Selling in a crisis

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sales teams cannot be understated. As organizations frantically turned their attention to keeping their employees and customers safe, maintaining business continuity and protecting cash, many sellers found themselves in an unprecedented situation. Suddenly, they discovered that many, if not all, of their sales opportunities are stalled, with no clear options about what to do.

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In a crisis, sellers face a host of challenges such as:

  1. A case for change that may no longer be relevant or urgent in the new reality.
  2. Lost access to customers.
  3. Diminished chances for finding new prospects.

In a crisis, fear and panic are pervasive — both within selling organizations and also within their customers’ organizations. Increasing pressure to close deals, without clear guidance on how to navigate a crisis situation, exacerbates fear and is more likely to trigger unproductive seller responses. Driven by panic, poor leadership, or a combination of both, many sellers fall prey to bad behaviors, which amplifies an already dire situation and damages their business prospects for the future.

Crisis responses by sales professionals

Never has a sales professional’s livelihood been so uncertain. Even the most tenured, successful professionals will find themselves challenged. This setting has prompted responses that fall on a continuum from inaction, to self-serving behavior, to empathetically in waiting, to trusted advisor.

  • INACTION: The unprecedented circumstances of today are so far-reaching that they have left some sales professionals frozen. They are overwhelmed and demoralized and are struggling to continue with basic activities. This immobility often stems from the unforeseen nature of our current crisis. Social distancing, supply chain disruption, and historic unemployment are new factors that were less intense, or not present, in previous economic upheavals, including the 2008 global financial crisis. Inaction is less of a choice and more of an uncontrollable response to the stress of it all.
  • SELF-SERVING BEHAVIOR: Others are aggressive and quick to act. They are so focused on hitting their quota that they appear self-serving or desperate as they pressure people to buy. They quickly resort to discounting. While some attempt to show concern for their customers, they lack sincerity and quickly jump to ‘selling’. Worse, what might have been a strong relationship in the past will be damaged forever by the triteness of their response in crisis. How one shows up in difficult situations is the true test of trust. Many sellers will come out of this global health and economic crisis in a trust crisis.
  • EMPATHETICALLY IN WAITING: Other sales professionals will genuinely connect with customers, showing sincere concern and empathy, which customers will appreciate and remember. However, these sales professionals fear that their attempts to ‘sell’ will appear inappropriate and will damage trust. These fears prevent these sales professionals from rising to the level of trusted advisor. They miss the opportunity to create unanticipated, differentiated value by finding opportunities to reframe thinking around how they can help the customer in the new reality. They preserve the relationship for the future, but they miss the chance to provide value and differentiate themselves in crisis.

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