Despite dealing with economic and geopolitical curveballs for the past few years, uncertainty in the market shows no signs of slowing down. And as layoffs, inflation, and recession talk loom, buyers continue to anxiously shift budgets, headcount, and growth plans, causing salespeople to be hit with objections like:
- “We like your solution but now isn’t the right time. Call back in six months.”
- “Our CEO is asking us to cut costs wherever we can.”
- “The business case makes sense but I can’t get leadership to buy in.”
That’s leaving sales leaders and reps alike struggling to figure out:
- Which customers and prospects they should be spending time with
- How to create a high-conviction case for why customers should invest NOW
- How to stay top of mind and well-positioned to continue the dialogue when the storm passes.
In the past, I’ve shared tips to connect with buyers during times of adversity through empathy, personalizing and prioritizing outreach, and allowing buyers to say ‘no’. Here I share a more comprehensive narrative for navigating discovery conversations with prospects during times of uncertainty.
‘Time of Uncertainty’ Narrative – Key Ingredients
Effectively navigating this type of sensitive sales conversation requires mastering a combination of foundational messaging, discovery, and objection-handling tactics, delivered with the right tone and approach. I discuss each of the following strategies in detail in my sales leadership and training programs, however, here’s a summary of the ‘key ingredients’ you’ll need to craft this narrative recipe:
1. Inoculation (objection handling tactic) – Bringing up and resolving objections before the customer does to disarm them.
2. Assumptive priming (discovery tactic) – Kickstart the conversation by showcasing your knowledge of like-minded customers and business challenges. Give them options to choose how the narrative will continue. Note: I did a free training on this topic since it was the highest conversion one from my book.
3. Mindset (discovery tactic) – Avoiding confirmation bias and making your customers feel at ease by making it completely ok for them to say no and choose not to move forward.
4. Reason with satisfaction (objection handling tactic) – Giving the customer reasoning and rationale behind your perspective and position.
5. ‘We’ phrasing (execution tactic) – Manifesting credibility by phrasing your narrative in the voice of entities that have more than you!
6. Belief statement (messaging tactic) – Leading with the tightly held beliefs of like-minded customers and NOT your product or service.
7. Consider the alternative (objection handling tactic) – Inviting the customer to think about what the future might look like if they don’t move forward at this time.
Delivering the Narrative
Note: there are many ways this narrative can be constructed using the ingredients listed. Of course, no script will work every time, so don’t fall in love. Here’s how one such iteration breaks down:
1. Empathize & Assess
Understanding your customer’s investment mindset is key to ensuring you spend your time and precious bandwidth on the customers most likely to buy (i.e. lose fast). Customers are likely going to fall into one of four categories when it comes to spending money on solutions during times of uncertainty. By identifying where the prospect sits on this spectrum you can ensure the conversation that follows is aligned and impactful.
- Running their business as usual
- Total budget lockdown
- Pre-approved projects only
- Open to new investments with a solid business case.
Here’s a sample narrative for uncovering this information:
“I know there is a lot of uncertainty in the market these days. As you can imagine, we’ve been talking to many companies in your space about how we can help and everyone’s in a bit of a different situation. Some are pressing forward with business as usual. Others are in a total budget lockdown and not taking on any new projects. Others are only moving forward to pre-approved projects, and some are open to new investments under specific sets of conditions. I’m curious, which of these situations is your company in at the moment?”
2. Advise & Qualify
After showcasing your knowledge of the market, assessing where the prospect lands on the buying spectrum, and empathizing with them, the next step in the narrative is providing an evidence-based qualification hook for why they should engage to see how they respond. The key here is guiding the customer toward your solution ideally using trustworthy, third-party data.
Note: in this case, I’ve used the value of technology investments as the qualification hook, but sourcing similar hooks for your solution or industry is usually a simple Google or ChatGPT search away!
“Based on similar companies we’ve been talking to in your space/geography, those who are investing believe it will not only achieve a significant return but also help them emerge from the uncertainty in a much better competitive position. In fact, a study from Mckinsey that looked at how companies react during economic downturns showed that traditional cost reduction efforts had a 2% impact on the bottom line. But companies who invested in innovative digital tools like ours saw an incremental 5% cost reduction.”
3. Pause & Question
Science tells us that customers like their ideas more than they like your ideas. That’s why finishing your narrative by teasing the future, taking your foot off the gas, and passing the mic back to them is imperative. Asking them what they think the future might hold if they DON’T move forward with (or even evaluate) your solution provides them with a sense of control and helps you understand how much emotional value they associate with it.
“We completely understand that moving forward with this type of solution [at this time] won’t be for everyone. So if you don’t believe the investment will leave you in a better position once this is all over, that’s completely okay. In fact, one of the exercises a lot of the clients we’ve been working with found helpful was to take a step back and ask themselves, ‘What might life be like in the future if we waited until the uncertainty passed before revisiting this?’ In other words, what would not investing look like for you and your company? ‘Would we be okay? Would the problem go away? Get worse? Become more or less complex to solve? Would it cause us to miss revenue growth opportunities or opportunities to entrench new positive behaviors and processes?’”
After you’ve deployed this narrative, you may be looking at a customer interested in moving forward, a wary prospect who needs to be nurtured until uncertainty passes, or a dead near-term opportunity. Whatever the case, it will allow you to navigate sales motions during uncertain times, preserving your bandwidth on those you can help most while radiating compassion and conviction throughout.
Free Training Video – Your Sales Narrative For Times of Uncertainty
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