges directly through the services you sell, or introduce them to someone else who can, if not you.

That person has given you 15-30 minutes of their time and you have to make those minutes impactful for them. It’s not about you – no one cares about you (yet!) – it’s about the buyer.

So, how do we do that? By asking open-ended questions, by digging in to the person’s business and challenges, by asking enough to walk away from that time together and saying, “I know what this organization needs and I have some ideas of how I can help solve those challenges.”

Practice Active Listening

LinkedIn recently released their fourth annual report around the state of sales and cited that the number one skill set buyers look for is active listening.

Active listening means: asking a question, hearing the response, and asking another question that’s based on the response you received. But, to be clear, the conversation isn’t a firing-range of questions from you – it’s a balance of having a human conversation.

Here’s where a little formula can help you:

Ask a question, receive an answer, ask a question based on that answer (demonstrating active listening), and then respond to the next answer with a story of your own that aligns with the answer or by weaving in a customer/client story. Rinse and repeat.

Here’s an example of what that could look like, pulling from my days overseeing Enterprise sales for LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator line of business:

Sam: Your email mentioned that you had one specific challenge that you wanted to review and that you heard Navigator can solve for it…can you share with us some context and let’s see where we can help?

Buyer: Sure, well, actually, one of the biggest challenges we have is around tracking job changes. Our attorneys simply can’t stay on top of who moves where, and oftentimes we don’t realize an attorney has left a company until months later…sometimes years…

Sam: Got it, and do you have any mechanism for tracking these changes now or is it simply super manual and filled with cracks in the process?

Buyer: That’s exactly it – we have no process, no methodology and it’s costing us a fortune in missed work.

Sam: Agreed, so many of our firms had this same issue before deploying Navigator, and it’s frankly a slight to the in-house counsel because they would assume the firm would notice that there hasn’t been communication in some time and immediately look into why. I have a whole process mapped out for how firms can track these changes in real time and not only create one opportunity out of the change, but in fact three opportunities.

Question, answer, active listening question, answer, story.

Be a Trusted Advisor

On the heels of learning how to bring more curiosity to your sales game, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re a trusted advisor.

…we buy from people we like and from people who bring a consultative approach to the relationship.

Have a listen to this three-minute segment from NPR that stresses that people like people who ask questions (genuine curiosity), but like it even more when they ask questions that pertain to the answer the person gave (active listening).

And, at the end of the day, we buy from people we like and from people who bring a consultative approach to the relationship. Being a trusted advisor is a goal for me when working with my clients. But, many times what’s forgotten by many is that I’m often not giving self-serving advice. I’m asking questions and learning of my buyers’ challenges, and then offering solutions from my side, but also processes and products that have nothing to do with me.

Gaining trust and continued business has everything to do with demonstrating that you can advise outside of the wheelhouse in which you specifically operate.

Build and Use Process

Process, above all else, is what separates the greats from the rest – the consistent top performers, the rainmakers, the repeat President’s Club winners. You can be the most charismatic challenge-solving, active-listening, Curious George out there, but if you don’t build a sales process for each step of the sales cycle and buyer’s journey, you will never see consistent success.

At #samsales Consulting, we have defined processes left and right for our clients, but here are two you can execute this week: nurturing and executive LinkedIn presence.

Nurturing a lead is something that often happens in marketing, but how often are individuals responsible for sales nurturing those buyers? Not often.

An example we see so often is that a buyer will respond to a prospecting email we send, or they’ll take a meeting with us because we were introduced by a common connection, and the immediate result is, “This all sounds interesting to me, but I can’t pursue it for another three months – can we touch base then?” And what do most do? They put a reminder in their calendar for 90 days from now and then go back to the buyer. Riveting. You really won the buyer over with that move!

What you want to do is build a process for you – not marketing – to nurture the lead. Start a repository of helpful articles, webinars, topics that would be helpful to your buyers and start sending one to them every two to three weeks until you get to the 90 day mark. A simple formula of sending the content in an email with, “Hi Barry, read this recently and was thinking of you. Here’s something interesting about this article that should make you read it, and here’s my opinion on it. Hope you’re well.”

The email is brief, it convinces the person to read the piece based on the interesting piece you shared, it shows your subject matter expertise by saying something about it and it closes with no ask whatsoever. The email is only to drive value for the buyer. By building this process, not only will the person be far more inclined to discuss business with you come that 90-day mark, but often they respond to an email sooner and ask for the meeting then.

Executive LinkedIn presence is a great one to use, even if it does mean taking on the extra work to do this for your executive team (if they won’t do it themselves.).

As a first step, connect with all your clients on LinkedIn. A simple note saying, “We’ve worked together for so long, I can’t believe we’re not connected here – thought I’d make it official” works. Then build in a process that equates to making a connection request any time your executive team has a conversation with a new individual – a prospective client, someone they met networking, etc. And finally, have your executives or managing partners post content at least once a week.

This is not meant to be self- or firm-promotional, but rather to drive thought leadership with 85-90% of your posts. Give people a reason to engage with you and don’t waste this valuable marketing opportunity.

Now, we could talk for hours about all the insider LinkedIn tips of how to post for maximum exposure and why this is important to do as a person and not from the firm’s company page, but let’s start to build this foundation as a starting point, at the very least.

Process is all about the “if this, then that” and again, without it, the predictability of your success and revenue will be a guessing game.

If I can leave you with one final piece of advice for what to do now, it’s again, to keep doing what you should have been doing all along and that’s: bring a human approach to selling and developing business. Trust the process, chase the business, be of value to your clients, ask questions, offer advice as an advisor, but go forward and sell.

The firms and organizations that are prioritizing business development, process building and coaching on how to develop business are the ones that will rise and charge past the others when we emerge out of this current climate.