Beware of All That’s Familiar in Selling NowArticle by Colleen Francis, December 22, 2020
I don’t need to tell you that the 2020 global pandemic was a watershed year for change. But, what gets overlooked far too often is that the conditions for change—especially in sales—were apparent for years. Selling was ripe for disruption because, as the marketplace changed, the behaviours and assumptions of sellers did not.
Sellers and those who lead them were (and still are!) chronically prone to clinging to tried-and-true methods of finding prospects, converting them to customers, and closing deals. They fail more in periods of great change. Even more frustrating is that the faster things keep changing around them, the more they double down on what used to work—even when it’s painfully obvious that it doesn’t anymore.
I know this because I keep seeing it in the field with my clients in marketplaces around the world. The conversation I have with each one tends to go like this: “Colleen, ten years ago, our traditional way of doing things generated good results. Now, our numbers are flat, our team is burnt out, and we’re out of ideas on how to solve this!”
Those leaders and their sellers treat best practices as a way of sticking to what’s familiar. So, let me tell you what I tell them: Just like there is no ideal customer anymore, the age of familiar best practices in sales is over.
My good friend, Dr. Howard Dover, and I talked about this point recently in our LinkedIn Live discussion. Stop applying universal solutions to unique sales problems. Instead, apply what he calls “situational awareness” to your work. To be clear, I’m not telling you to ditch all of your best practices. Rather, I am telling you to stop treating them as sacred, codified things that are somehow etched in stone. Allow selling practices to change and adapt just as quickly (and just as often) as every other behaviour has had to during the global pandemic. To get there, here are three golden rules to guide you.
RULE ONE: ALWAYS BE WILLING TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
There’s a difference between being indecisive and being rigid. One of the most dangerous beliefs in sales today is that some things don’t need to change. Much of that comes from sales managers whose egos won’t let them let go of the idea that their time-honoured selling methods—the ones that helped them move up in their own careers—just don’t cut it anymore. In reality, successful selling isn’t a formula. It never was. It’s a discipline—one that hinges on the ability to adjust your mindset to the conditions you’re working in. That’s why it’s crucial today for these leaders to recognize that younger sellers on their teams have new ways of working that must be embraced. I saw a hyper-extended example of this with a private-equity client of mine. Their weekly strategy meetings were turned into a three-times-a-day session as they sought to capitalize fully on a market trend that was changing by the hour.
RULE TWO: ALWAYS BE CAPABLE OF CHANGING HOW YOU WORK
It’s fine to have a selling process in your organization. The danger arises when you have one that prevents you from changing the way you work. Be open to sitting down and looking carefully at your processes and finding out what doesn’t work anymore. That’s what a software-industry client of mine did. They dissected the steps of their top salesperson…only to discover that the secret to this individual’s success was that they broke nearly every rule in their company’s highly rigorous selling process. Be willing to conduct that kind of review with your top sellers on an ongoing basis. Ideally, once a month.
RULE THREE: ALWAYS MAINTAIN THE CAPACITY TO MEASURE AND RE-EXECUTE
My husband, Chris, has this expression I’m fond of: “Do you want to be right…or dead right?” There’s no point in sticking to a method if it’s undermining your ability to get the results you need. That’s why it’s important to have meaningful metrics in your selling processes. You can only adjust what you can measure. Be ready to work closely with your top-notch sellers on an ongoing basis and look carefully at how your newly recalibrated methods are working in your market. Then re-execute based on what needs to change. Start that whole process all over again on a monthly basis.
These three golden rules will break your habit of sticking with what’s familiar and safe and will open your team up to a more dynamic way of working together with customers and prospects. Remember, in a time of great change, your new best practices are situational, impermanent, and iterative. Always be changing!