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Selling Effectively During Uncertain Times

March 14th, 2020

Successful business leaders know that fortunes are often made during times of crisis and uncertainty.

The Coronavirus, plummeting oil prices, political & foreign policy jockeying, media hype, and a growing sense of global chaos have created an interesting, but not entirely uncommon, business environment. How can we behave in a calm, focused, and skillful manner when so many are beginning to panic? How can we keep growing sales during unpredictable times that delay or paralyze decision-making?

We have been here before. During my life, I’ve experienced six or seven recessions and perhaps three times as many major public health scares.  These kinds of crises cause widespread pain that should be addressed with seriousness.  With that said, the way the most effective business and sales leaders have historically dealt with these events was often diametrically opposed to the majority. Unlike so many who became consumed with fear and paralysis, superior leaders evaluated markets, their people, their plans, true risks, and emerging upside potential.  They looked closely at how their offerings might fit into the New Normal (aka: perceived reality), refocusing efforts to attack the changed marketplace in a proactive, positive manner.

Most people suspect that 2020 will long be remembered as a period of significant change. The best leaders view significant change as an opportunity to become stronger. These types of environments represent a major Sales opportunity to strengthen relationships with new and existing clients. As a salesperson, the most difficult times are the most ideal to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Selling in prosperous times is simple.  It’s during the toughest times that premier salespeople really shine.

For many, uncertain times create all sorts of speculation, assumptions, prognostication, drama, stress, and sometimes panic (all things you should avoid).  However, if we are to prepare ourselves for success, we do need to face the brutal facts. During the next few quarters, and until the feverish levels of confusion and volatility begin to wane, most salespeople can expect major changes in Buyer Behavior. Many buyers will behave differently with regard to decision speed.  For most, the decision process will slow down, but for some, urgency will actually speed up to unprecedented levels. We can also expect changes in what people need and how much they need.  Finally, expect a slew of changes in decision criteria.

Before jumping into some specific actions to grow sales during tough times, it is important to note here that the MOST important thing to address is not words, scripts, messaging, or activities.  The single most important component that will separate top performers from the pack in Sales is MINDSET. While a salesperson’s mindset is always critical to selling success, their beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and self-talk are especially crucial when uncertainty abounds.

So let’s get going. You can start here…:

Sales Leaders & Managers:

  • Where are you?: Audit your current sales strategy.  Beware of sacred cows, and be willing to crack some eggs.  Does your current strategy really address the new marketplace effectively?  What needs to be changed? 
  • Segment Markets:  Has the New Normal created any major areas of concern for your prospects and customers? Now is the best time to contact all of your existing customers to show them how much you care, to learn what THEY are doing to weather the storm, and to evaluate whether or not there is anything you might do to help.
  • Consistency:  If there is anything at all that is changing about your messaging or value proposition, make sure that everyone on your sales (and marketing) teams are speaking the same language.  This is no time to add any additional confusion to an already uncertain marketplace. During turbulent times, most people openly welcome messages of confidence and stability. Be their ROCK.
  • Sales Process & Plan:  Great salespeople are always in demand, but are in even greater demand when times become uncertain. Today, your salespeople will likely be getting more “NOs”, more delays, and more rejection.  To keep them persistent and motivated, show them your appreciation, and provide them with the tools they need to be confident, resilient, and productive.  Those who power through will emerge stronger than ever. Ensure your Sales Team has an effective, consistent, consultative sales process that works.
  • Sales Training & Coaching: Support your salespeople with the training they need to stay focused, recognize opportunities, and grow sales.


  • Your Plan:  Review your current sales plan.  Make sure it aligns with the updated company sales strategy. Adjust where required, then get after it.  And remember, spend most of your time LEARNING. The market has likely changed (on both a collective and individual client basis), so your consultative sales interviews should include a massive component of market research.
  • Client account review:  Start with your existing customers. Seek to understand. Learn about each of their concerns. Is there anything you might do to help? Many will openly embrace support in deciding how to navigate in these uncertain times.  Be their go-to trusted advisor.
  • Don’t wait for the phone to ring: Many people will become paralyzed during these times. Personally contact as many prospects and clients as possible. Call them, get in front of them.  Try not to hide behind email (you’ll lose the opportunity to LEARN). Don’t feel like you need to solve anything or propose solutions.  It is OK to not have all the answers, but if you can help your clients develop better questions or make better decisions, you will add a lot of value.  They will remember you for it (and you will learn a lot about the market and see new potential opportunities).
  • Care, Listen, Understand: What concerns your clients and prospects?  Don’t listen with an intent to sell.  Listen with an intent to Learn.  Keep your filters off.  This is no time to don’t be pushy or convincing.  Be patient.  If you are, I promise your consultations and empathy will produce plenty of new opportunities.
  • Get in the Right Room: Fear is contagious.  So is drama, doom, and gloom.  The sky is not falling. Surround yourself with other positive, realistic professionals. Separate facts from fiction and don’t be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.  Innovation and productivity are also contagious. Choose your party carefully.
  • Persistence:  Never give up.  Understand that opportunities always abound during uncertain times, but that most people simply do not recognize them.

Never forget, the psychology of buyers, and principles of effective selling and communication apply during good times and bad. But during very uncertain times, superior salespeople and teams understand how to be even more valuable to their clients and their companies by unearthing new opportunities and by helping their prospects see new ways to approach an otherwise scary environment.  By being persistent, talking less, and learning more, they completely separate themselves from the pack.

Helping a client protect and improve their own business is always a much greater differentiator than offering a product or service itself. Salespeople that approach conversations in this manner will always get preferential treatment when the time comes for a purchase decision.


Continued success,




Copyright © Joe Zente 2020.  All Rights Reserved.