How will Brexit impact British sales strategies?by
It doesn’t matter which way any of us voted as individuals: the nation has spoken, and impact of the decision to Brexit will inevitably affect anyone who sells for a living in the UK - and any global organisation with a sales presence in the UK.
We’re entering uncertain times, and I suspect that there is going to be a huge difference between sales people and organisation that adapt their sales strategies and tactics to the new realities and the remainder (no pun intended) who carry on as before in the hope that buyer behaviours won’t have changed very much…
None of us can tell what will happen in the long term. But it’s pretty clear that in the short term, we can expect UK buyers to be more conservative (with a small “c”), more risk averse and more concerned about achieving stakeholder consensus than they ever were before.
The implications are clear for sales people: unless your prospects see a project as being both compelling andurgent, there is a strong chance that they will defer their buying decisions until the economic climate becomes clearer.
This is particularly going to affect discretionary purchases (i.e., the ones where the prospect could decide to simply stick with the status quo and “do nothing”), although even required purchases - such as essential goods or raw materials - could see spend levels being reduced and cost negotiations being even more aggressive.
If - like most of the clients I work with - your product or service is a discretionary or optional purchase, simply promoting the virtues of your solution isn’t going to be enough. Having a strong ROI isn’t going to be enough, either. Nor is out-performing our competition. Even getting selected by the decision team isn’t going to be enough.
The irresistable lure of the status quo
We’ve also got to persuade our prospect (and that includes everyone involved in making and approving the decision) that sticking with the status quo is actually likely to be more costly and risky than accepting the need for change - by a margin.
In these uncertain times, being slightly less risky or slightly more cost effective than the status quo isn’t going to be nearly enough to drive the change agenda - the difference needs to be clear, and the evidence needs to be credible.
In other words, before we can hope to sell our solution, sales people and sales organisations - more than ever before - need to “sell the problem”, and the reasons why our prospect cannot afford to ignore it.
Simply relying on the fact that the prospect has declared that they have a well-qualified need that we are well positioned to address is probably not enough. Having an allocated budget is probably not going to be enough - we can expect existing budgets to be slashed and already allocated spend put on hold.
We’re going to have to work with our prospect to dig deep into all the implications and ramifications of their current situation. We’re going to have to help them see that the consequences of the situation they have identified are even more significant than they might have imagined. And we’re going to have to do our best to find a bunch of previously unconsidered needs with significant implications.
Building a compelling case for change
All these threads need to be woven together into a compelling case for change that is accepted by our champion(s) and which they are equipped to “sell” to everyone else in the prospect organisation that has an opinion or a say in the matter.
Having our champion(s) buy-in to the need for change won’t be enough. We also have to be confident that they are well equipped to persuade all the other stakeholders that change is necessary, and that sticking with the current situation is unacceptably risky.
Having a long-term payback probably isn’t going to be enough either. Our prospects are going to have to believe that they are spending to save in the near future, or spending to eliminate a clear and present current risk. Every participant in the decision-making and approving cycle is going to have to believe that it’s in their company’s, their department’s and their personal interest to make the necessary change, and to make it now.
If the Cost of Inaction isn’t clear or compelling enough, if there is no Compelling Reason to Act, we can expect the sales cycle to be very hard fought and subject to delay or abandonment - and for our pricing to be put under extreme pressure.
We can also expect our prospects to evaluate potential options not just in terms of maximising payback but also - and this is critical - minimising risk. This is going to be particularly challenging for less well known brands who are competing against established market leaders. We'll need to be both credible and creative in positioning ourselves as the least risk solution.
How strong is the change agenda?
Here’s what I recommend: urgently review every qualified opportunity to determine the strength of the prospect’s change agenda. Reinforce the case for change as strongly as you can. Make sure that there’s a positive “what’s in it for me” message for every stakeholder. Show how your company and your solution is the least risky of all the options that are currently open to them, including “do nothing”.
Of course, you also need to be very aware of any newly implemented corporate spend guidelines, and know what the prospect’s “must do” business priorities are in the current climate. You might also want to explore the possibility of sharing some of the risk with the prospect in managed way as a sign of your commitment to their success.
But please, whatever you do, don’t succumb to the hope that it’s going to be “business as usual”. It won’t be, at least in the short term. But the sales people and organisations that adapt and evolve will emerge far stronger at the end of this.
By the way, the implications of Brexit mean that the strategies I have suggested are particularly relevant to the UK sales community - but in an increasingly turbulent, risky world, I believe that the principles are inevitably going to be of growing importance to every sales person and sales organisation, wherever you are located.
How do you expect Brexit to affect your organisation, and how are you planning to deal with it? Drop me a line and let me know...
Bob Apollo is the Managing Director of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners and a Fellow of theAssociation of Professional Sales. He writes and speaks regularly on the critical importance of establishingscalable sales processes in driving B2B sales success.