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Your How-To on Leading Sellers Through Economic Disruption

November 11, 2021

Contributor: Jordan Turner

Whether facing supply or demand turmoil, CSOs can take action to ensure customers and sellers are thinking future-forward.

Even though we’re cautiously emerging from the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply and demand disruptions persist. So what’s your sales strategy if you sell something that’s not available or not in demand? 

“These disruptions have a profound ripple effect on customer trust and seller motivation," says Maria Boulden, VP and Executive Partner at Gartner. "Sales leaders should make sure their teams limit the fallout — and even capitalize on the turmoil."

Use these basic strategies to deal with frustrated B2B buyers and sellers — and to lead the sales force itself.  

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How sales can manage customer relationships when the supply and demand of products and services is disrupted.

No supply? Revise your sales strategy.

Your goal is to mitigate the impact to your customers and commitments by reconsidering how and when to deliver existing inventory. This means aligning with partners in different functions (think: supply chain and customer service). 

Step No. 1: Focus on specific accounts

Accounts with contractual obligations, promising growth or retention potential need your attention. Create prioritization criteria to instruct regional sales leaders and meet with the supply chain team to ensure compliance with the priority list. Work closely with supply chain and customer service leaders to make sure you don’t under- or overcommit to delivery timelines.

Step No. 2: Remember your channel partners

Connect with your channel partners and downstream accounts to assuage concerns. Involving channel partners while working with downstream accounts is a must; it shows intention and ensures all parties are on the same page.

Step No. 3: Offer your customers a compromise

In times of short supply, most customers are willing to accept a compromise — in terms of either product quality or type. Sales teams should explain the situation and could offer, for example, a lesser-quality or similar material to manufacturing customers while explaining how to process these different products.

If there’s a complete lack of supply, brokering a short-term relationship with a competitor is an option. While not ideal, this is a powerful opportunity to guide the customer on the differences they’ll see in the competitive offering. And that means it’s important to stay close to the customer to observe what they’re experiencing. When the crisis ends, you’ll all have a clearer view of what differentiates you as a supplier, motivating your customer to stay committed to the relationship. It’s a big risk but a better way to contain their inevitable shift if you have nothing to sell them.

No demand? Prepare for the first signs of recovery.

The key to ensuring the organization does not lose a long-term customer is to develop messaging that indicates signs the disruption is easing. In times of low demand:

Step No. 1: Help your customer make sense of information

In a world of overwhelming and contradictory information, it’s paramount to be a voice of truth with customers. Create messaging that helps the customer understand their current state and their market. Top sales leaders ask, “What do my customers need right now?” The answer is often someone to help them make decisions during this uncertain time.

Step No. 2: Enable customers to postpone business

You can help avoid order cancellations by developing messaging around when the crisis will end. This also helps determine when to downsize or space out orders to control demand.

Also, develop a concession strategy for customers seeking a full refund. Consider offering to trade the amount of the refund with what is required to hold or grow the business with the account — think good-faith discussion versus a hard and rigid negotiation.

Step No. 3: Develop practical and executable solutions

Simple, turnkey solutions drive quick wins. Provide your customers with the opportunity to transact at the first sign of recovery and maintain a regular cadence to validate the solution. 

Leading your sellers through the disruption

Whether it’s a supply- or demand-related shortage, few things are more challenging to the psyche of a seller than having nothing and/or nowhere to sell. To successfully lead a sales force during periods of disrupted supply chain:

  • Adjust sales targets: The first and most significant step is to do this for sellers based on the impact to the organization’s operations. 
  • Don’t undercommit and overdeliver: Overselling a product or service and missing future sales as a result of underforecasting always starts with the sales team. Eliminate that mentality and remove individuals who propagate the behavior.
  • Think beyond the crisis: When sellers can’t deliver for their customers, they lose trust in their own organization, their company’s ability to supply again and their leaders. As a result, sellers lose motivation and leave. To combat this, develop the ability for sellers (and customers) to anticipate when the situation will improve, and help sellers execute beyond the current crisis. 
  • Preserve a sense of purpose: Charitable acts and community building can help restore a seller’s sense of purpose beyond their own sales-specific problems. Consider involving customers as well. Social responsibility in action is unlikely to close deals, but it can certainly open doors in ways far beyond sales quotas.
  • Make time to upskill: Capitalize on this downtime in selling to identify opportunities for personal and professional growth. Identify a few skills that are critical to regain lost ground as soon as supply and/or demand resumes. Think: digital dexterity, data literacy, empathy, negotiation and delivering a good commercial insight.

Ultimately, while the challenges associated with lack of demand and supply are different in some ways, your goal is to focus on the intersection of disruptions, trends and future demands. This helps control the impact while continuing to create value.

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