Despite dealing with economic and geopolitical curveballs for the past few years, uncertainty in the market shows no signs of slowing down. With layoffs, inflation and recession talk, buyers are anxiously shifting their budgets, headcount, and growth plans, leaving salespeople to hear objections like:
- “now isn’t the right time”
- “my CFO is asking me to put together a “recession plan”
- “call me back when the storm passes”
- “we’re only moving forward with pre-approved projects.”
This is leaving sales leaders and reps alike struggling to figure out:
- How to handle new objections they’ve never heard before?
- How to connect and even get the attention of prospects during this time?
- How hard to push prospects to move forward under the circumstances?
- How best to handle the ‘no’s’ without burning bridges and leaving the door open for when the storm passes?
Unfortunately, this lack of perspective can lead to lack of conviction in your sales motion, threatening your revenue growth and indeed, the culture within your sales team.
Previously, I’ve shared tips to connect with buyers during times of adversity through empathy, personalizing and prioritizing outreach, and allowing buyers to say no. However, with sales motions feeling amply intimidating (especially for new sellers), I’ve crafted a helpful narrative for navigating 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 corporate training programs, however, here are the ‘key ingredients’ of this narrative in short:
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 customer 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
Combining all of the strategies listed above, there are a number of ways this narrative can be constructed. Of course, no script will work every time, so don’t fall in love! However, here’s how one such customer-facing narrative could break down:
1. Empathize & Triage
Customers are likely going to fall into one of four categories when it comes to spending money on solutions during times of uncertainty:
- running their business as usual
- in a total budget lockdown
- moving forward with pre-approved projects only
- open to new investments if a solid business case is made or other gating conditions.
By identifying where the prospect sits on this ‘buying spectrum’ you can ensure the conversation that follows is aligned and impactful. Here’s an example of how you could uncover 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 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 capital expenditures. 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 & Prescribe
After showcasing your knowledge of the market, identifying where the prospect lands on the buying spectrum, and empathizing with them, the next step in this narrative is providing evidence-based context. Here you’re guiding the prospect toward your offering using a ‘breadcrumb’ they can trust – third-party data and analysis!
“Based on the many similar companies we’ve been talking to in your space/geography, certainly not everyone is choosing to make investments in solutions like ours. However, we’re finding that those who do are doing so because they believe it can help them not only achieve meaningful cost savings but also emerge from the uncertainty in a much better competitive position. In fact, a recent study from Mckinsey that looked at how companies react during economic downturns showed that traditional cost reduction efforts had a 2% impact to the bottom line. However, companies who invested in innovative digital tools saw an incremental 5% cost reduction.”
3. Step Back & Pass the Mic
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 approach [at this time] won’t be for everyone. So if you don’t believe the investment is worthwhile and 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 fine? 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 this narrative is through, 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 opportunity. Whatever the case, utilizing this narrative allows you to navigate sales motions during uncertainty with ease, radiating compassion and conviction throughout.
Sales Lab Live Training – Your Sales Narrative For Times of Uncertainty
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