(MoneyWatch) As the global economy cools, fear is in the air -- that is never good for sales. Businesses are placing fewer orders for machinery and other equipment. Fewer people are buying homes, slowing the housing recovery. Consumers and businesses are counting their pennies.
Call it the "fud" factor: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. And make no mistake -- in sales, fear is your nemesis. A major part of prospective customers' fear of commitment is the economic conversation going on in their heads during the entire process.
Although they may not articulate such concerns, in their minds they're being challenged three months down the road by someone within their company about the decision to make a purchase.
"Why in the world did you buy XYZ?" goes the usual complaint. "Why did we change over from the former systems to the new system? Do you have any idea how much trouble that's causing in my department? Do you have any idea how much additional expense there is?"
Prospects buy what they can sell now and defend later. So be sure you give the prospect tools he can use to defend his decision later.
Too often in pitching a product or service, salespeople start by trying to make the prospect understand what they are selling. The object is to educate the customer. To this end, they may spend a lot of time on small details in order to explain how everything works together.
The problem is that prospects don't decide to buy something simply because they understand what's on offer. You've heard it over and over. "Yes, I understand what you're saying, but our company is different."
So the potential vendor moves on from educating the prospects to trying to make them believe in the product or service. This time the approach has more passion: "I just want you to believe in what I'm telling you." So they persuade.
The problem is that prospects don't buy just because they believe in something. "Yes, I see what you're saying, and I believe it, but so-and-so just won't buy it."
So what do prospects buy? What they can sell now and defend later.
Not only must prospects understand a product and believe in it, but they also have to be able to explain to some unknown and unseen person or group why that particular decision was made. That means you have to train and equip the prospect to make that case.
Here are some useful tools for making that case:
Schedule and safety indicators. If you have consistently performed on or ahead of schedule in similar projects, you should develop a tool that will let you show this. A chart with a list of related projects, the scheduled delivery date, and actual delivery date will work. If you work for a construction company, for instance, you can also include data showing that all work was completed without injury or delay.
Logistics. Another tool you can use to persuade the prospect is a visual illustration of your unique logistics system that shows how much time was spent on each step in the process. Maybe your raw materials are close to your location and can be accessed quickly. If that's the case, play up that point -- few companies have that advantage.
To borrow from Franklin Roosevelt, salespeople have nothing to fear but fear itself. Take advantage of every opportunity in your meetings and presentations to provide ways to anticipate and alleviate your prospects' fears.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Victor1558