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Three Tactics for Leading Productive Sales Conversations During a Recession

Lets face it, it’s getting really tough out there.  No, we might not (yet) meet the official definition of a recession which is defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline, as reflected by GDP in conjunction with monthly indicators such as a rise in Three Tactics for Leading Productive Sales Conversations During a Recessionunemployment.  But when the unemployment rate soars past 20% and the U.S loses 26.5 million jobs, that’s cause for concern.

As a preview to the webinar I’m hosting on Thursday, May 14th at 12:30 PM EST, How to Lead Productive Sales Conversations in a Recessed Market, I share with you, Three Tactics for Leading Productive Sales Conversations During a Recession. 

1.) Anticipating and Preventing Objections
As a sales professional selling IT staffing or IT professional services during a recession you have to assume that with every call you make, your customer is going to tell you some variation of the following:

  • “We’re not hiring”
  • “We have a hiring freeze”
  • “We have no budget”
  • “We’ve cut all spending”

Instead of hoping and praying this is not the case with your customer or that your customer doesn’t bring up this objection, you can apply this counter-intuitive tactic; you can bring it up.

By bringing up the objection you afford yourself the opportunity of addressing it on your terms and controlling how you handle it vs. the client potentially and likely catching you off guard. By bringing it up on your terms, you put yourself in a far greater position for continuing the conversation.

Understanding Why Customers Buy
You might be thinking, “if the customer has put a hold on hiring and all spending, why do I even want to speak with them? How can I make a sale if they’ve frozen all spending?” Fair question.

Consumers buy things out of want, desire, and emotion. Corporate buyers including  hiring managers however only buy products and services when they absolutely must. They only buy out of necessity.  They hire your candidates so they can solve their business problems and achieve their desired business results.  While they may have put a “freeze” on spending and hiring, your customers still have goals and objectives they’re trying to achieve. They still have products and services they need to deliver to their customers. They still have customer SLA’s (service level agreements) they must meet. They still have projects they need to complete and products they must take to market.  

2.) Change the Conversation, Focus on Selling Business Results
In our sales training programs, we teach salespeople that they must stop seeking out “pre-defined, budget approved job orders,” and instead change the conversation by focusing on the customer's desired business results.  To change the conversation, salespeople need to probe the customer to better understand the business results they’re trying to achieve and the challenges that lie in their way.

What customers including IT hiring managers and corporate buyers are really interested in hearing about is how you and your IT staffing firm can help them:

  • Reduce costs
  • Increase revenue
  • Improve efficiency or help them better utilize assets

This is what your customers want to talk about and your value proposition should clearly articulate it.  This is what will pique their interest. This is why they buy. Salespeople should stop talking about job orders and hiring needs and instead focus on how they can help their customers achieve their desired business results.  What do IT hiring managers want to hear about?  What are IT hiring managers trying to achieve?  They’re trying to:

  • Reduce costs
  • Increase revenue
  • Accelerate time to market
  • Increase customer loyalty
  • Increase market share
  • Reduce product defects

3.) Uncovering Your Customer’s Current State and Desired Future State
To change the conversation you need to ask questions to uncover your customer’s current state and desired future state.  Uncovering your customer’s current state refers to uncovering:

  • How happy and content they are with the progress of their current projects
  • What their customers are asking of them that they have not yet figured out how to deliver
  • How content they are with their current team and the results they’re producing  
  • What changes they would most like to see and why
  • How happy and content they are with their current vendors 

This is a MUCH DIFFERENT conversation- a consultative sales conversation-than simply asking a hiring manager “tell me about your staffing needs.”

After you have identified your customer’s “current state,” you can uncover your customer's desired future state by asking:

  • Where do you plan on going from here?
  • What are your specific plans for moving forward?
  • What changes would you most like to see and why? 
  • What changes do you think will happen and why?  
  • What plans are already in place for implementing those changes?

Why is this so important? Because customer’s spend a lot of time thinking to themselves “how can I move from my current state to my desired future state in the quickest, and least risky way possible?” Your job is to help them.

Notice these questions are open ended and designed to give you insight about their plans for the future. Your objective is to identify the discrepancy or gap that exists between their current state and their desired future state.  This gap or discrepancy typically represents a roadblock, challenge or pitfall that is standing in their way and preventing them from migrating from their “current state” to their “desired future state.”  This is where your sales opportunity lies. 

This, in my opinion is the true art of selling. But it's not easy. In fact, I would say it is advanced. But with the right training approach and practice with virtual role playing and coaching, any salesperson can learn the skills and knowledge to execute this conversation.  

When salespeople identify their customer’s current state and desired future state they create a conversation framework in which they can:

  • Influence what their customers think about and how they think
  • Ask probing questions that allow the customer to come to their own self realization that they have a problem that they need to solve and a business result they must achieve
  • Engage in a dialog where they can co-create a vision for the end solution with the customer  
  • Intelligently position their candidate or service offering as a solution to the problem and  help the client achieve their desired future state rather than simply pitching a candidate. 

Salespeople who do this are solving problems for their clients and helping them achieve their desired business results.  As a result, the customer perceives the salesperson as an authoritative thought leader who adds value and is not a transactional commodity supplier.

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