Revising Your Sales Strategy
During good times, winning in business is really very simple. More sales at the right gross margin solves problems and creates cash. A lack of sales leads to a lack of cash, which creates problems. By putting the right actionable, measurable steps in place to keep hitting your sales goals, your company will avoid problems and keep growing.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has exposed some huge sales weaknesses in companies, including businesses that seemed to have those fundamentals nailed down. Now, those weaknesses are starting to boil over. Even if we avoid more national lockdowns, struggling companies will still have to deal with significant new obstacles separating them from their customers: social distancing, global travel restrictions, disrupted supply chains, and spiking unemployment, to name just a few.
It’s anybody’s guess how long this version of “the new normal” is going to last. CEOs have to start planning for the worst so that their companies can keep doing their best. If Covid-19 remains a significant problem for another year or two, how do you plan to grow your sales?
To help you answer that question, I brought together five of CEO Coaching International’s coaches for a roundtable conversation:
- David Sobel, a global sales expert who created a replicable and scalable model for Home Warranty of America that culminated in the sale of the business for $50,000,000.
- Craig Coleman, a fintech entrepreneur who achieved 15 consecutive years of growth as CEO of ForwardLine before selling the company to a private equity firm.
- Jason Reid is a lifelong entrepreneur who spent most of his career in the construction industry driving major sales during housing markets of all shapes and sizes.
- Tracy Tolbert has nearly 30 years of experience as a global sales executive. When Tracy was Executive Vice President of Global Sales at Xerox, the firm hit its yearly target of over $1.5 billion in annual recurring revenue.
- Bill Whitehead has been a successful entrepreneur for over thirty years. He grew one of Canada’s leading financial advisory businesses to over $2 billion in assets and sold the company in stages.
In the first part of our conversation, we discussed four key ideas that CEOs need to focus on as they plot their strategy through Covid-19 while staying on track to Make BIG Happen.
1. Rediscover your customers.
When I say that Covid-19 has exposed weaknesses in many businesses, I’m not suggesting that CEOs should have predicted the pandemic. But what we’re seeing now is a glut of companies so tied to their old ways of doing business that they can’t adjust. Absent Covid-19, it’s likely these companies would have hit a dangerous tipping point eventually due to some other disruption.
In the current global marketplace, companies have to be nimble, especially when it comes to assessing the best channels for reaching customers. “At the beginning of Covid-19, we were doing webinars, Zoom calls, everybody was locked at home,” says Jason Reid. “Now you’ve got to figure out, do customers want to be reached in person? Do they want to be reached on Zoom? How do they feel about masks? You’ve got to be able to take a look at each one of your customers and be a bit of a chameleon to make sure you understand how they want to be reached and how they want to be spoken to.”
Adds Tracy Tolbert, “You can’t continue to do the things that you’ve been doing in the past. Many of our customers are not in their offices. They’re at home. We may not be able to reach them on their business phones. We may only have email, and they may choose or not choose to respond to that. I think we have to double down on our efforts. You have to be relentless, you have to be creative. You have to think of ways to get their attention so that you can then engage with them.”
Bill Whitehead believes that one way to reengage with customers is by appealing to their emotions. The dominant feeling right now for many people is fear. People are worried about their jobs, their families, their health, the economy. Can your company use better messaging to position your products and services as potential solutions?
“If you’re going to try and overcome emotion with just facts, numbers, and talking specifically about your products’ features, good luck,” Bill says. “If your sales email has the same subject line it’s always had, it’s not getting opened. You’ve got to figure something out that evokes emotion and curiosity and the fear of missing out to get people to pay attention these days.”
2. Challenge your customers.
In one of my favorite business books, “The Challenger Sale,” Matt Dixon says that the most effective salespeople learn to control sales conversations, essentially teaching the customer why they need to buy. I believe a challenger mentality isn’t just a matter of hiring and training the best salespeople – it’s a company-wide value that really has to start with the CEO. Your vision has to include ways to differentiate your offerings and position them as essential, especially when many of your customers are dealing with a cash crunch.
“It’s important to see that you’re in the driver’s seat here,” says Craig Coleman. “You’re talking to more people in your customer’s industry than they are. Because you’re talking to all the folks that are buying services, they’re similarly situated. And that gives you a real advantage to find out who’s succeeding and why and really share that with your customers. That’s valuable information for them. That’s when the sales rep goes from just being a seller to being a teacher. I think that’s really important. And it’s a conversation starter with your existing customers that can lead to more sales.”
