Rediscovering Selling in Today’s Post-Recession World

I spoke recently with Brian Sommer, President of Vital Analysis, a technology resource firm. He had some insights about what’s happened to sales since the recession. Almost all of it applies to Trust Matters readers, so I asked him to write it up as a guest post. So, here’s Brian.

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The recession of 2008/2009 was a bad one.  Organizations made a number of adjustments just to survive in the times that followed. Sales departments made deep personnel cuts as they had too little business for too many salespeople to chase.

Worse, the quality of the deals the remaining sales people pursued was often terrible. Every deal was brutally competitive; deal sizes were small; profit margins were non-existent; and, prospective customers couldn’t do some deals as commercial credit was almost non-existent. It was definitely a buyers’ market (for the paltry number of buyers that were actually out there).

Sales organizations and their personnel were adaptive in those times but many of those adaptations need to be halted now as those changes were a response to a market that doesn’t exist anymore.  A couple of years ago, your firm, if typical, pursued almost any lead that came in the door.  No matter that the deal wasn’t in your firm’s wheelhouse, wasn’t strategic and came from a flighty prospect, it represented the potential for revenue.  Your firm chased a lot of cats and dogs then. This needs to stop.

Selling Post Recession

Chasing Deals, and Other Sins.  Chasing bad deals isn’t the way to build a growing sustainable book of business. You need focus and you need a core set of strategic customers who work with you collaboratively. This is how you reduce sales costs, improve margins and grow your book of business with each customer. Chasing all that one-off stuff is a waste of energy and robs a firm of its future.  It’s also hard work. Building great relationships is easier and more rewarding.

Your firm may have committed other sins, too. During the recession, you probably oversaturated your existing customers with too many sales pitches, offers or entreaties just to drum up any business. No matter how many times they told you that they had no budget for anything, your sales team pursued them like a pack of wolves targeting the weakest member of a herd. It was brutal.

Unfortunately, your overzealous sales efforts have left these customers bruised and second-guessing why they ever thought of your firm as a strategic partner. They no longer like your firm like they did before the recession. Your sales efforts showed them that you valued their money and your sales more than you did their relationship. Simply put, you put your short-term financial needs ahead of their business needs and the partnership between your firms. You probably killed or severely wounded a number of these relationships.

Only now do firms realize the long-term costs that these short-sighted sales maneuvers created.  Now, firms must rediscover how to sell and sell in these new, recovering times.  Let’s hope it’s not too late for your firm. The pursuit of recession-era deals has clouded one sales organization after another and the pendulum must return to a more reasoned balance.

What must be done?

Rediscover that Customers are “Assets” not “Targets.”  Sometimes, in the heat of a sales promotion, you need to remember that there are finite limits as to what any one customer wants or needs. If you see them as assets, then you alter your behaviors and pitches to them.  If they are but a means to you hitting a sales quota this month, they’re just targets.  If a company treats me (or my firm) like a target, I see that company as a commodity supplier. I will not invest one ounce of extra effort, loyalty, etc. with that firm as they won’t reciprocate the gesture. I will invest in my partners – the businesses that value me and treat me like an asset.

Rediscover How Businesses Buy Today.  Buying has changed of late, with B2B buyers having done huge amounts of research, shortlisting, etc. via Internet resources long before your firm even knew a deal was in process. While this customer self-service activity doesn’t mean the end to relationship selling, it does mean that the way you spend the time you spend cultivating and growing your relationships is changing. Now, you have to grow relationships fast and learn how to make these last in spite of your competition putting all kinds of goodies out on the Internet that might tempt your customers away.

Rediscover that Trust Is Earned Over Time and Can’t be Rebuilt Overnight.  My commercial relationship with some firms (i.e., air carriers) has changed markedly over the last few years.  My trust in those companies was broken badly and I doubt it can ever be recovered. These firms would need a culture transfusion and/or new leadership to get my business back. At a minimum, some firms would need to replace the long-standing representative assigned to our firm as the mere sight of him/her stirs up so much animus.

You might benefit from rotating customer assignments as fatigued, weary customers might want a new face – someone who might treat them better and is genuinely interested in created a new kind of relationship.

The basics of great selling never really went away in the great recession of late. But, they, too often, got submerged beneath the dire and crushing short-term needs of that timeframe. It’s time to re-discover these basics again, while adapting them to a newer era of how selling works in an Internet fueled, omni-channel, global marketplace.