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“Best Way Out: Always Through”

By: Colleen Francis

It’s not a coincidence that the word crisis—borrowed from the Ancient Greeks—meant “the turning point in a disease.” You are at a turning point today against the literal backdrop of a global pandemic, as well as an ensuing lockdown, crashed oil prices, civic violence and looting.

Yes, there is plenty to be worried about right now. But there is also plenty you can do without delay to weather what could be a sustained period of economic and social hardship.

Heed the wise advice of American poet Robert Frost who once said: “the best way out is always through.” One of the great privileges of my profession as a sales expert is that I regularly get to see up-close how leaders and sellers in a wide range of businesses are responding to this crisis. Some are struggling and some are thriving as they work at figuring out what’s the best way out of all this uncertainty.

Here are five reasons why that’s happening. Each point includes actionable steps you must take now so that your organization adopts a successful “always-through” strategy.

1. Diversify or Suffer.

The choice here is stark: either you diversify and thrive, or you don’t and suffer the consequences. Well-diversified businesses today are performing better, recovering faster, and receiving more orders per customer (boosting their profit per order). They are robust, whereas non-diversified ones are fragile. Consider the experience of two clients of mine this year. Both were down 50% in revenue due to the economic shutdown but were only down 19% on their profit margins. Since they had already diversified their product lines, they were each well positioned to withstand the tough wounds they had sustained while also stemming the bleeding. That latter part is crucial to long-term survival.

2. Debt is a Killer.

Look around you. The companies today who are laying-off staff in high numbers at a rapid rate almost always have something in common: they are carrying heavy debt loads. Debt limits your future choices because it saddles you with paying now for those choices you made in the past. Your business structure and your long-term financial plan can determine how vulnerable you are due to debt load. If you have not done so already, develop a plan now to reduce your corporate debt and work at remaining a low-to-zero-debt organization for the foreseeable future.

3. Be the Change that’s Already Happened.

There are two kinds of people in a crisis. The first group folds their arms: they decide they’re going to just “wait it out” until things get back to normal. When I see that group in sales, they’re consistently the ones who don’t end up sticking around long. Then there is the second group: they embrace change and recognize there’s no such thing as a “new normal.” All we have is our ability (or inability) to respond properly to what’s happening right now. Top sellers today who understand this are the very same ones who are becoming masters at new skills—whether it’s video prospecting, social media prospecting, virtual tours and presentations, or even remote transactions and approvals. They aren’t waiting for things to go back to how they used to be. Like that old classic rock song from the 1970s reminds us: “yesterday’s gone.”

4. Your Customers Set the Terms.

One of the big shifts in customer behaviour in the marketplace right now is that they are the ones who are setting the terms on who you get to see and how you may see them. If they say, “We are not seeing any outsider suppliers right now,” you are expected to comply and be well equipped to do so. If you have a customer who does want a face-to-face meeting, be prepared for a few surprises. One client of mine who showed up for a face-to-face meeting in June was met with a 62-page social-contact and PPE document that they had to sign first! Others are finding they are locked out of accessing their customers because those customers now have a “video only” policy and they are not set up to provide this. Don’t let that happen to you. Talk to your customer now. Let them set the access terms and then comply fully.

5. Now is the Time for More Coaching.

Now is the time to embrace more coaching—not less. There has never been a better opportunity to learn new skills and refine the ones you already have. Most of us are already working remotely. We have the tools and broadband to do this. Many of us have more time for professional development than before when business required travelling and being away from the office and home. In fact, what I am already seeing among my own clients is that those who previously invested in coaching right before the pandemic struck are the ones who are thriving right now. That’s because they are able to apply in tough times what they learned in better times. Just as important: if you’re saying yes to coaching, you must be intentional about it. Be a leader to others: be present and show others that this kind of personal and professional development matters.

Be ready to take action on all these five points right now. It will instill a renewed sense of control in a time of great change: giving you the tools and strategies you need to keep growing and keep thriving.

Colleen Francis is President of Engage Selling Solutions, 507 – 1035 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON K1S 5K3. Check out all of her resources for selling during this challenging time: www.EngageSelling.com/covid.