Fear, tension, worry. These are some of the emotions that are heightened in the world right now. Thankfully we are also seeing plenty of other emotions at the other end of the spectrum: kindness, generosity, support, love, gratitude, and hope. As with all situations of crisis or hard times, each one of us has a choice: either you give in to emotions that are disempowering and will not serve you well, or you find a way to shift your mindset and focus to more empowering emotions. Napoleon Hill said that the greatest power we have is the power of our decision on what to focus on. Of all the things in the universe, that is the only thing that we complete and utter control over. Isn’t that astounding? Amongst all the volatility, uncertainty, fear and anxiety, we still have one thing that we can fully control.
You are probably wondering why I bring this up in an article about business sales during coronavirus. Turns out when you look at how high-performing sales leaders and sellers conduct themselves, one of the qualities they have is their control of what they focus on.
For B2B sellers, this will be a tough time, especially those who need to have face-to-face time with their buyers. Even those selling less complex solutions, or more transaction solutions are not immune as they may not be seen as mission-critical enough to motivate buyers to buy.
In such an environment, it is very easy for B2B sellers and sales leaders to panic. Unfortunately, it is also highly likely that complacency will set in. Not because of malicious or lazy reasons, but because fear has now overridden our brain’s ability to think logically. Imagine how your buyers must be feeling!
There have been a lot of recent blogs, articles, and social media posts with advice to help sellers navigate this tough time. Whilst these are helpful, I have felt that they have missed out on 2 critical elements: humanity and emotions. Anthony Iannarino is one person who I have seen discuss these critical elements. I say that they are critical because in such times skills and techniques will not determine your success. What will determine your growth is 2 things:
· Understanding the psychology of your buyers; and
· Understanding your psychology and learning how to shift to an empowering state.
1. Now is the Time to Shift Your Psychology to Hope
The first step is to get out of any negative or disempowering mindset you may be experiencing! There is no doubt that this is a volatile time. There is huge uncertainty. On top of this, you are worried about your health and the health of your loved ones.
Don’t give in to fear.
Our brains are wired to constantly seek out danger and when we spot possible danger, we tend to fixate and build up the danger beyond reality. This is good for survival, the problem is that worked great 100,000 years ago, but it won’t help you today in your business. You have something in your brain called the Reticular Activating System. This small part of your brain plays a big role in your life. It acts as the gatekeeper to the bombardment of information coming from all your sensory organs. It prevents sensory overload and decides what information is let into your conscious mind. The problem is that if you decide to focus on all the negative things around you, your Reticular Activating System will block all positive inputs and only let through the negative. This, therefore, becomes a vicious circle!
One final scientific point to make. When you are in fear, your Amygdala is in control and your Prefrontal Cortex is downplayed. This limits your ability to think through problems logically and you especially give in to irrational fear.
To get out of this vicious negative cycle, you essentially need to change your focus and up play your higher-thinking centre. Here is a powerful technique/exercise I recommend you conduct:
Write down 7 reasons why you will benefit from this/any situation.
I hasten to apologise for any semblance of insensitivity behind this exercise. I use this exercise to help people start to focus their minds in the right direction and create a more empowering ‘prism’ in which to view their world and reality. In no way do I suggest you use this exercise to come to terms with any losses of loved ones due to Covid-19 or to overcome any suspected illness you have. This exercise is purely for your personal use concerning your sales activities.
I have used this simple, yet powerful, technique with hundreds of my clients, colleagues and mentees to great effect. Let me explain how it works:
· Why 7 reasons? People immediately say that 7 is a lot. That is precisely the point! The more points you need to consider, the more intense your concentration. This will further upregulate your Prefrontal Cortex. You will find that the last 2–3 reasons you write are ones that you didn’t even imagine, and they could be hugely insightful. Clients have often found that they can write more than 7 points if you find this then keep going until you run out of reasons!
· You are listing out benefits to deliberately get you to focus on the right perspective. This will force your Reticular Activating System to switch its focus on the positive things that will serve you well. It will force you to observe and notice empowering possibilities and reasons, rather than allow your brain to continuously go into a ‘fear-based loop’; what I call the Circle of Decline.
