EPISODE 559: Selling in a Crisis with Jeb Blount

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Jeb Blount, author of Selling in a Crisis.]

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JEB’S TIP: “What I would do right now is I would go back to the basics. Take a look at your corporate sales process and your corporate sales framework and get good at it. Make sure you’re not skipping steps. Make sure you’re not being lazy in the process. Look at everything you’re doing, grab yourself a cloth and start polishing it and dusting all the tarnish off. Just focus on the basics and fundamentals because in a crisis and an economic downturn, in volatility, boring works.”


Fred Diamond: Jeb Blount, you’re, if not the top sales author in the world today, you’re definitely on a very, very short list. Your book that just came out today, we’re doing today’s broadcast at the end of October 2022, Selling in a Crisis: 55 Ways to Stay Motivated and Increase Sales in Volatile Times. This book couldn’t be more timely because it is a very challenging time. It’s been challenging, Jeb, the last two and a half years, even right now with more pending things. Tell us why the book right now, and let’s get into it.

Jeb Blount: Well, even when we think about it being challenging over the last two years, and it has been with the pandemic, really, in March of 2020 we had a dip that lasted for about 30 days. It was a desperately deep dip. But then it came back, and many, many salespeople, many sales teams, many sales organizations sold more, had bigger years than they’d ever had before. Salespeople who had been selling their entire life set all-time records. Over the last 18 months, some of it’s driven by supply chain issues, basically Economics 101. There’s more buyers than there are supply. Salespeople have had it pretty good. I’ve heard people say, “Well, it’s really hard to sell.”

Over the last two years, if we’re just honest with ourselves, if we’ll go look in the mirror and just tell the truth, if you could show up to work and fog a mirror, you were probably going to be okay in your sales role. Right now, there are entire sales organizations that are getting taken out. SaaS companies, not all of them, but there is a trend of SaaS companies taking out their entire SDR sales forces and telling their account executives, “It’s time to prospect because we can’t afford to pay two people to do the same job.”

There was an article, a headline in Business Insider this morning that said, “CEOs are telling us that 2023 is going to suck,” their words, not mine. Yes, we’ve been in upheaval, and change, and a lot of crazy things that have happened to us over the last two years, it feels almost surreal. But from a selling standpoint, it’s been pretty good. My company alone, we quadrupled the size of our company. We made the Inc. 5000 list two years in a row. We are the fastest growing privately held company in our region. That was all because the last two years were just so good.

When we’re starting to look at 2023, right now, what we can feel is that there is winter coming, that bad things are going to happen to us. The down cycle is on the way. There are a lot of opinions on how deep and how bad it’s going to be. For sales professionals however, you are the leading edge. You are already feeling it. Now, this may be industry by industry, but if you’re in the real estate industry, for example, or you’re in the mortgage industry, you are already feeling a deep level of pain. 2023 is going to bring new challenges for salespeople. Some of those challenges, Fred, are going to be the things that you focus on with your organization, and that is that salespeople are going to actually have to do the job right again. Because when you’ve had more buyers than supply, you could transact, you could skip steps, you could not follow up on calls. Buyers are willing to track you down. People were calling you. Nobody’s going to call you in 2023.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, that’s so true. Actually, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, who’s the sponsor of the Sales Game Changers Podcast – you’ve actually spoken, it was a long time ago, it was about eight years ago, whole different world, if you will. But a lot of the VPs and sales leaders that we talk to are struggling with figuring things out, even some basic stuff. It’s not just their sales organization, it’s also what their customers are going through as well.

You have so many great things that you talk about in selling in a crisis. Let’s get started here. I’m just going to pick a whole bunch of different topics and we’re going to go through it. You talk about the difference between rain makers and rain barrels and how to find opportunity in adversity. Let’s talk about that. It’s like you just said, a lot of the sales were coming to people over the last two years, depending on what it is you sold of course, but now you got to find those opportunities. Let’s talk about that for a little bit.

