We’re recording this in mid-2021, as people are coming out of the pandemic and things are opening up. Events are starting to happen in person, clients are actually having meetings in person. 

Meridith and I are going to dive into what are the traps that people are falling into today, that might be similar to traps they fell into as the pandemic was starting, and what can we learn going forward? 

The problem that you solved before COVID, the problem that you solved during COVID, and the problem that you sell and are solving, as we come out of COVID, are all different.


Ian Altman

Welcome to the Same Side Selling podcast. It's Ian Altman, and I'm joined by Meridith Elliott Powell.

, we're recording this in mid-:

And, what I want to discuss today, and what Meridith and I are going to dive into is, what are the things and the traps that people are falling into today, that might be similar to traps they fell into as the pandemic was starting, and what can we learn going forward?

So, Meridith, first, what are some of the traps, either back when the pandemic started, or now, that you're seeing people fall into that we can learn from?

Meridith Elliott Powell:

You know, it is kind of crazy. I mean, here we are light at the end of the tunnel, right? We're starting to come out of the pandemic. The world starting to open again. But as sales professionals, we're falling into some of the same traps.

One of the biggest I think, and in all honesty, if you didn't take anything else from this podcast today, I think this would be incredibly valuable. It's the fact that the problem that you solved before COVID, the problem that you solved during COVID, and the problem that you sell and are solving, as we come out of COVID, they are all different.You have to understand that.

I was talking to a client just the other day, and I said, “How are things going,” and she said, “Oh my God,” she said, “Coming out of COVID is so much harder than going into COVID.” They're in the restaurant industry and the problems and the regulations and just the emotions of customers.

And, it really triggers the fact that, as a sales professional, what I'm solving, what I'm dealing with, and what I'm helping my customer with is different now. I may be selling the same products, but their problems have changed. And, I think as sales professionals getting into the trap that you're still solving the same thing is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

Ian Altman:

Well, I think that what illustrates that is, you think about it, if you're a restaurant group today, your biggest challenge is how do I hire people?

I was at a restaurant yesterday, and I was talking to one of the managers. It's a restaurant we've been going to for many years. And the manager said, “Right now, I have 15 total servers in my restaurant.” He said, “The reason why the restaurant isn't that full right now is not because we don't have demand, we do.” But, he said “We need to staff 40 people, and we can only handle 15.”

So if you were someone who was pitching uniforms to a restaurant, the restaurant group is looking at you like, dude, uniforms? I need to find people, I don't need uniforms. Like I need people I can put uniforms on. And so I think that becomes a challenge.

I think that going into the pandemic, the issue was that people were in sometimes in a crisis mode and sometimes in a thriving mode. So, I have clients who are selling to people in health care, and they were actually in some cases thriving, or, or it could have been somebody who is in a medical profession where they couldn't see patients, and now they were struggling.

But guess what, whatever you were saying to them before had changed, and now it's different. I think that, now as things are opening up, what I'm seeing in many areas is, how do we better engage our employees? How do we bring people back into the fold? And if you don't have a message that ties into that at all, then you might struggle a little bit earning attention.

So, I think the biggest thing that you're focused on, is having that awareness about what is different in your client's world that you can address uniquely, that maybe other people are overlooking.

Meridith Elliott Powell:

Yeah, I mean, Ian, in essence, what you're talking about is, the mistake we make as salespeople is not focusing on being relevant. And, we've really got to focus on being relevant and for our clients. Their world is changing.

I'm going to tell you another big trap, I think, that we're falling into. And, that is the fact that when COVID hit, sales professionals thought, I don't want to bother my clients. I mean, they've got a lot on their plate, they're overwhelmed. The last thing they want to do is buy something right now.

And, now that the world is opening back up, we're seeing the same thing. We're assuming that people are busy, we're assuming that, you know, they're still challenged by things that don't have anything to do with our line of business, and that our customers don't want to hear from us.

It was a mistake at the beginning of COVID. It's a mistake in the middle of COVID. And it sure as heck is a mistake that, when you know, when we're coming out of COVID. We are essential. And, I, you know, we really need to be more aggressive, I believe, than we've ever been.

Ian Altman:

And, I think part of that is helping your clients understand, here's how we're helping other organizations like yours. And, it's giving them a sense of, oh, I hadn't really thought about that.

So, for example, I've been having conversations, as I'm sure you have with clients recently where I say, look, a lot of people right now saying, how do we reintroduce ourselves? How do we determine which meetings we should have in person and which ones are remote? How do we figure out what's most important to our clients?

So, I'll say to them, Look, these are some of the biggest challenges that people are addressing. What's your strategy for addressing those, and how might I be able to help? And oftentimes, when you present it that way, the first thing goes to their mind is, I haven't even thought about it. So, the way you can help is helping me think about it.

Is that a strategy that you'd recommend for people in general?

Meridith Elliott Powell:

I think that's so key and so important is, the fact that, you know, as sales professionals, don't be put off by the fact that, maybe, people aren't returning an email or are returning a phone call. They have a whole lot on their plate. They're absolutely busy. But it doesn't mean they don't need you, and it doesn't mean that when the time is right, they're going to go to the person who's most visible, who's most out there. So, don't look at a lack of responsiveness as rejection.

Everybody's busy, but, but, they need to hear from you. As they open up, they're going to need you to solve to, solve those problems.

Ian Altman:

Yep. And, I think that the, the underlying message that I want to make sure everyone gets is we're focused on what's important for our client. Not what were we selling last month? What do we want to sell? But instead, it's your point, it's that idea of relevancy.

