‘How Has Your Job Changed?’ May Be the Right Lead-in for 2021 Sales Conversations

“A lot of times, media salespeople feel like they don’t want to talk about their clients,” top sales consultant Ryan Dohrn wrote late last year in Editor & Publisher. “But you have to. In the land of COVID, stranger danger is real. People are more likely to buy from you if you’ve helped other people be successful.” And you ask the right questions.

Of course, Dohrn does not want salespeople to violate any trusts. But he does want them to “scream from the mountaintops” how much they love their clients. “Don’t be afraid. Tell them how much you love your customers and how much they love you, and that they’re going to love working with you, as well.”

If ever there was a time to show some love, it’s now. I remember interviewing Kevin Turpin, president of the National Journal, a couple years ago. He didn’t go quite as far as Dohrn, but he did want his staff to get closer to their customers.

“When businesses are trying to recreate themselves and change, they spend too much time inside, in strategy meetings, batting around ideas that they think will work. We don’t spend enough time going around. How are [our customers’] jobs changing? What are they thinking about? What are they investing in this year? This will give you solutions.”

While “going around” means something totally different in February 2021—phone, Zoom, social media, Slack—the idea of asking important questions of your customers has become even more paramount. I recall another sales consultant who liked to visit her customers’ ofices and observe their desks—that would tell what projects they were working on. While that can’t happen now, of course, a Zoom call can allow you to ask.

“’What keeps you up at night?’ just isn’t good enough anymore,” Dohrn went on. “Your questions simply have to be better. One of your main questions that makes me nuts and that I hear in my ad sales training is this: ‘Tell me more about your business.’ C’mon, you’re better than that… And then, ‘What’s your budget?’ You can do better than that. Those are three questions we do need to ask, but maybe ask them in a more vibrant kind of way.”

It’s interesting that Dohrn brings up training. While 70% of sales leaders report they have outlined a clear sales process for sales reps to follow, they are not confident that sales reps consistently (or ever) follow the process with prospects. And almost 90% of salespeople report they have no formal sales coaching program. So it’s all a bit muddled right now.

Here are some ways I’ve come across lately to surmount these issues:

Get everyone together in the same (virtual) room. Try to bridge these disconnects. Where are the sales calls falling short? Where might more training help most?

Have more conversations with your customers. Pick up the phone. “How are you?” should still be the lead question. “Any summer vacation plans?” It’s a great time to be human and lead with empathy and understanding. And then transition. “What do you need the most help with?” “What are your pain points?”

Share those conversations with colleagues. Anecdotal information from the conversations/emails your staff is having with your customers should be shared—by everyone.

Learn from your audience. Sales teams everywhere are dealing with cancelled or pivoted events. What are your subscribers saying? Will they buy into virtual events? Are they looking forward to hybrid events? Can sponsored webinars fill the gap?

Get back to your core products. Innovation is good but we also want to get back to what we do well. What go-to product do you have now that you can tune or adjust to solve your audience’s current challenges?

Look at something new. Your events have gone away. But maybe that opens the door to more sponsored webinars, which may have a greater profit margin anyway. Get in information-gathering mode and find out what your audience needs.

Tailor information that is out there to your industry. What can we do now to positively impact the people we serve? It’s all about vaccinations these days. How can you take that information and tailor to your industry?

Explore your archives. It’s a great time to dig into your files. What do you have that can be recycled and refreshed—maybe a white paper that focused on crisis communications or selling in a downturn.

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