Selling in a Crisis: Navigating Through Hard Times

Nov 10, 2020
Author: collin stewart

We are in the midst of unprecedented times with a global pandemic that is forcing companies to reassess how they approach sales. In a keynote speech, CEO and Founder of Close, Steli Efti, explained some of the strategies that companies can implement to successfully traverse the current crisis, while maintaining an effective sales team.

Don’t Assume People aren’t Buying

Recently sales teams have understandably experienced high levels of anxiety, with many professionals questioning whether they are able to make sales in the current climate.

However, “the core message here is that you can never stop selling”, says Steli. “We have to have the discipline to sell through the crisis even, or especially when it’s uncomfortable. And we have to remind ourselves that people are still buying.”

Importantly, even if there has been a slump in sales recently, there is nevertheless significant economic activity all around the world. People are still keen to purchase products, so it’s vital to persevere and carry on building relationships with potential clients. 

Don’t Be Anxious: Use Energetic Empathy

The first big barrier to developing these fruitful relationships will be your own anxiety and self-doubt. The key to circumventing this is to use energetic empathy.

“Be real, be honest” Steli advises. “I realize that these are tough times but I still have energy, I still have some level of positivity. People are starving to be with other human beings that give them energy, that give them positivity.”

Clients are going to respond well to salespeople who leave them feeling better than they did before, which should always be the aim with sales activity of any kind.


Shorten The Cycles: Employ 2-Week Cycles For Planning & Communications

In terms of strategies, one of the key principles that you should utilize in times of crisis and high uncertainty is to shorten all of your team’s cycles and plans. We can’t be sure of what events lie ahead of us, so it’s unwise to plan over the long-term.

Steli advises sales teams to employ two-week sprints of planning and communications cycles for the foreseeable future, rather than monthly or quarterly plans. This will allow you to adjust and adapt rapidly and effectively.

“During a crisis, it’s not the strongest that survives; it’s the most adaptable” explains Steli. You need to be able to adapt quickly to the changing markets and environment. It’s important to constantly be checking and re-checking what the reality of your customers and your market is.

Cash Is King: Forget About Contracts And Get The Money Now

Changes were made very early on at Close. Acknowledging the economic crisis, the company understood that having contracts that required payment over 12 or 24 months was just bad business Steli explains. “Because if the economy crashes and they’re out of business that contract is useless.”

Instead, Close decided to refocus on a prepay system, so they could receive the money in advance. At first, they were not sure what the result of this would be, as there was a lot of uncertainty in the market.

However, they offered their customers a great deal, explaining that because of this uncertainty there was the potential for a much better arrangement. This gave customers the option to wait and pay for a “stable world” deal or make the most of this riskier but potentially more beneficial “uncertain world” prepay proposition.

Large numbers of customers decided to opt to prepay, resulting in record prepay sales months across March, April, and May. As a result of these measures, the company’s cash balance doubled throughout this period.

“So, I would highly suggest to you to focus, hyper-focus, on cash. Again, don’t let your own anxiety get in the way of trying these things”, advises Steli.

Speed Kills: Time To Close Over Total Deal Value

Rapid changes are occurring across the world due to the global crisis. Unexpected events are frequently altering the sentiment in the market and how businesses operate, which has made the time it takes to close a deal a higher priority than the total deal value.

Under normal circumstances, you would use time as leverage and drag out contract negotiations for as long as it takes to gain the optimal results for your business. However, this general principle does not apply in these more uncertain times.

“During a potential economic downturn, I don’t think it makes sense to negotiate deals any longer than they need to be negotiated,” explains Steli. “Just try to get the deals done. Don’t worry about the details.”

In a week’s time, there could be another economic development in your prospect’s industry which leads to them halting all purchasing altogether, so it’s more important to finalize the deal as soon as you can rather than haggling over a percentage point.

“This is a time to just get the deal done. Move fast. Optimize for speed, not for total deal value,” Steli emphasizes.

Take New Risks: Now Is The Opportunity To Develop New Channels

While crises cause a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, they also create opportunities. It’s of the utmost importance that salespeople do not let their anxieties blind them to these opportunities or prevent them from trying to exploit them.

“This is the time to try new things”, argues Steli. “Now’s the time to take risks, not to be conservative.” Steli continues, “Maybe now is the time to develop new sales channels, to develop new approaches to selling, to try out new pricing, new payment models, new contract models.”

As the market plummets, businesses and sales teams cannot afford to cling to the traditional ways of doing things. You need to be innovative, radical and to take risks in developing new strategies. By developing pioneering sales tactics and business models, your company can forge a bright new future while the competition stagnates.

Fill The Top Of The Funnel: What Steps Can You Take Today?

If it seems like no matter what you do people simply aren’t buying right now, then it’s important to ensure that you’re filling the top of the funnel so that when revenue is flowing once more you’re first in line.

“You might as well fill your funnel with tons of opportunity, and progress all that opportunity all the way up to them signing the contract and wiring you the money than just not doing anything” posits Steli.

Nurturing the prospects, showcasing your product, and offering free trials are important steps to take while budgets are frozen. Otherwise, once sales are taking place again in the future, you’ll have to do all of this groundwork then and wait even longer before making any money.


Invest In Relationships: Now Is The Time To Build Your Reputation

“It is when everybody is panicking, it is when everybody is fearful, that the true character that you have can be revealed” says Steli.

While people are experiencing difficulties and are worried about the future, it is important to not be selfish but to be supportive and helpful. “People are never more sensitive to selfishness than during a crisis,” explains Steli.

This is a particularly acute point for salespeople. If you call prospective clients and are pushy and inconsiderate while they are going through a bad time, then they will remember this. You will develop a callous reputation and start to be viewed as a mercenary. This is not the type of person who most clients will want to form productive work relationships with in the future.

If you discover that prospects and clients you have worked with have suffered as a result of the crisis, for example by being laid off, then now isn’t the time to stop communicating with them just because they cannot immediately help you get a sale. 

Now is the time to reach out and offer support, to enquire if there is anything you can do to assist them in potentially finding a new position. Not only will this help out a person during a difficult time, but it will also strengthen your business relationship for the future.

“If you think long-term during these crazy times in terms of how you develop and establish your relationships, you’re going to see tremendous value in your reputation and your brand is going to flourish,” says Steli. It is, therefore, more important than ever to invest in your relationships in times like these.

Listen to Steli Efti’s full interview at the ‘Own Your Growth’ live summit. And learn more on how sales teams can effectively navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

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