Jeb Blount: Well, my good friend, and you know Anthony, Anthony Iannarino coined the phrase rain barrels versus rain makers. When he said it, I told him straight up, “I’m stealing that from you,” because it was just a brilliant analogy. Because what do you think about a rain barrel? What a rain barrel does is sit in the backyard, got his mouth to the sky, and it just waits for something to fall in. It’s waiting for the leads to come to it. A rain maker is out on the street knocking doors, calling people, having conversations, being relentless doing whatever it takes to keep the pipeline full. A rainmaker understands that we are in adversity. They get that. But they also understand that through their actions, the things that they choose to do, that they can turn those closed doors into open opportunities if they approach them the right way.

Rain makers are relentless, they’re unstoppable. They’re right with reality. They understand the situation. It’s not like they’re sitting around with rose-colored glasses saying, “Hey, everything is great.” But they get that they have no control over the adversity. They have no control over the storm. They have no control over the cycle of winter and scarcity. The thing that they have control over is what they choose to do, their actions. They can control their reactions, how they respond. They can control their mindset. Whereas rain barrels are sitting around right now in sales rooms complaining. They’re whining. They just lost a deal because the customer said, “You know what? We’re going to hold off a little bit because we’re a little bit unsure about what’s going to happen and we’re not going to spend any money.” They’re telling the boss, and they’re Chicken Little, the skies fall in. “I can’t sell anything because of the economy, because of these customers.” The rain maker says, “You know what? That’s okay. There’s money over there. I’m going to go get the money over there, because money is always moving.”

Fred Diamond: In March of 2020 when everything changed, we started doing a daily webcast from the Sales Game Changers Podcast from the Institute for Excellence in Sales. In the midst of that, we started adding the words ‘right now’. How to be very effective right now. How to be a great sales leader right now. You talk about in the book how to be a ‘right now’ sales professional. Get that message across. What does that mean to the people listening today?

Jeb Blount: The be right now mindset is really a mindset of being in the present. It’s easy when things start to change – and this is purely human – to look back and think, “I wish things were the way they were before,” especially when we’ve been on a run like we’ve been over the last 18 months in sales, where we’ve had more buyers typically than we had the ability to serve. We also have a tendency as human beings to look into the future and say, “Well, I’ll wait this out, and then things will change.” You’re right, things will change. But in a recession, sticking your head in the ground and waiting things out is a wickedly stupid way to manage your career, because in that process, you’ll probably lose your career.

A right now mindset says that the only thing that is real in the entire world is what is happening right now in front of me. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t focus on the future, but in a crisis, when everything is hitting the fan, the future isn’t nearly as important as the moment that you’re in. You’ve got to focus on right now actions. “What are the things right now that will get me to my income goal? What are the things right now that are going to help me get a sale? What are the things right now they’re going to get a prospect in the pipeline?” We just mentioned Anthony, but Anthony is famous for saying, “Play the long game.” Playing the long game is a really good strategy, but not right now. Right now you need to play short game. You’ve got to protect your company. You’ve got to protect your customers. You’ve got to protect your income and your family. You’ve got to protect your career. That requires you to focus on right now. All your energy, all your focus is on, “What am I doing right now that is going to help me advance my goals, advance my career?” In some cases, if you’re a business owner, save my company in the moment.

Fred Diamond: Well, also the sales professionals need to understand that as well. I remember in the very beginning of the shift in March of 2020, one of our guests said that it’s going to be the sales organization that’s going to drive us through all the tumult that had happened. Right now, if you’re a sales professional, you’re the most important person in your company, or the team, and the leaders. I agree it’s about you and your career, but it’s also about you and helping your company.

Jeb, you’re one of the foremost experts in the world on sales prospecting. You wrote probably the most successful book in the history of sales prospecting. I remember when I read your book on the beach in 2015 in Margate, New Jersey, and how powerful it is. I still see people posting about your great book. Congratulations. Let’s talk about prospecting. You talk about the seven effective prospecting sequences. You don’t really need to go through all seven, but talk about the concept of persistence right now. One of the challenges too is you’re challenged, salespeople listening are challenged, but customers are also challenged in the same economic world. Talk about what does it mean to be professionally persistent as it relates to prospecting?

