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4 steps you need to lead sellers and marketers through a downturn

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Published on: October 2022

Written by: Jason Davis, Rene Groeneveld

What began as a virus-based pandemic has mutated into an economic pandemic. Are you prepared to help your sellers and marketers deal with the symptoms?

To say the last three years have been tumultuous would be like calling a hurricane a rain shower—utterly understating the forces of change. 

A global pandemic, social awakenings, raw materials and labor shortages, supply chain issues, rising fuel costs, global conflict, volatile financial markets… The list goes on. While some aspects of the “good old days” of selling and marketing have returned (e.g., in person meetings), sellers are working in an environment irrevocably changed.   

And now, just as is in the late 2000s, we once again stand on the precipice of an economic downturn.  

As the COVID pandemic has mutated into a value-shortage pandemic, commercial teams of sellers and marketers are working to address a morass of new symptoms. Chief among them is unpredictability, which has led to a loss of trust with customers. 

Historically, sellers and marketers fostered trust by demonstrating understanding of the customer’s business, their industry, and their needs by delivering products and services to meet those needs, and by providing ideas and insights to help customers see needs on the horizon and get out in front of them. These were the active ingredients in the prescription for great selling and marketing. But this new unpredictability, due to digital transformation—along with societal, geopolitical, and macroeconomic maladies—has left those ingredients in short supply. Consequently, customers, marketers, and sellers are suffering withdrawal symptoms, as they struggle to rebuild their shared trust. 

Though communication has always been and continues to be critical when working with customers, with such volatility and uncertainty, there are four new treatment guidelines you need to know to help your sellers overcome the ill effects of the upheaval.  

  • Lead with empathy.
    While stress has always been a constant for commercial teams, the level of mental and emotional strain on your sellers and marketers has skyrocketed. The frequency with which they must have difficult, potentially trust-breaking conversations with their customers continues to increase. Daily, sellers and marketers must tell customers that their purchase is not available on schedule, communicate a price increase, or deliver some other unwelcome message. The wild ride has left commercial teams with wounds that are hard to recognize, even harder to expose, and that require different desk-side care from managers and leaders. Showing vulnerability, and allowing others to show it, is a reflection of strength and builds trust and confidence. Give your sellers and marketers the space to bare these wounds to you and offer a shoulder to share the newly heavy burden, as sellers and marketers are, likewise, called on to exhibit empathy to their customers. This is the perfect opportunity to allow your commercial teams to be vulnerable, but also to reward the healthy behaviors they’ve displayed through this difficult journey. Yes, this is a volatile ride, and everyone will encounter bumps in the road; however, acknowledging effective sales and marketing behaviors will go a long way in keeping morale high.
  • Counsel against jumping to conclusions.
    In high-stress moments, our brain chemistry naturally leads us to find quick explanations or solutions—and worse, shuts off our ability to see options.1
    For instance, sellers and marketers faced with a specific product’s lack of availability might assume a customer won’t be open to discussing alternative products, even though an alternative might suffice in the short term. Your commercial teams might be committing malpractice by diagnosing their customers’ needs prior to fully examining them. This not only makes the conversations that much more taxing—it also increases the likelihood of improper or irrelevant treatment of the customer’s symptoms. Staying open and continuing to ask the right questions to uncover a customer’s pain points will lead to larger and deeper sales opportunities. Refocus your commercial teams on the fundamentals of fully understanding their customer and their customer’s situation. Help your sellers and marketers become aware of the unfounded conclusions they may be drawing and how those preconceived notions may hinder their customer conversations.   
  • Guide sellers and marketers to redefine mutual success.
    Typically, the markers for success are defined early in vendor-customer relationships. Rarely are those success markers revisited, despite changing circumstances. Now more than ever, your sellers and marketers should spend time with their customers redefining those markers of a healthy relationship in a way that accounts for the realities of today’s volatile marketplace. By jointly redefining objectives with customers, commercial teams can systematically rebuild trust. Guide your sellers and marketers on how to co-create with their customers a new definition of what success is in these uncertain times. 
  • Help commercial teams stay agile.
    Raw materials and labor shortages combined with supply chain issues mean that some products and services are readily available while others are not. How has the health of your customer’s relationship with
    their customers changed? What alternative methods can your customer use to service their own customers? What new offerings might your customers need to build now to serve their customers in the future? For those alternative methods, where can your company and your commercial teams make it easier for your customers to service their customers? Brainstorm with your sellers and marketers the different directions customer conversations could go and then practice the conversations with them to help them get comfortable being agile in those conversations. This agility is not only critical for sellers and marketers; leaders also must commit to taking a more agile approach to working side-by-side with their teams to provide adequate care and value to customers. 

Don’t fall into the old routine of relying on statements like “we’re suffering right along with our customers” or “we’ll get through this” as the panacea to this economic pandemic. Serve your sellers, marketers, and customers by addressing both emotional and business needs through leading with empathy, avoiding jumping to conclusions, redefining mutual success with customers, and staying agile.

Sources

1Wemm SE, Wulfert E. Effects of Acute Stress on Decision Making. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2017 Mar;42(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s10484-016-9347-8. PMID: 28083720; PMCID: PMC5346059.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5346059/ 

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