The current coronavirus crisis has exposed several shortcomings in our society. It has also upended our business interactions and exposed some of the shortcomings in how we conduct sales. The question now is: Do you have the people on your team who are flexible enough to navigate this new terrain and drive revenue in the current environment?
The Post-pandemic Business Environment
Since this crisis started, the word that has dominated conversations among business leaders across industries is “uncertainty.” It’s as if a massive earthquake had shaken up the business landscape and changed it forever. Some managers are wondering if they have the right people on their teams to sell through this upheaval. Others hear their clients saying that they are planning for an unknown future. Almost all the leaders are asking, “What do I say to people right now?”
Based on conversations with business leaders, here are the most significant business obstacles dominating the landscape for your clients now and in the near future:
- They are facing additional or new restrictions on their budget.
- They will be asked to produce more with less money and fewer people.
- They will want to renegotiate agreements to accommodate their new environment.
- Talent will become an issue; many leaders are realizing that they do not have the right people on the team to succeed through this crisis.
In this environment, most organizations will contract. People sell to people, and, based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and survival will be the mindset from which most of your buyers will be operating. Since people behave differently when they don’t feel safe and when they are just trying to survive, your salespeople will need flexibility and agility in order to navigate this terrain while building their credibility with buyers.
Situational Selling Is the Foundation of a High-performance Sales Team
A variety of sales methodologies have arisen over the last decade, and each one has a unique way of viewing the customer-salesperson relationship, which governs strategies, tactics and how the salesperson perceives the buyer. But everything changes when new elements create situational dependencies.
Consider this analogy: Let’s say you’re having routine surgery like hernia repair — a simple procedure so common that you could replace the surgeon with another, and he or she would do the same procedure in the same way without missing a beat. Let’s say that during this procedure, your blood pressure unexpectedly starts to drop, and the doctor can’t go forward with the same process. He or she must modify the process and use a new strategy that addresses the blood pressure drop in addition to achieving the desired result. In this situation, the doctor’s awareness, ability to analyze the situation and experience come into play. The surgeon must be flexible and nimble to change how he or she is executing the surgery in the moment.
Similarly, now and into the near future, more of our sales encounters will become situational, and salespeople will need to be flexible and nimble and use the information they have on hand to make quick decisions based on their experience and the situation.
Elements of the Sales Process That Support Situational Selling
Considering these new conditions, you may find yourself asking if your salespeople have been adequately prepared and coached to address these conditions. Do they have the skills and abilities to achieve their outcome, regardless of the changes in the business environment — or have they been trained with a one-size-fits-all mentality? To handle the new environment, salespeople will need to have the awareness to read the situation and the flexibility to think on their feet. Unfortunately, many sales reps aren’t prepared to do so.
Four elements of situational selling are important. The first is the mindsets of the buyer and the seller. The mindset of the buyer has changed considerably over the past six months, and salespeople must be aware of this reality at every encounter.
The second element is the strategies needed to move the sale forward. In this business environment, it isn’t be a single strategy that will enable salespeople to succeed but multiple strategies, whose deployment depends on the situation. And, reps will need to use these strategies throughout the sales process.
For example, most salespeople have a single strategy for reaching a prospect when opening a sales call. Today, successful salespeople have multiple strategies to reach a prospect and choose among them based on their experience and the information they have on the prospect and the company.
Thirdly, it’s important to consider tactics — and not all tactics are useful in all situations. For example, using scarcity tactics to create a sense of urgency probably won’t help salespeople gain much traction in today’s environment. Sales tactics aren’t magic bullets; like strategies, they aren’t universal, and reps shouldn’t use them in every situation with every prospect. Instead, they must use them with planning and thoughtfulness.
The fourth element is which skills salespeople need in the current business environment.
Identifying the High Performers on Your Sales Team
As a leader, you’re going to start looking for the factors that predict sales success when creating a team of high performers. And, when you perform that quick assessment of the salespeople on your team, you’re going to find some members who only have one speed. They know one way to execute a sale, and they don’t have the sales experience or flexibility required to navigate this new business reality. Therefore, one of your considerations must be whether you should retain these individuals and, if so, how you are going to train them, coach them and bring them up to speed.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when conducting sales performance assessments:
- High sales performers have a dominant selling style based on the situation that they are addressing.
- In reviewing the assessments of salespeople, there are clear patterns in the win/loss rates when accounting for the combination of the situation and the strategy a sales rep used.
- High sales performers are more likely to use the strategy with the best odds of success in any given situation when compared to the rest of the sales organization.
- The only accurate labels you can use to classify your high performers are the labels of “agile seller” or “situational seller.”
Going forward, sales leaders will need to put the right people with the right competencies in the right place in order for their teams to be successful in the post-pandemic environment. Salespeople who are nimble, flexible, and able to process information and make decisions quickly will do well. To build and develop a team of these agile sellers, perform a skills assessment, and be diligent about training and developing their skills. Then, you’ll have a sales team that is flexible and agile enough to navigate any future business uncertainty.