Jeb Blount: Well, the one thing that you can count on, Fred, is that in sales, persistence always finds a way to win. We have to be aware that the people that we are prospecting to are overwhelmed, they’re likely afraid. They are concerned about taking any risk that could potentially put themselves, their career and their company in jeopardy, and you’re trying to get their attention. Now, if you just think about the people that you’re trying to call on, we’re in a recession, or we’re in an economic downturn, or we’re in a time of volatility, depending on the market that you’re in. In that situation, if you just step into their shoes, the last person they want to talk to is a salesperson. The last thing they want to think about is adding more to their plate or buying more. Getting their attention is going to be very difficult.

What sequencing does is it allows you to be professionally persistent because you’re going to use a multichannel approach, this is not new. This is being facilitated in some extent by the sales enablement platforms that have been built. Sadly, a lot of those platforms have just turned into basically automated spam for salespeople. But the sequencing process is leveraging a series of touches that are intentional over a short period of time with a set of interconnected messages that are designed to get the prospect to engage. In other words, we want them to raise their hand and say, “Leave me alone,” that would be engagement, or, “Not right now,” that would be engagement, or, “I’m not the right person,” that would be engagement, or, “Okay, I’ll give you 15 minutes. Let’s sit down and have a conversation.”

When you’re in a crisis, when you’re in this type of an economic downturn, the sad thing for a lot of salespeople is that you’re prospecting and you get no answer at all. You get nothing because they just turn everything off. If you can sequence a series of steps in, you’re basically going over, around, under, you’re trying to find the right message at the right time through the right channel that’s going to get this person to have a conversation with you. Let’s be clear about this from a prospecting standpoint. In a crisis, the more conversations you have, the more people you talk with, the more you’re going to sell. Therefore, finding ways to get through really makes a difference for you in terms of keeping your pipeline full.

Fred Diamond: Actually, as you mentioned pipeline, I remember when you spoke to the institute, and I don’t know if that’s the exact quote, but, “The pipe is life.” I don’t think it’s the exact quote, but I say that all the time. I got to attribute that to you. The pipe is life, and absolutely right now especially. I want to talk about messaging. I got two sales calls today where people reached out to me as a business owner at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, with a very bland, basic message. “I can help you be more productive with your backend operating system.” Another one was, “I can help you with your marketing automation right now.”

Here we are talking about selling in a crisis. Everybody on the planet is going through this. The message came through was obviously cut and paste from somewhere. It wasn’t appropriate. First of all, it wasn’t even prepared. They obviously hadn’t done any research into me or my business, which is a whole different topic we’re not going to talk about today. But then the message was just so inappropriate for right now. Talk a little bit about that, about the concept of adjusting your message to the moment right now. We’re talking again about a crisis. How much should the message be about the crisis? Or how much should the message be about the preparation to understand what you specifically are challenged with?

Jeb Blount: The most important thing to get with messaging is that people are going to meet with you for their reasons, not yours. Your reason is help you with your backend automation. Their reason is, “I’m freaking out right now because my boss is on me because we’ve got four projects, because we just had to let half of our staff go. Now, instead of going to my son’s t-ball game, I am at work and I’ve got so many manual things that are happening in the backend. If I could get rid of those things, I could focus on the issues and the activities that are going to move our business forward.” That’s my reason. Your reason is generic. To begin with messaging, go step into your prospect’s shoes and try to understand them.

Now, we have to understand that there are two types of messages. There’s targeted messages and personalized messages. If you’re a salesperson and you have a large base, a database, or a large prospect base, it’s going to be really hard for you to do individual research on every single call so that you can leave a voicemail on most of your calls. What you have to do is take a look at market segments. You could look at an industry vertical, you could look at a role type. “I’m going to call CEOs, CFOs. I’m going to call middle managers.” You could look at a problem type, you could look at a geography, and then you’re going to build messaging that you believe is going to connect with most of the people. Not all of the people, but most of the people at the visceral level. That’s at the emotional level, that would get them to lean in and spend some time with you.

