As businesses across the world reopen, which selling approaches will prove successful in the “pandemic” world? What do buyers want?
The pandemic is causing sales techniques to evolve at a quicker rate. Over the last 20-30 years effective selling has changed. What used to be a “buy low” problem now involves “outcomes” and “value.” Buyers approach their “problem” from a different perspective and want a different answer. Despite that shift, some sellers have resisted new best practices. The pandemic will force sellers to change – or risk extinction.
The problem with selling on price is that it relies so much on supply and demand. With strong economies of scale, selling on price may be a way to gain market share and put other companies out of business. Think Amazon here.
Without scale economies, when demand shrinks, hang on! It will be a bumpy ride to the bottom of that roller coaster. If your company isn’t taking market share, then they are, by definition, losing share.
When demand expands, companies can hold or increase prices. Increasing demand hides many inefficiencies. This smoke screen, which quickly blows away when supply increases or demand decreases, explains why people can make face masks at home that people are willing to purchase.
Relationship selling has been getting more difficult in the last 20 years and those difficulties will accelerate in the pandemic world. If your company has a poor relationship with a customer, then of course that is an obstacle. Nevertheless, just because your organization has a C-Level relationship with someone, does not imply easy street is just around the corner. Sellers relying on personal relationships to find and close new business will encounter tighter budgets/wallets in the pandemic world.
So, instead of relationship selling, shift to “relationship plus selling.” Use relationships to open doors plus add other seller requirements. Now, more than ever, customers must comprehend and internalize how your company’s solution improves outcomes and values. The concept of a strong value proposition brings us to the last selling approach.
Since selling on price puts you at the mercy of the markets and selling on relationship strength is no longer a sure thing, where should companies turn? Value selling.*
Understanding the product/service value equation and being able to articulate that value remains the preferred sales method. I always recommend value selling. You may win on price – initially. In addition, you may even win through an exceptionally strong relationship. However, you will not win for long unless your company truly understands customer objectives and can connect how products and services help customers achieve business outcomes.
What’s causing the acceleration?
In general, the change in effective selling approaches comes down to lower demand. Let me explain.
A few years ago, I asked a very satisfied customer why they had invested in our product. Their response was that after they purchased our product their retail store employees spent less time investigating problems and could therefore devote more time to their customers. Sounds good, right?
Now imagine the pandemic world with a severe contraction in budget and spending. What return on investment (ROI) would “devoting more time to customers” generate? Who knows? Then, the product sale above might have been possible because of excess budget, strong relationships and/or low prices. Now, with such a weak value proposition, the project deserves to get sidetracked in favor of a project that offers a clear ROI.
Value sellers will know to dig deeper into the customer’s response. Yes, people may devote more time to customers. But… has that devotion led to increased customer satisfaction/loyalty? In turn… has loyalty led to increased sales? Connecting the cause and effect of a proposed sale becomes the path to higher sales. In addition, quantifying value leads to faster sales because risk averse buyers will see that the decision yields quicker returns/results.
The pivot point is that the pandemic will serve as a catalyst to accelerate value selling. Expect price selling to be automated over time and expect relationship selling to open doors. To keep the door open, sell value and customer outcomes.
* I include SPIN Selling, The Challenger Sale, Solution Selling, etc. in the broad category of “value selling.” (See more here)