November 17, 2008

Selling Fast in a Slow Economy

The economy has slowed down. There’s no question about that.

But you need to keep selling, right? So what’s the answer?
I think we can learn an important lesson from one of the pioneers of human psychology, Abraham Maslow.

That’s our topic this time.

When the economy slows down, selling becomes more difficult. People feel vulnerable and they become reluctant to spend money or allocate resources to anything new. From a psychological standpoint, they are moving down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs toward the basics—the survival issues.

Maslow believed that when any two needs were demanding satisfaction at the same time, it will be the need that is more “prepotent” (to use Maslow’s jargon), the more biologically urgent, that will take priority. Needs that are less prepotent are pushed into the background, delayed, or ignored. For example, a person might be dying of hunger, but he or she will forget all about food if you choke off the supply of oxygen!

So what does this mean regarding our customers? It means that because they feel threatened in a declining economy, they will tend to hoard what they have. They will pull back from completing mere “transactions.” They will be reluctant to exchange the organizational equivalent of oxygen—money—for any product or service that doesn’t meet their basic needs. As a result, when you try to sell a product or service for a particular price, the customer may perceive doing business with you as purely transactional. And they want to minimize the number of transactions they do in order to hold on to scarce resources.

There is some good news, though. In a down economy, decision makers are eager to find solutions. They want to do those things that will help them cope with changing circumstances, that will meet their basic business needs for revenue and stability.

Selling solutions is consultative, not transactional. Selling solutions requires:
• A broad business perspective
• Alignment with the customer’s objectives
• An ability to demonstrate value that matters to the customer

If you ask most sales people, they will tell you that they are writing proposals and delivering presentations that are solution oriented. But in reality they are not. The customer perceives their offers as transactional and pulls back from making a decision to buy.

Why do many solution-oriented proposals and presentations fail to communicate themselves that way to the customer? They fail because they are NOT client centered, value based, or decision oriented.

Often, sales people resort to “clone and go” proposals. They think that it’s enough to provide a boilerplate, “checkbox” proposal, one that focuses mainly on their products or their company. But to be seen as a solution-oriented proposal, the document must focus on the customer’s needs—the most “prepotent” ones, to use Maslow’s term—and link whatever is being recommended to meeting those needs.

Similarly, many proposals do not contain any value proposition. They present a price, but they don’t contain any calculation of return on investment or any other measure that is linked to survival and coping in a tough economy.

Finally, many proposals are not organized to help the customer make a decision. They tend to be information dumps. They fail to differentiate the offer from alternatives and fail to provide grounds for moving forward with the decision.

To sell faster in a slow economy, we need to make sure we focus on what matters to the customer, spell out the concrete benefit they obtain from doing what we recommend, and present our recommendations using a structural pattern that leads logically to a decision.

One way you can sell faster is to automate the creation of proposals that actually win more frequently. Sant’s proposal automation software will do exactly that: increase your win rate and slash the time it takes to issue a proposal. Check out the interactive, Web-based demos of them at our site,