Unless you haven't been paying attention, most owners have heard that the economy is slowing down and that we are all headed for a possible recession. This has led many of your potential customers to put off buying decisions. "Putting things on the back burner” is a natural reaction. Owners don’t like risk and will avoid it if they feel it could impact their cash flow. This shift in the market necessitates a sharpening of your sales approach.
Less effective salespeople just talk about their products or services and how awesome they are. If that's the approach, then the owner is only going to think “additional expense” and “I can’t afford to do that in this economy.” The best salespeople know how to speak to owners/executives in a language they understand. The truth is, Owners and CEOs often don’t really care about what your product or service is, how it works, or the features. What they really care about is how your solution will benefit their company, their bottom line, and their cash flow. If you are not using that language, you're missing the boat.
If you are the owner of a business and see a slowdown coming in your revenue (and therefore profit and cash flow), you're probably going to be hesitant to spend any money. Many owners may have bad memories of finding themselves in a cash crunch. It was probably extremely uncomfortable and forced them to have difficult conversations. They don’t want to repeat that. If you are a seller, that's a big uphill climb to get over. Just remember, owners are business people. If you can show them how your product or service can help them improve their business without adding risk, then the chances of them buying go way up.
Let’s look a bit deeper. Think about why somebody buys your solution in the first place. It is not because they like the cool product or service. It usually boils down to one of these 6 concerns for owners:
Your solutions most likely will not hit all of these categories, but there are probably one or two that are very relevant to what you are selling. Determine what the business impact is of your solution and adapt your selling approach to emphasize that.
Some salespeople don’t want to have the business discussion outlined above for fear that it could sour the deal. “I don’t want to talk about a possible recession. That could spook them.” Guess what? They already know. I say, bring that conversation front and center. This is the topic they really care about. Think about asking questions like:
These types of questions will give you great insights as to how to sell to them.
A Real-life example
When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, the first thing that owners did was pull back on spending in a big way. There were all kinds of uncertainty about the economy and cash flow, so owners were reducing expenses like crazy. Where did they cut? One area was marketing. One of our marketing clients anticipated this and became very sharp with their messaging. They adapted their approach to focus more on business and less on SEO, PPC, Google Ads, etc. Those marketing tactics were simply vehicles to get the business results that owners wanted.
Our client recognized the fact that most owners were cutting marketing expenses. This would create a void in the market, which their customers could take advantage of. They positioned to their customer that if all their competitors pull back marketing expenses, and they double down, they could take advantage. They told their customer that they could get a lot more advertising for a cheaper cost. Since demand for marketing was down, the price to buy advertising, keywords, etc had also gone down. They explained how their customer could dominate all advertising and be listed first in all areas at a much lower price than normal market conditions would allow. After all, people still need the services they provided and they could show up first when people searched for them.
Owners understood this approach and it appealed to their business sense. They saw the market opportunity and positive ROI that doubling down could bring. Yes, there was some risk, but they took advantage. During a time in the economy when companies were cutting marketing expenses left and right, this particular marketing company actually grew. Keep in mind, this had way less to do with the services or why our client was different. It was a strategic business discussion that led to more sales.
Everything I've talked about so far is predicated on having a discussion with an Owner, CEO, or high-level executive. If a salesperson tried to have this discussion at a middle-manager level or with procurement, their success rate will most likely be terrible. The people at these levels often are just executing on direction from above, not making strategic decisions. The best salespeople will figure out how to work their way up the chain to someone who has P&L responsibility. Some of that starts with developing relationships higher up in the organization from the beginning. If you're not there yet, you need to ask for meetings at a higher level. Show the person you're talking to the WIFFM (What’s in it for them). The WIIFM in this case is that they can look really good to their bosses for thinking about the company's P&L and bringing this strategic discussion to the forefront.
Our economy may or may not be coming into a recession. Nobody can predict that with 100% certainty. But salespeople need to learn to have business discussions vs. product or service discussions if they are going to continue to be successful in selling their solutions