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Let’s face it – the world is going through a crisis, and so is the global economy. During these challenging times, we see how people are dealing with uncertainty. People are hoarding supplies from supermarkets, while on a macro level, there was even a news report from Bloomberg that the USA government pirated a shipment of surgical masks destined for Germany. Companies are desperately trying to maintain some revenue stream while some more vulnerable businesses are struggling to survive. During these challenging times, if what your company is selling is non-essential. It is easy for the sales force to give up and blame the tough economic times – especially if you are selling complex B2B solutions. I get it – I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I have learned that such a mindset will not contribute to any improvement.

Here’s the light of hope – no economic downturn has ever lasted forever! Take it from a guy who’s lived through the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the Dot-Com Bust, 2003 SARS epidemic, 2008 Financial Crisis – each time the world came out wiser and stronger. Now is not the time to give up, just think for yourself or blame others. If you want your B2B sales team to be able to weather through this and come out wiser and stronger, without having to spend a fortune on sales self-development training and sales force self-development – allow me to give you some exercises to conduct, with your sales team. After all, the trend now is to do exercises at home – why should sales self-development training exercises differ?

[Sales Self-Development Exercise #1 – Where Else Can You Contribute Value to Your Client?]

If you’ve been doing business with a client for a while, you may be quite comfortable with the current relationship and sales transactions are almost on auto-pilot. While you may have quite a lot of familiarity with them, there are going to be a lot of areas which you may be able to further contribute to your client’s business. Difficulty is – you don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, if I were to ask you what you did not know about your client; that would be a difficult question to fully answer. The more curious you are about your client, the more opportunities you could uncover to potentially provide value to them. Here’s an exercise to get your mind off auto-pilot when looking at how you could contribute value to your client:

  1. Gather a small group of colleagues or friends and share with them the background of your relationship with the client. Describe the initial value you provided to the client, why the relationship was able to flourish and what obstacles the relationship endured. End by sharing how the relationship currently is and where you foresee it going for the remaining fiscal year.
  2. Allow your friends to take turns to ask you about the client, the relationship, the business opportunities, etc. If they are asking you questions which you find difficult to answer, that is a good opportunity for you to try and understand more about your client. If they give you possible ways to further contribute to the client which you disagree with – before completely rejecting the idea, ask why they believe this would be a genuine opportunity. At this part of the exercise, you don’t need to be right – you need to find a way to add value to your client.
  3. After this discussion with the group, prioritize which areas are the most valuable areas which you could contribute to the client. List down what you would need to find out from the client. At the end of this part of the exercise, you should have a list of discussion topics for your next client meeting.

[Sales Self-Development Exercise #2 – Which Client Could You Build a Stronger Relationship With?]

I am sure we would all like to have better revenue, better client relationships and better client opportunities. Here’s the universal truth behind that – how much they trust you will matter. It’s quite simple – we usually have better relationships with the people around us who we trust. Moreover, when we trust others, we are willing to listen to their views and advice – for those in the sales force, this is opportunity. The challenge is this – for those client accounts which we believe we could be doing more with, why aren’t we? Do we lack capability? Is the client buying from someone else? Or is it just that our client relationship is not as strong as needed?

One of the biggest obstacles to building trust with our clients is the fact that we are paid to sell to them – and for some people, the pressure to do so overtakes our focus on building the client relationship. One of my favourite books that have helped me in sales self-development is “The Trusted Advisor” by Maister, Green & Galford. Notorious for its Trust Formula – the authors share that what builds our trust levels with clients is our credibility, reliability and intimacy. What detracts our levels of trust with clients is our self-orientation – which I think to myself as Self-Interest. If you think about it – even on a personal level, we don’t trust people who we perceive as having a high level of self interest. Read again the last sentence – it is people who we perceive as having a high level of self interest.

The reason why I emphasize this is because we never will know if someone’s self-interest is high or low. Self-interest is invisible, people’s actions and visible.  What people do gives others an impression of how high or low their self-interest is.

So here’s your exercise –

  1. Ask your friends/colleagues what you could do to give others an impression that your self-interest is lower? What could you say or do? How could you dress? How would you walk, gesture or make eye contact?
  2. While this is all opinions of others, when you hear the same opinion repeatedly, take note of it. That could be something you can consider. Because what others see and feel may be what your clients face. There’s a reason why sales executives are called client-facing. 

[Sales Self-Development Training Exercise #3 – Tell your value like a story]

Everyone loves stories – we were programmed for that since we were children. Your clients use to be children as well – so chances are, they would like a good story. In today’s world, we don’t lack information, because the internet is filling our phones with it each day already. With Covid-19, I am sure our phones are being flooded with information every minute. So how can you engage the client’s attention, and bring them to see the value which you can offer them? Tell them about a business situation they could relate to – and present it as a short story.

Many people may want to know how could they describe a business situation as a short story, and so here I am going to share a technique to compile your value offering into story:

  1. Situation – At the beginning of the short story, talk about a scenario which the client can relate to. A similar business environment, business goal or business objective are some examples. Every story has a main character – and in this case, it would likely be another company or personnel. Describe the challenge they were facing, and what goal they were trying to achieve instead. Explain the impact of their challenge upon their business. Having similarities in this description would allow your client to better relate.
  2. Actions – What did the main characters do to relieve the problem or work towards the goal? What obstacles did they face along the journey? How did they overcome those obstacles and who helped them? Are these actions applicable to your client’s existing situation? To keep it concise – what you describe here should be something which you could help your client with, so it relates to your offering.
  3. Results – At the end of a classic story, people live happily ever after. While you cannot promise that to your client, you can share with them the results of the actions they took. How those actions helped their business; what kind of value was derived should be emphasized – this should be what your client wants as well. When talking about the results, speak about what is believable, something which the clients would feel is achievable. You don’t need to pull in your management training about S.M.A.R.T. goals here, just share an honest, factual experience.   

Once you have drafted your value offering into a short story, practice telling it to your peers/colleagues; and get their opinions on how it could land best. You will never know when these stories will come in handy in client meetings or sales team self-development.

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