You’re going to say, “Because, Fred, most of the people that I’m talking to right now are a little bit freaked out because a lot of the things are happening in the economy, and in some cases they’re losing staff, which is putting a lot of burden on them. What I’m helping them with is to automate some of those tasks that allow them to take their eye off the manual things that don’t really make a difference, so that they can focus on the parts of their business that will help them survive the coming storm. All I want is a few minutes of your time so that we can get together and I can learn more about you. How about Thursday at 2:00?” I just took that message and just turned that into a targeted message.

A personalized message is one where I would do deep research. Typically I’m calling a senior level executive. I might have one shot at this, so I’m going to be doing deep research, and it might sound like this. I might say, “Fred, I want to get together with you because I was doing some research on your organization and I noticed that you were giving a speech at the blank conference in Washington DC. One of the things that you said really connected with me, and that was how you’re having to reduce staff and do more with less. That’s exactly why I’m calling you, because what my company does is help you do just that by automating a lot of the manual processes that are holding your team back so that you can get your team deployed on the right activities for your company right now. How about we get together Thursday at 2:00?” Now you’ll notice what I did was I just took something that was really personal for you and turned that into a message.

Folks, if you’re listening to this, I just did that on the fly because I’ve got a framework that says, “Think about the person for a step into their shoes.” Then you develop the message around them versus around you. What you defined, Fred, is one of the biggest mistakes that salespeople are going to make during a crisis time, during an economic downturn, is that you keep doing the things that you were doing before because when there were more buyers than you had the ability to supply or service, you could get away with stupid generic messages like that because people would still meet with you. But now, especially as decision making authority is moving up inside the organizations, you’re going to be talking to a lot more executives. If you’re not interesting, if you’re boring, they are deleting you, they are turning you off, they’re not answering your phone, and they’re getting rid of your voicemails.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, actually. We had a guest on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, so it was about two years ago, his name was David Morelli. He’s a mindset expert. He made a statement, it stuck with me even though it’s been over two years, he said everybody on the planet for the first time, Jeb, is dealing with the same three things, the effects of the lockdown and related to what is this COVID, et cetera. Then secondly, everyone on the planet is dealing with the economic challenges, either personally or at a company level, and that everyone’s dealing with a third thing, whatever it might be. Maybe you have an elderly parent who you’re concerned about, you can’t see because of all those things. As you’re talking here, every customer right now is dealing with those things in spades. Hence the term selling in a crisis.

The reason we do the Sales Game Changers Podcast and the reason you write all your books and all the great work with Sales Gravy and the conferences and the training and all those things is to help the sales professional take their career to the next level to help the companies be more successful. Right now it’s not just an opportunity, it’s a mandatory opportunity for the sales professionals to really get better at their craft to provide value. I want to talk about something else.

Let’s say you have a sales process going and it’s going well, and you have a customer, they’re committed, “Yeah. We’re definitely going to become a customer,” but because of some of the things we’re talking about today, they’re dealing with things, things get delayed. How do you handle a buying commitment objection in the crisis right now? What are some of your strategies for that?

Jeb Blount: Well, primarily one of the things that I say in the book in particular is stop obsessing over objections. Right now what’s happening is I’m getting notes from salespeople, and some of these are backdoor notes, like on direct messaging on LinkedIn and on Instagram. Some of them are people just out in the open just asking me the question. We got people calling our phone line and talking to Sarah and Trisha, “Hey, can I get Jeb on the phone? I’ve got an objection problem.” I’m not kidding you, they’re like, “I’ve got to talk to Jeb. It’s a sales emergency.” Folks, don’t call my office trying to talk to me. They’re really good gatekeepers. [Laughs] But everybody’s obsessing over objections because they are getting that pushback.

