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What Worked Before Won't Work Now

We're in the midst of a "great extinction" of sales talent -- an economic upheaval that going to ruin the careers of millions of sales pros. If you want to survive the devastation, you'll need new skills, new capabilities, new processes -- and you'll need them quickly. Everything is different today and sales professionals who fail to adapt will find themselves going the way of the dinosaurs. Here's a perfect example...

Suppose a customer comes to you and says, we need to renegotiate our contract so that we get a much bigger discount, and if you don't agree they're going to cancel the contract. What's your best move?

  • RESPONSE #1: Hold firm and insist upon the original terms. If you give them a discount, they'll think that you overcharged them in the first place. In fact, if you give in on this, you'll lose credibility and find it far more difficult to sell to them in the future.
  • RESPONSE #2: Hand the situation over to your lawyers. The fact that a customer would even ask for such a thing is an insult and shows that the customer cannot be trusted. Therefore, you should make sure that they pay up, even if it means that you'll not be doing business with them in the future.
  • RESPONSE #3: Renegotiate the contract. Try to find terms that will make the customer happy because you want to keep the customer in your list of accounts.

During a normal economy, the right answer is ALWAYS response #1. ALWAYS. But that's not true during hard economic times.

When times are hard, you have to show the customer a little empathy, tempered with intelligence.

In the scenario above, there's a good chance that you'd be dealing not with an attempt to cut a better deal, but an attempt to keep a shortage of funding from turning into more layoffs at the customer site. In that case, it may make sense to work with that customer on some kind of deferred payment or an after-the-fact discount.

What's more, if you find out that the customer literally can't pay, you need to get the contract into the hands of your lawyers as soon as possible, so that you're in line for whatever payments can be extracted from the firm if they go belly up.

In other words, a difficult economy changes the rules. Response #1 -- the only choice in a good economy -- becomes only one of three valid choices in a bad one.

What's more, the bad economy opens up strategies that are literally UNTHINKABLE during good times. For example, you may want to voluntarily offer a discount after you've closed the deal.
I know that sounds insane, but if you find out your customer is having financial difficulties, then it's a smart move to go to that customer and say that you're willing to share the pain and take a hit on your margins.

Trust me, if you take that kind of pro-active approach, you'll have a customer for life.

That's not to say that EVERYTHING is different. Because selling is a very human behavior, the elements that address human nature (like rapport building) remain pretty much the same. But because selling is also a financial behavior, a massive change in the economy mandates MASSIVE change in your sales approach, pretty much from A to Z.

Failure to adapt can literally end your career. Remember the dot-com boom? Back then, times were so good in high tech sales, that there were plenty of reps who let themselves become mere order-takers. When it all came tumbling down in the dot-com crash, many of those reps were unable to sell consultatively, or address the ROI issues that were suddenly crucial.

I know sales guys who watched their income plummet after the dot-com crash because they couldn't figure out the new rules. And that crash was small potatoes compared to the current mess.

Don't kid yourself. When the dust settles, probably about 10 percent of the sales professionals working today will be BIG winners, another 20 percent will be getting by, and the remaining 70 percent will be, well, flipping burgers.

If you want to be in that 10 percent, keep reading this blog. (Click on the box below to get email updates or an RSS feed.)

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