Today almost every business conversation seems to start with how much things have changed. Selling is harder. Business is harder. Open any book and the first half seems to be filled with endless reasons competition is harder, whether it is because of the internet, global competition or the economy.
Harder. Harder. Harder.
But what is really going on and what is a practical solution?
Today we are not simply competing against a similar product or competitor. We're not even competing for a few of the dollars our customers have to spend. We're competing against all of that but something even more difficult - their question of should they SPEND any money at all. Let's look at this.
3 Eras of US Business
The US Economy has shifted and we need to know where we are before coming up with a solution. In broad strokes you can divide business into three movements that dictated how business was conducted.
Since its beginning, the United States expanded. From conquering the west, the building of railroads, to the manufacturing giants, such as General Motors and GE. The US become the world's leading producer, everything was high speed ahead - growth, expand, expand expand.
This created a mindset. While there were downturns the basic mode was MORE. We built and we did business BIG. This was the age of Robber Barons, IBM, Ford Motor Company. Monopolies and one job careers. The success of this era led to the next, the age of Indulgence.
Post World War 2 there was one party after another. The gravy train seemed like it was never going to end. We spent. Then spent some more. We reverse mortgaged our houses and spent that money. All levels of government spent beyond their means knowing that future debts 'would be' paid for by future expansion. Not accepting that bubbles burst, that bills come due and that expansion has limits, we simply indulged.
This is important because that era crashed with the economic disaster of 2008. However our thinking about business and selling hasn't changed. We still think we're selling in a world of either expanding resources or abundance. We compete with products and with a mindset that says "there is so much money is out there -- lets go get it. The failure to change our approach to the market's changes are clear. Are you experiencing any of these:
The reason for this malaise is simple: none of the former assumptions work in today's world of consequences.
Large debts without the ability to pay them. Companies and individuals are no longer looking for where to spend their money (if they have any) but if they should be spending at all. This has dramatic implications that almost no-one has thought through.
Today's challenges can be explained by the fact that we are paying the consequences of yesterday's indulgence without changing our mindset on how to execute selling. This is evident because salespeople aren't getting access to decision makers and are chasing fewer dollars and poor opportunities. Consequences. That is where we are today - the time and mindset we are selling into.
According to Forbes, business growth is the number one priority for almost every CEO. That pushes down to sales. Quotas are up across the board - and commission payouts are down. However in an economy of consequences where will that growth come from? Or put in a way relative to sales: where are the sales going to come from?
Selling is More Important than Ever
Consider that we are may not be competing against other products. Maybe not even competing against other businesses. Today people aren't asking what they should spend on but rather should they spend at all. That is a profound challenge for sales .
We have products. We have product knowledge.
We've transformed sales from transactional to consultative.
We have SPIN Selling. ROI Selling. Champion Selling.
But what do we offer when no-one wants to spend anything?
Who is our real competitor?
Lets get to the nub: in a world where neither the product or the company has enough value to pry limited dollars out of the wallets of wary prospects what will sell?
The Answer Lies in Sales being the Value Creator
Products are a commodity. Solutions are everywhere. Every salesperson is a trusted adviser and consultant. Every company is now the best, the innovator, the pioneer.
In a climate of consequences then what is the DIFFERENTIATOR?
Business still has to operate. They still have to buy and sell things. They still have to meet needs and fill their own needs. It isn't that sales doesn't work - it is simply that sales teams need to sell differently - not against other products and companies but rather against the push-back of spending money at all.
Winning is About the Right Sales Mindset
Today there is a hierarchy of needs that you will have to compete and sell to. You have to justify and move from each level to the next in order to make a sale:
You must make all three sales today and in that order.
How many deals have you had recently that pushed or even lost funding entirely? How many of your sales have simply gone away because budgets were changed or eliminated, often at the eleventh hour?
If you're like many of my clients the answer is a massive number.
More sales seem to go away than are being lost. Knowing what you're really competing against - what is really causing this collapse of opportunity - is the start.
The vast majority of training and preparation focuses sales on the last sale: the actual product/solution competition. In a future post we'll explore how to win the first two sales because without them there really isn't any opportunity at all.