If you work in sales long enough, at some point you'll encounter a challenge so wide-ranging that you’ll think you should stop selling, especially if the challenge disrupts your ability to deliver products or services. Right now, for instance, incredible supply chain problems are preventing many sales organizations from meeting their clients’ needs—and so far, it seems all we can do is wait.
In times like these, you might believe that you should stop selling. Why bother polishing a pitch when you have no way to deliver what your client needs? Regardless of the circumstances, however you must continue to sell, even if your clients won't take delivery or secure key outcomes until some later date.
You have an ethical obligation to help your clients navigate their challenges, even challenges that also make it harder to sell. Indeed, a crisis makes your obligations more important than ever: when you have taken a client's money for years, you cannot abandon them in a time of need.
Instead of disengaging and disappearing, work with your client to start building their recovery plan. Let your weaker, conflict-averse competitors shrink from the challenge while you deepen your engagement and put things in place that will speed your client to their results in the future.
One rule that is worth observing is that you should never apologize when you caused no harm. If you happen to the person that caused the pandemic and the ensuing supply chain problems, you owe us all an apology. Otherwise, feel no shame for not delivering what your client needs now, since no one else can deliver either.
Don't allow the fact that you cannot help your clients or prospective clients tomorrow prevent you from engaging with them today. Some of your clients will claim that you failed them, just as they are failing their clients. Others will think that you can't help them now, so they’ll put off calls and meetings until you can help them. Of course, if anyone would have predicted the global supply chain breakdown early enough to do something about it, they'd already have everything they need to take care of their clients. Even if you weren’t quite that prescient, the time to prepare for your client’s recovery is now.
There may be a way for you to help mitigate some of the damage for your clients. In some industries, for instance, you can create the same outcome using alternate methods, even if they aren’t quite as effective. One of the primary characteristics of a salesperson is resourcefulness. If it's possible to find an alternative way to produce a result or just keep the doors open, you must propose it. One is always more than zero.
If you do end up with a zero, don’t give up. If nothing else, exploring possibilities for your client will prove that you didn’t try to sit out their emergency. Even if you have a good relationship with your clients or prospects, if you vanish they’ll just move onto someone who cares enough to help them get the outcomes they need, sooner rather than later.
There is no reason not to sell, especially when you can build a backlog. Even when there are shortages you want to capture orders, putting your clients at the front of the line for what does come in. You harm your clients by postponing engagement until you can deliver what they need. The sooner you acquire a client's orders, the sooner you can help them recover.
The worst thing you can do now is sit on the sidelines and wait until you have something to sell. Your competitors are not afraid to take orders and deposits now, which means their clients—including your client’s competitors—will have an advantage. And if you’ve got particularly savvy and aggressive competitors (hint: assume that you do), they’ll call on your clients themselves, especially when they can provide what you can't because you didn't keep selling.
In difficult times, it is necessary to communicate with your clients and your prospective clients. Like your grandma, they want to hear from you, even if you don’t have anything concrete to offer them. Some clients may interpret the lack of communication as a lack of caring, something that ends relationships, including the budding relationships you've been nurturing.
Even if your update is that you will not have an update for nine days or three weeks, your call (or better, your face-to-face meeting) is proof you care, that you are doing everything you can to help them. It may not feel good to tell your client bad news, but that is the price you must pay to be a trusted advisor and a consultative salesperson. Tell the truth at any price, even the price of your deal.
When a problem impacts everyone equally, you may have to disappoint your clients. Get used to it: avoiding bad news does nothing to help your clients or your company, and your competitors will be more than happy to snatch the opportunity you abandoned. It’s tempting to lay low until our supply chain has actual supplies again. But when the disaster finally ends and everybody has what they need to sell, your clients will recognize your long absence, and you will look like an opportunist, an order-taker who avoids difficult issues and abdicates their responsibilities.
The right thing to do is always the right thing to do, in good times and bad. If you want to be a salesperson for all seasons, never stop selling.