With sanctions from the war in Ukraine, a surge in shipping costs, production slowdowns in China and unprecedented demand caused by the pandemic, the global supply chain mess is only getting worse. This has created a whole new set of challenges that cause salespeople to question whether they can continue selling given the persistent customer frustrations.
We believe they can, but only when they possess an agile and resilient mindset towards overcoming customer concerns.
What does this mindset look like, and how can salespeople develop it?
Two keys to sales success
In our book Agile & Resilient: Sales Leadership for the New Normal, we outline strategies salespeople can follow to continue selling despite global supply chain issues. All of the points revolve around strengthening two foundational attributes a salesperson must possess: trust and value.
A LinkedIn survey concluded that only 32 percent of buyers view salespeople as trustworthy, while an astounding 88 percent of the same respondents said they would only buy something after trust had been earned.
We define trust in sales as when a customer believes that a salesperson is credible, reliable, and places the customer’s best interest over their own during the sales process. That’s a big gap to fill.
Value is dependent on the salesperson’s ability to build trust, and is perceived when industry guidance and advice is given. Too often salespeople provide such little value that buyers can replace them with a Google search.
Sellers can endure difficult market conditions by building trust and value using the following tips.
When orders are delayed, customers need to be updated every step of the way. This includes proactively telling customers the details around your shipping schedule, and their delivery date and time. If a company doesn’t have an automated process in place to provide this service, it falls on the salesperson to have this information at the ready.
Salespeople facing delivery delays should also look for alternative options, which can be uncovered through proper questioning or conducting industry research to understand their customers’ current circumstances and reality.
We were recently working with a client who did this by asking a customer “what alternatives can we explore?” The salesperson gained tremendous respect for sacrificing part of his order to meet his customer’s most pressing need.
In our experience, top salespeople know that difficult customer questions can be avoided entirely if answers are communicated before the customer thinks to ask the question. It is far better to set expectations around known challenges that may arise post-sale before an order is placed, than having to call a customer with unexpected bad news—or worse—having to explain it when they call to complain.
Remember, today’s sellers aren’t in a price war; they’re in a delivery war. Price will always be important, but delivery trumps price when resources are limited to actually move products from point A to point B.
Talk candidly about price increases
Everyone is experiencing price increases. Being the one to talk with confidence about the increases, their reasons and the value you add will reinforce trust.
Sometimes orders aren’t just delayed, but the price also has to go up for the vendor to avoid taking a loss. The bittersweet reality is that many customers are now accustomed to price increases.
Customers who are dealing with their own aftermath of problems caused by supply chain issues from the buyer’s side, are becoming a bit numb. Simply telling them the truth about price, and the measures your company is taking to compensate, will go a long way.
Retain top talent
We had a customer tell us his top-performing sales rep last year quit his job to work at the Home Depot, because products there are either in stock, or they’re not. Another told us that his receptionist of 20 years quit because she was tired of the abuse she was taking from customers.
People are looking for leaders who will step in and work through problems, or find ways to give them the skill sets they need to get through the challenges they’re facing.
One of the topics in our award winning IMPACT Training covers how to ask better probing questions to uncover future issues, and how to listen for understanding, not for what you’re going to say next.
Take notes when customers are talking, reiterate their challenges, and ask if there’s anything you missed. It’s amazing the insight you can learn from customers when you simply ask them to provide it.
Salespeople must remember that their customers have a tough job to do. Put yourself in their shoes and do your best to ease the pain they’re feeling. Trust and value are the keys to long-term sales success, but trust always takes a hit when a company can’t deliver on its promises. Sometimes the best you can do is make sure the trust you have personally stays positive.
Chances are strong that if your company is having supply chain issues, your competitors are as well. The companies who get their act together first will be the ones who win in the long run. If you are transparent, communicate proactively, talk candidly about price increases, and work to retain your top talent, your organization will always come out on top no matter what is happening on the global stage.
Michelle Richardson is vice president for Sales Performance Research at The Brooks Group. Russ Sharer is the director of Strategic Sales Excellence, also at The Brooks Group. They coauthored Agile & Resilient Sales leadership for the New Normal.