· You must write this down. Studies have shown that writing requires us to process and reframe information. Whilst this study is about improving memory, it does highlight why writing, in general, is so powerful. Writing down your list will allow you to further utilise your Prefrontal Cortex and it will allow you to review your list, thereby further shifting your psychology into a positive one.
Here is an example of a client’s 7-point list (she actually provided 8):
1. I will learn how to build more resilience.
2. This is a chance for me to grab more market share while my competitors are freaking out.
3. This is a chance for me to increase my own training and development to further enhance my sales skills.
4. This will help me more closely critique how robust my proposed business and emotional values are for my client.
5. I will be able to further exercise and build my courage muscle.
6. I can support my clients and help them in good faith. Doing so will build goodwill and increase their loyalty to me.
7. This situation will clearly highlight the risks in my sales process and pipeline. I may have not realised these risks until much later on where it would have caused severe damage to my sales.
8. This pandemic will stretch my presentation skills and enhance how I deliver online discussions and demonstrations. I cannot rely on face-to-face to make my point, so I need to learn how to use the right language and techniques to keep someone engaged.
Now you try it. What 7, or more, points can you identify for why this situation will be of benefit to you?
2. Understand and Empathise with Your Buyer’s Fears
Don’t forget that your buyer’s emotional state is also compromised. This is not a normal situation. I know this may sound obvious, but with management pressures on your targets, plus your expectations, it is easy to sometimes forget the humanity in the buyers we work with.
Your buyers are now predominantly in survival mode. This is critical to understand as it has huge neurological, psychological and physiological implications.
When we go into survival mode our brains are designed to seek the easiest and shortest route to self-preservation. Unfortunately, because our Limbic Systems are designed to ‘override’ our higher-level thinking, things like calm, logic, reason, and kindness are downplayed. This is why we are seeing panic buying. It also explains, to an extent, why we are seeing panic buying of items that we may not understand the reasons for such as toilet paper and kitchen towels over things like fruit, vegetables etc that will help boost our immune systems.
It is critical to remember that your buyers are normal people with their own families, friends and loved ones. They will be worried about themselves and their loved ones catching the virus. They are worried about making sure that their family will have enough food during a lockdown. They are being fed fearful-oriented news and information from the media, which has a dramatic effect on their psychology, as well as our own.
Don’t forget this! This is no longer about the usual rapport-building. This is about true empathy and connecting with people at a human level. Your buyers are not in the mood. Our brains are wired to distance ourselves from people who will be perceived as a threat and solidify our relationships with those we trust. 100,000 years ago, such measures would have determined our very survival! Neurologically that is what your buyers are going through right now. Empathise with them on a human level. Truly care about what they are going through and share your own experiences and fear. But what is especially important is for you to….
3. Share Your Hopes
The human brain is built to instigate a ‘forward motion’ towards a reward. Sellers around the world are trained to focus on the pain points with their buyers and the impact of inaction or making the wrong decision. Unfortunately, this is only one half of the equation.
You indeed need to outline the pain and consequences to grab a buyer’s attention. My mentor’s book on The Challenger Sale demonstrates this through their research. But our brains are wired that when you sense danger your best survival mechanism is to take no action. Again, 100,000 years ago if we were out with our tribe and we hear a menacing sound indicating a potential predator, our best chance of survival lay in being still and not being noticed. This is contrary to conventional wisdom which dictates that it would be fight or flight. Fight or flight requires a massive burst of energy, which comes at a cost in the form of food and water. Back then, food and water would have taken a large amount of effort to acquire, so our bodies would naturally want to conserve that hard-earned energy until absolutely necessary.
This is where hope comes in. Right now, everyone is on edge. The news is pumping a healthy amount of fear into our brain and there is a huge amount of uncertainty. The last thing a buyer wants to hear is doom and gloom about how they will lose out if they don’t buy your offering. This is not what is going to motivate them. Their brains are designed to take no action when presented with 2 painful choices. Status quo means safety.
Focus on painting a picture of hope. Hope is a powerful force during tough times. It is what drives us forward and shines a light in the dark caverns of despair. Think about how you can inject some hope in your buyers. This could be hope for the fact this situation is temporary, or hope that good times will return, and you can help them when that occurs.
4. Be a Leader
In times of crisis, people seek leadership. Sellers nowadays are not just salespeople but are trusted business advisers who help their clients grow. In her book Stop Selling & Start Leading, Deb Calvert describes how the best sellers have the same traits as world-class leaders. They inspire and challenge, build trust, help you navigate through adversity, and exude confidence.
