When reaching out to friends and colleagues in the new year, there is a familiar feeling permeating amongst all of them – “…thank goodness 2020 is over and let’s hope 2021 is better!”
We all know hope is not a strategy. How many times has your boss said that? So, I thought we could look at 2020 and consider four practical sales habits we, as sales professionals, could implement in 2021 to take ownership of and accelerate our path to success.
1. Get Good at Virtual Selling
Virtual selling is going to be here for a long time to come. We need to master the art of building sustainable relationships over the virtual medium. There are many human connection points, both conscious and unconscious, that are lost when moving from face-to-face communications to a computer monitor. It requires thoughtful study and practice for it to become a competitive edge. We all know superior relationships can offset deficiencies in our value proposition, whether it be in the solution or our pricing.
My suggestion is that you create a proactive program by investing in yourself to learn the skills and techniques to effectively communicate, whether it be through formal training, coaching, webinars, reading, or looking at video of yourself. Practice weekly to get feedback from someone you trust.
2. Focus on the Top of the Funnel Relationships
During 2020, many of you experienced a significant stalling or dropping of opportunities from your pipeline as clients deferred spending or changed priorities. On the positive side, there were also opportunities to create new demand with clients that needed to react quickly to new market opportunities, or to simply change their business to survive. Your ability to pick up on these new opportunities is dependent on the relationships you have cultivated and nurtured at the top of the funnel – even if these individuals do not have an active sales opportunity today.
Create a proactive plan to nurture and sustain relationships. Keep in touch on a regular basis through LinkedIn or whatever other medium you can deploy that feels personal. The key is to schedule time each week to create and maintain touchpoints. The other benefit is that executive movement tends to increase in a downturn, so this time investment can lead to new opportunities in new logos.
3. Execute with Courage
Selling in a virtual world brings a new set of challenges in terms of maintaining sales opportunity momentum. It is easy for people to not reply to your emails. They may forget them due to their priorities of the day, ignore them, or they slip into their vast email canyon that gets deeper each day. On phone calls or web meetings, it is easy to reach for the mute button or go off camera to avoid interaction or decisions. We can end up with deals stalling while waiting for client action.
A new level of proactivity is required to maintain sales momentum! This will require us to take a new level of risk in our sales execution. For example, if they are not responding to selecting the time options you proposed for the next discussion, consider proactively sending a calendar invite and ask the client to propose a new time if this time slot does not work. If in doubt, the guiding principle is this: It is better to take the risk of being too assertive versus taking a soft action that creates nothing. The former will, at least, gain a response… even if there is a slight adjustment needed afterwards.
4. Reassess Technology Habits
Many of us, including our clients, are working from a home environment, and inevitably, relying more on technology to communicate. The downside is that without careful assessment of how we are leveraging our technology, the technology itself may drive us. Every communication creates an impression, not only in what we have communicated, but how we have communicated. Are you sharing thought leadership with your LinkedIn relationships routinely? Or should you do this more in 2021?
Another consideration is your email. For example, if you feel compelled to answer every email within minutes, whether on your computer or phone, what impression does this give? Depending on who you are communicating with, it could be perceived you are amazingly client centric… or it could equally be perceived you are not busy and just spend your day sitting on email. Consider if the email should solicit an email response when perhaps it should be a call to create more momentum. Email is the one medium (apart from text messaging), that can be so easily misunderstood. Remember, the recipient does not see your smile when you are typing that throwaway line of humor.
The key idea to understand is that different types of communication imply different levels of intimacy.
Here is my technology recommendation: Every time you begin a new communication… pause and ask yourself whether this is the right mode and the right time to communicate the message you need to deliver. Will this communication further the relationship and progress the objective at hand BEST in this mode and time?
I encourage everyone to pause and think about last year and what sales habits we wish to change to take control and make 2021 your best sales year ever!
Set aside one hour in your calendar. Divide a blank piece of paper into four squares and write down three significant actions you can take for each of the new sales habits for 2021. They may include both “start doing” or “stop doing” actions. Put a place holder in your calendar to review your list every Friday afternoon.