First of all, stop doing that. There’s no win in obsessing over objections because, Fred, if you’re in a situation with your organization and you’re feeling a little bit of risk and you begin deferring the buying commitment, there’s nothing that I’m going to be able to say to you that’s going to argue you into believing that you’re wrong. I’m not going to be able to talk you off that cliff. Really what I need to start focusing on is selling better. I’ve got to be better upfront. I’ve got to be better with my business case, I’ve got to be better with the math, I’ve got to understand the reasons why you need to move forward and the impact to your organization if you don’t, and I’ve got to be able to show you that in black and white. I’ve got to make sure I understand all the stakeholders. I’ve got to do a really good job of qualifying and I’ve got to do great discovery.

When you do those things and you advance your deals with a series of micro commitments, it’s rare that you’re going to get to the end and there’s going to be this big buying deferment. You’re going to get more of that upfront. But when you get objections during a crisis, they’re going to be different types of objections. That doesn’t mean that people won’t say, “Your price is a little bit high.” If you’re at that point though, and they’re telling your price is a little bit high, typically they’re negotiating, not objecting. What you’re going to get in a crisis is you’re going to get people who are afraid to take a risk. They’re called buying commitment deferment objections, and they’re going to be, “Hey, we need to go talk about this together and we need to put this off.”

The number one way of dealing with that is make sure that you have clear micro commitments that everybody’s committed to. You’ve got lines in the sand. We’re going to make a decision by this point. You need to make sure that upfront you’re getting agreement on a timeline. This is when we have to do this. You need to make sure you understand their urgency. When you get into those situations where they’re saying, “Gosh, we just need to sit on this for a couple of more weeks,” you’ve got to be really good at saying, “I get you. I understand.” Just relate to them. “Fred, I totally get where you’re coming from. It makes sense that when you’re taking a risk during a time like this, that you might want to take some time to think about it. Help me understand what you’re worried about.” Then I want to figure out what is going on.

A lot of times he says something and we start jumping on it. Help me understand what’s going on. Then once you explain that to me, I want to isolate that just by helping myself and you put a box around it. “Other than that, what else is holding you back? Nothing else. Okay.” Then my job is to minimize your fears. You’re not saying yes, you’re not moving forward because you are afraid. By the way, that fear is human. It’s baked into our DNA. Human beings that avoid risk are more likely to survive. When you’re in a crisis, avoiding risk is a very good thing. Change, by the way, looks like risk. If I’ve done good discovery, what I’m able to do is I’m able to bring back what’s going on with you. I’m able to bring back all the things that you said that you needed. I’m able to help you get connected to all of the manual tasks that you’re doing in the backend that are holding your organization back and how much it’s costing you.

I’m able to get the calculator out and say, “Fred, you told me that right now you’re spending $10,000 a month just handling manual task. That’s not counting all the mistakes that you’re making with your customers. Right now you said that you can’t afford to lose any customers because you’ve got to maintain your revenue base. With me, you’re going to spend $2,000 a month, and that means that you’re going to put $8,000 a month in your pocket, plus you’re going to have the peace of mind that you’re not going to be making the mistakes with your customers that are going to cause retention issues. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

I have to basically unpack your fear suitcase, and then not tell you you’re wrong, but minimize the concern so that I almost resell you on the business case. It takes patience. It’s not a message. It is not words I can give you, not something I can say. I’m not going to be able to build a message that’s going to help you get past a buying deferment objection here on the fly with you. It’s going to be personal, it’s going to be specific to the situation. But the one thing that I can tell you, that if you want to get past objections in a crisis, you have to sell better from the get-go.

Fred Diamond: The one thing, Jeb, that we talk about on almost every single Sales Game Changers Podcast episode and almost every single Institute for Excellence in Sales program, is the fact that you’re a selling professional. You’re a sales professional, and everything you’re talking about here is things go a little bit off because of the world. How do you continue to be the sales professional?

I have time for one or two more questions here. We have a lot of sales managers, Jeb, who listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast, or read the transcript. It’s interesting, a lot of these guys and ladies became sales managers early in 2020 for the first time. They were working from home. They couldn’t touch or hang out with their people. Everything for the first year, year and a half was over Zoom. It’s the hardest job in sales as it is, and all of a sudden, it’s made even harder. What would be your advice for the sales managers out there? The guy or the lady who maybe they’re a year or two into their first job as a sales manager. They have maybe five, or six, or seven people, what is your advice to them? Because they’ve got to get five or six or eight people being successful. Give us your advice for them.