A big part of that conversation is the story that your company is trying to tell. In this uncertain environment, people want to be reassured. They want products and services that are going to help. They want to associate with companies that wear strong values on their sleeves. And they want to feel like every dollar they’re spending is helping them stay ahead of their competition.
Jason Reid says, “I think it’s really important to share your narrative, because you’ve got some people who are just stuck. They don’t know what to do. They don’t want to move. They don’t want to make a decision. They don’t want to buy. You need to share with them why other people are buying, and the benefit. And you create a narrative around that. You learn what they need, and you listen. But once you listen, you’ve got to go strong with the narrative, ‘Here’s why people are buying. Here’s why people are moving forward.’”
3. Accelerate your sales cycle.
Let’s go back to that simple formula I laid out at the beginning: More sales equals more cash and less problems. One of the most powerful adaptations your company can make right now is to move faster from one end of that equation to the other. To accomplish that in this pandemic environment, you might have to reposition your products and services to meet new customer needs, as well as your own.
“If ever there was a time for more than one selling solution, it’s now,” says Tracy Tolbert. “We need to understand how customers’ businesses have changed, and it may cause us to go back into our internal organization and change our offering. We may have to change our product, we may have to reinvent a product. But we can’t just think that we’re going to take the very same thing out to our customers, present it in a different way, and they’re going to buy it. I don’t think that happens.”
Craig Coleman thinks another key is to dig into what’s really driving peaks and valleys in your sales. “There are customers you have that are buying and there are customers that aren’t,” he says. “You need to understand why the customers that are buying, are buying. Why are they finding the service useful? What’s the value they’re seeing in it? Chances are those customers are doing better as a business than the customers that aren’t buying from you. So, what are they doing right that you can turn into some best practices you can share with your other customers? See if you can help them improve their business and start buying more of your service.”
Again, the idea of challenging and educating customers can be very powerful in an uncertain environment. Your 10,000-foot view of your customer’s market is one of your most valuable products right now. If you’re giving customers expert information they’re not getting from your competition, your new bulk purchasing, annual subscription, or 24/7 online support models are going to feel like essential purchases. That’s more cash for you and less problems for you and your customers.
4. Build better relationships.
“The formula has changed,” says David Sobel. “Meetings, travel, QBRs, they’re not happening in person. You’ve got to adjust and create your new sales formula, and that is personal connections. You’ve got to build deeper relationships with your customers. And when you’re prospecting, you’ve got to connect on a personal level pretty quickly via Zoom or GoToMeeting, and even phone.”
David is getting at a paradox of the Covid-19 experience we’ve all felt in our businesses and personal lives. As we’ve been physically separated from friends, family, and co-workers, we’ve often spent more time connecting with them online than we did in person. Yes, we’ve all gotten better at using Zoom and Slack and other platforms. But we’ve also gotten better at paying attention, at expressing ourselves, at focusing on one-to-one moments, at really listening to what people need.
Every customer likes a free dinner or rinkside hockey tickets. But you can’t fall back on an all-out charm offensive right now. Ironically, that distance creates a real opportunity to connect with clients in ways that are more basic, but also, potentially, more permanent. Virtual happy hours and other online events might add a nice touch. But ultimately your digital marketing and outreach need to focus on understanding and connecting with clients and prospects. A targeted social media campaign or out-of-the-blue phone call that expresses genuine concern and puts your company in a position to help could turn an occasional customer into a committed one. And the great thing about your best customers is that they tend to talk about you.
“Always in business and sales, introductions to other people and referrals are just key,” says Bill Whitehead. “Now I’ve seen people reaching out to existing raving fans that they’ve created over the years and asking for introductions, and then actually doing the introduction over a Zoom connection. That’s even better. Sometimes we used to just get a name and a number and it was nothing more than a warm call with a reference. But now we’re actually getting introductions. When you have a raving fan client, you can borrow your credibility with them.”
So, how do you and your salespeople turn that virtual handshake into a new account?
In Part II of this series, the CEO Coaching International team and I discuss how to align your sales team to your revamped sales strategy.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.