In an economic downturn, the objections you hear are different than what you hear when the economy is humming along nicely, making it easy for most companies to grow. In good times, objections usually mask a more significant concern, meaning that the words, “Can you try me back next month?” is hiding the fear, “I don’t believe this is worth my time.”
Your contacts use tried and true objections to achieve two outcomes. The first outcome is the ability to exit the conversation, ending it before it even starts. The second is to avoid the commitment you are asking them to make. In a recessionary period, the objections are real, as is the real and present danger to your dream client’s business. One of the ways people protect themselves when things are uncertain is to avoid making decisions, trying not to make things worse, often believing that spending any money is a bad decision—even if it would improve their position.
You need to know these 4 rules for overcoming objections in a downturn:
Be Empathetic and Compassionate
Recognize your contact’s fear is real, as is the danger. Your clients and prospective clients are facing real threats to their business. They may be shut down, or their clients and customers might be shut down, putting their business at extreme risk. They may be expiring, rapidly shrinking orders, and losing clients or customers. They might be closing locations, laying people off, or taking pay cuts.
Empathy is recognizing their fear and the stress they are feeling now. Compassion, however, requires that you do something to try to help your clients, even when it is difficult, and even when they can’t yet imagine a positive ending. If you believe that selling is doing something for someone and with someone, and not something you do to someone, then you need to try to help. Even if it means there is no opportunity until your client can start taking action to begin their recovery, there is work you should be doing on their behalf, before they have even started.
Be Extraordinarily Patient
You are going to need to keep selling in a downturn. If you can help people improve their businesses in good times, it is even more critical that you do so during difficult times. But to do so, you are going to have to be extraordinarily patient. The people and the companies you call on in B2B sales often need time to stabilize their business and process the events they are experiencing. It is something like the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, starting with denial, then anger, then bargaining, then depression, and then acceptance.
It’s impossible to tell what stage someone is in when you call them, let alone the other stakeholders that would be necessary to gain consensus on any initiative you might propose. You can guess that selling early in a recession is going to result in speaking to people who are still processing the events, the consequences, and what it means.
As your contacts move past their emotional responses, they are going to start looking towards their future and start looking for ways to recover their business. Whatever you do, don’t rush decisions and don’t push. In doing so, you are likely to create more considerable anxiety and resistance to any conversation you might have about their future.
Engage, but make everything about what you might do in the future. You are going to have to go slower to go fast later. Unless you have an idea that is time-sensitive, meaning an opportunity that must be done now or cannot be done at all, your conversations are going to have to be about what you can do to help your client to survive and recover their business in the future.
There is no reason for you not to be asking for phone calls and video meetings to share what the recovery plan might look like, the plans and resources you are offering, as well as what some of your other clients and companies are doing to improve their position.
You remove anything that might feel like pressure when you acknowledge that they may not be in a position to anything now, but that you want to share with them resources and help when they start to work on their recovery plans.
Put Survival First
Prioritize your client’s survival over growth and other value propositions. There is a value proposition many—maybe most—of your clients find most attractive during a downturn, and certainly at the beginning stages. That value proposition is to survive the recession and make it safely to the other side.
We sometimes forget that what we sell, even when it is valuable, doesn’t move the needle during periods like this. A very popular software company called me to offer me the web version of their software, believing it would be valuable to me, as many people are now working for home. It was a decent theory, but not something that someone who is trying to survive is likely to find compelling.
You have to think about your client’s priorities, not what you sell. Your clients are already compelled by something, survival at first, recovery second. You are tone-deaf if you don’t recognize their value proposition and speak to it.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that you be other-oriented, patient, professional, and consultative. It is also necessary that you do what you can to help your clients and prospective clients recover their business sooner rather than later.
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