This is the time for you to allow your leadership qualities to shine. Buyers are human beings just like everyone else. They are worried and stressed. They will look to your leadership to help them, as long as your solution will do that. You need to give your buyers a sense of confidence and be the force of assurance during all this chaos.
We can again look at science for why this is so important. I explain to my clients that buyers aren’t just seeking the best solution, they are seeking the best person to add to their tribe. In the past, who we selected into our tribe meant survival or death. Our brains are still wired the same way. Your buyers are effectively deciding whether you are worthy of their tribe. Whilst the decision will very rarely mean the difference between life or death, their brains still believe it to be so!
So, are you a coming across as a valuable member of your buyer’s tribe? Will you help them thrive or die?
5. Seek to Serve
The best leaders are those who seek to serve. There are unfortunately still plenty of sellers out there who take the approach of selling ‘to’ their buyers and using tips, tricks, and tactics to make the sale in an unethical way. This is an approach and culture that has been outdated for many years now.
The best sellers sell ‘for’ their buyers. They sell in service to them and they seek to help them grow their business and careers. Now is the time for you to truly embrace this maxim.
Rather than focusing on closing techniques, now is the time to do deep research into your buyer and his/her business. How are you truly going to give them value? How are you going to help them during these tough times and especially once we emerge from the social and economic effects of this pandemic?
If you are truly going to serve your buyer, you will also need to take your approach one step further. You will need to teach them something they didn’t know or at least didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude and importance of. You need to give them insight into an unknown problem of opportunity.
Why is this so powerful? Again, science can help us understand this.
Research conducted by neuroscientists Bromberg-Martin and Hikosaka found that our brains treat new information as a reward. This means your brain activates the same reward pathways when it receives new information as when you, for example, eat sugar! However, there is a fine balance. People forget about 90% of what someone says or presents after 2 days. That is a staggering amount. It also shows how vulnerable we are in our standard complex slides. More information does not equate to being more informed. Studies have shown that the more you ask someone to assimilate and remember, the more frustrated they become and they cease to even try! Therefore, stick with 3–4 core insights or critical points that you want your audience to absorb, remember, and take away from your conversation.
Remember to sell in service to your buyer. Now is the time to truly be someone of value and help your buyers advance their business and careers.
7. Be Genuine
I cannot stress how important this is. Being genuine is core to a lot the advice stated above. The more genuine you are, the more you will seek to serve your buyers and the more diligently you will do your research.
Remember, your buyers are in a highly-charged emotional state, and it is unlikely to be a positive one. That means their tolerance level will be low. The last thing they want is to accept a sales call and they especially will not tolerate a transparently self-centred seller who ‘wraps’ their statements under the guise of a buyer’s interest.
Buyers have more experience buying than most sellers do in selling! They will know (either consciously or unconsciously) when someone is not being genuine.
Before contacting a buyer, think deeply about what you are asking them to do and especially think about why they need to take action. Why is it in their best interest? How will they truly lose out if they don’t take action? How will they win if they do? If the win is more long-term and likely to be effective after this pandemic is over, then say so. You can still gain their commitment and they sign the contract now with a later start date. Even if they don’t sign now, at the very least you have earned their trust and they will more likely work with you once they come out of this pandemic. I cannot state enough how important your actions are in securing your future. The actions you take right now will determine how strong you come out of this situation.
You might be disappointed that the sale didn’t happen now, but you are in fact setting up your future for success. All that diligent goodwill and trust-building will reap rewards in the future.
These are highly unusual times that we find ourselves in. Emotions are high, volatility is high, fear is high. Your sales and business abilities will be tested to extreme limits. Ultimately the choice is yours: you can either focus on all that fear and uncertainty and let it defeat you, or you can focus on hope, opportunity and the fact that the most wealthy and successful people have become so during brave actions they took during times of crisis.
What you focus on creates emotions and feeling. It is the same for your buyers. As I said at the start of this article, this will ultimately come down to your psychology and your understanding of your buyer’s psychology. How are you going to help them focus on the right things? What are you going to focus on in the coming months? How are you both going to help each other become more successful during this pandemic and after?