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How to Talk to Prospects in These Uncertain Times

Sales must go on. I get it. But in the face of COVID-19, everything has changed.

So how do you approach sales during a global crisis?

That’s what I’m going to talk about in this article. Keep reading to learn the mindset shift that MUST happen for you to sell in this environment, plus six tips for talking to people in the bleakest of times.

Getting Your Mindset Right

Just stop. Stop for a moment and recognize that the person you’re about to call, email, or LinkedIn message just got their MF cage rattled in a major way.

Don’t let the professional sounding voice on the other end of the line fool you. Just like you, they are shook. In varying degrees and for different reasons, we are all cautiously feeling our way through this unprecedented time.

This is a time for empathy, not hard selling.

If you can start there, the rest will not be easy, but it will at least be easier.

Please do not engage with the world as it existed a couple of weeks ago. You will only frustrate the hell out of people and also likely get yourself stuffed in the proverbial locker by those with no patience in these anxious times.

That said, do not underestimate the pressure salespeople are under at this very moment. We’re already out there with 50% of our compensation on the line in commission. Now we’re sailing into choppy seas with nothing but fog in sight.

Already in a matter of weeks, the shift has been seismic and getting people to engage just got infinitely harder. Every opportunity needs to be requalified. Companies will be tightening belts and empathy doesn’t count towards quota.

We are all in uncharted waters together. However, some things never change.

Here are six ways to talk with people even in the bleakest of times.

1. Call Out the Elephant in the Room

I got a call yesterday, which I thought could be a coworker or another important call. It turned out to be this guy who launches right into his pitch like he’s been living under a rock (which ironically would be a good place to be now in these times of social distancing).

I was so flabbergasted I just said, “ I can’t,” and hung up.

Now the reality is, even if he had made a sincere effort to show some empathy, I definitely wouldn’t be buying now. I would, however, show some empathy back, trying to at least be nice and give him some guidance or advice.

Down the road, I would likely answer his call or email again.

2. Personal Before Value

Most buyers are feeling like Rocky after his first bout against Apollo — wobbled and probably needing a few weeks (or longer) to recover. They’re like lobsters, growing a new shell, completely vulnerable to the world around them but with no choice but to change.

Too many metaphors? OK, let’s try plain English.

People are vulnerable, so they aren’t even thinking about value at the moment. However, if you take interest in them as a human first, they may at least listen to you for when they are ready again to get moving.

If you go in with value first, they’ll snap your finger off with a claw, and scurry away as fast as they can.

3. Shut Up and Listen

I’m a big believer that active listening is the single most underrated aspect of selling to begin with — but now, more than ever, people are going to need to feel like they are being heard.

Don’t just quickly ask, “How things are going?” then breeze past it because the answer is, “Not so good,” and now you feel uncomfortable.

Ask a few more questions to show you actually care. Embrace the awkwardness, then just take a moment to show sincere concern, before you shift gears to the product.

4. Build for the Long Term

Don’t just focus on this moment. This is probably not a good moment. Try to understand the difference between never going to buy because it’s not a good fit in general and those who are not going to buy NOW.

If you invest in people in the tough times, without just expecting an immediate return, you will most certainly earn that trust and the opportunity when the time is right.

5. Don’t Make Unreasonable Asks

If someone just snapped their leg in half you wouldn’t ask them to go get up and grab you a Coke. Same thing with prospects right now.

If they’re in a panicked, duck-and-cover mode, don’t ask them if it makes sense to catch up in a couple of weeks. That isn’t going to be enough time.

You can still be prescriptive to find a better time, but don’t try to push artificial deadlines while being oblivious to their current state of affairs.

6. Stay Positive

To be clear, being oblivious and being positive are two very different things.

As any salesperson can attest to, our emotions typically ride up and down with our quotas and commission checks. However, no one wants to hear, “Yeah, who knows if we will survive this thing.”

Whether you realize it or not, subconsciously everyone you talk to is taking queues from your conversations to get a sense of how freaked out they should be. Yes, things are down, but it’s only the dark that makes us appreciate the light.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the dark, but remind them of the light.

Wrapping Up

In the wise words of the Dalai Lama, “I hope that in some small way my words today will help you find some form of happiness. And if not, f*** it!”

I kid you not, that is how he ended the speech I saw him give. Take care out there, everyone. Wishing everyone health, happiness, and a little solace in knowing you’re not alone.

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