Jeb Blount: Right now you have to be Teflon. You’re going to be getting hit with a lot of excuses, and no excuses can stick. You cannot get into the muck with your salespeople and the excuses. That does not mean that you should not be empathetic, because you need to be empathetic. You need to be able to step in the shoes of a young salesperson who has never been through a down cycle, who yesterday was juggling six buyers that were calling you, and today has nothing in their pipeline. You can be empathetic with that. You just can’t be sympathetic with it. You cannot be part of the problem, part of the complaints.

Number two is you got to get in the trenches. You got to get in the trenches, get off of email, get out of the dashboards, get in the trenches, go sit side by side. If you’re remote, prospect side by side, pick up a list, show them how to do it. Help them with deals. Make sure that you’re asking the hard questions. “Is this deal advancing?” Manage that pipeline tightly. You’ve got to tighten up everything that you do and you’ve got to be present for your people and you can leave nothing to chance, and this is important. In a crisis, mediocre loses. You have to be the steward of your team that is eliminating mediocrity wherever it is. Excellence is the only way that you are going to increase sales in a crisis. You can increase sales as long as you are focused, you are helping your team focus, and you’re getting them in position to win every day because you are right there in the trenches with them and you are moving them around and pointing them in the right direction.

Fred Diamond: First of all, is this the second book you’ve written in the last 12 months? You expedited this. A funny story, you went to Wiley and said, “Hey guys, we got to get this book out faster.” I had just finished reading the book that you published, was it four months ago? Selling the Price Increase?

Jeb Blount: Yes.

Fred Diamond: We just doubled the price of corporate sponsorship at the Institute for Excellence in Sales and we were struggling with that and I read your book. What was the title of that book?

Jeb Blount: Selling the Price Increase. I think it’s this book right here. Here we go.

Fred Diamond: I just finished reading that book and then I see Selling in a Crisis: 55 Ways to Stay Motivated and Increase Sales in Volatile Times. Well, first off, Jeb, before I ask you for your final action step, you’ve given us so many great ideas. Again, I just want to acknowledge you. You are one of the top two or three guys, if not the top guy, in the sales performance improvement world. The OutBound Conference was a huge success a couple of months ago. The fact that you put this book out so quickly, and not just quickly, but so well written and thoughtful. We only got to maybe 10% of the content in the book.

Just as a quick note, I wrote a book on Lyme disease, and you’ve very kindly published a couple of videos in support. I know you have the farm and you were touched on that. I got probably about a dozen people who reached out to me and said, “Hey, Jeb just called you out,” which was very nice. I just want to acknowledge you not just for your success, but for how you are helping sales leaders and sales professionals not just during challenging times, but in good times, bad times, whatever. The ability to change someone’s life and to change their career and to help guide their company is definitely a gift. I just want to acknowledge you for that.

Give us your final action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas. One more thing specific people should do right now after listening to today’s podcast to take their sales career to the next level.

Jeb Blount: Back to the basics and fundamentals. The key to getting through a crisis, staying motivated, increasing sales, is a driven focus on the things that are most boring, the basics and the fundamentals. That is filling up the pipeline, the pipe is life. It is selling better. It is discovering better, qualifying better. It’s closing better, negotiating better. It’s being better at everything you do. What I would do right now is I would go back to the basics. Take a look at your corporate sales process and your corporate sales framework and get good at it. Make sure you’re not skipping steps. Make sure you’re not being lazy in the process. Look at everything you’re doing, grab yourself a cloth and start polishing it and dusting all the tarnish off. Just focus on the basics and fundamentals because in a crisis and an economic downturn, in volatility, boring works.

Fred Diamond: If you’re a sales professional, be a professional. Once again, my name is Fred Diamond. I want to thank Jeb Blount, the book, Selling in a Crisis. This is the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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