Are we talking to our clients about the things that, when they hear it, they say, “Oh, that's a topic I want to learn more about. That's a conversation I want to have.” As opposed to, very often we see people in sales, and I'm sure you're on the receiving end of these as, as much as I am, where someone says,” Hey, I'd love to set up 15 minutes to introduce myself and my company.” And I'm thinking, okay, that may be an interesting offer, but I'm not interested in it. And, maybe it’s interesting to someone else, but just not me, because I don't have a desire to carve out time in my day to hear somebody pitch their company.

But, if someone said, when I work with people like you, when I work with people who are financial services professionals, when I work with technology executives, when I work with, you know, you name it, when I, when I'm working with professional services companies, here are some of the three biggest challenges that I'm hearing, how common are those?

Now, all of a sudden, what we're what we're saying is, okay, I'm in touch with the types of things that are moving the needle in your industry. Should we have a conversation about those? That's where we can actually pique someone's interest.

Meridith Elliott Powell:

Yeah, which, you know, you really, it's a segue into another great challenge or, or mistake we as sales professionals are making. We made it when COVID started, and we're making it now is, is the fact that it's not about you.

You know, it is not about you hitting your sales quota, it's not about you selling your product. You need to be 100% focused on the customer. If you do that, the rest is going to come.

But you know, a lot of us are starting to feel pressure because the doors are opening is, as the, you know, industries are turning back on. We're like, yay, we can make our revenue from last year. I can get back on track. And, all of that is true. But it's still through the path of focusing 100% first on the customer and what they need. Just remember, this is not about you. You come second.

Ian Altman:

The funny part about this is that, when I when I talk to reps, what they'll say is “No, I get it, it's not about us, it's about the client.” And so what they'll do is, they'll say, “Well, so here are the here are the three biggest challenges that people in your same position have been coming to us to address. Does one of those standout for you?”

And the clients says, “Yeah, you know what that second one really stands out for me. And, what the rep immediately says is.“Oh, let me tell you about what I sell that does that.” And it's like, no, no, no, you were so close. You're so close.

Meridith Elliott Powell:

You're almost there.

Ian Altman:

You're almost there. And, all you have to do is say, “Hmm, tell me a little bit more about that.” Or, “Tell me, why did you pick that one?”

And, now we're talking about what's important to them. There's plenty of time for you to talk about your stuff in terms of the solution to deliver the outcome that they need. But, the mistake that, unfortunately, too often gets made is, as soon as the client gives even the slightest inclination that says I might be interested in what you have, they go into pitch mode. And they're like, now let me that let me give you a demo. Let me show you this stuff. Let me let me let me give you all this extraneous information in PDF that you can read, instead of asking more about their situation, and what's piqued their interest.

Because once we do that, that's when we can really have a conversation about the value that we're bringing, compared to what they're experiencing today.

Meridith Elliott Powell:

Completely. I mean, it's, you know, that whole idea of you have to build relationship and trust first to truly understand.

You know, during COVID, after COVID, your customers can buy the product without you. There is very little we can't buy in this world while sitting at our computers and Googling. The value you bring is the relationship, the trust, and the resource, and information you can provide once you have built relationship and trust.

So, never believe it is about you and your sales quota. All that's going to come, in fact, you'll blow by it if you start first by understanding that it's not about you.

Ian Altman:

And, Meridith, one of the things that I get is that sometimes reps will say, “Well, then they asked me.” They'll say, “Yeah, we have that second problem. How does your product solve that?” And, the rep says, “Well I had to tell them about it.”

No you don't. Because, if you ask me that question, I can say, “You know what, Meridith, before I get into the product, I want to make sure that I fully understand what it is you're facing, and whether or not it can even help. So, can I ask you a few more questions to make sure that I'm not giving you information about our product, if it won't help?”

Who’s going to say no to that? Who's gonna say no to that. Who's gonna say, “No, no, I want a demo of a product that can’t help me.” No one's gonna say that!

Meridith Elliott Powell:

Because nobody really wants to sit through a demo anyhow. So, you're absolutely right.

But, you know, what Ian, what you're saying is so key. And, it reminds me so much of us doing a keynote. I mean, the thing that you learn about doing a keynote, is you don't give the goods away at the beginning because nobody will stay to the end.

It's the same thing in a sales conversation. You know, the moment, if you release your solution too fast, and you haven't really done your due diligence, you don't really intimately understand how it can specifically solve their problem, you've given them the opportunity to say no, to quit listening, before you ever really got into the conversation.

So, hold that till the end. That's what's keeping them engaged. They want to know the solution. You give it away at the front, you've lost them.

Ian Altman:

And, the reality is this, is that, oftentimes, until you've asked the right questions, until you've had enough discussions, you don't know what they ultimately need anyhow.

So, your product that you're thinking of, so let's say it's a technology company. They might have a piece of software that's $50,000. The services engagements might range between 50,000 and a million dollars. And, the client says, “Well, will your product do this?” And, you don't yet have enough information. And, so, you go in and say, “Well, yeah, let me show you a demo of it.”

And now the client is thinking, Okay,, that's great. And then, through the course of your discussions going on, all of a sudden, you realize, well, the product is just like a rounding error, in comparison, what they really need.

And, here's the other big trap that I find is that, as soon as you start talking about your product, any of your questions seem to have an ulterior motive around getting the client to buy your product.

Instead of, if you continually push back and say, “I don't yet know that it can help you, I want to learn a few more things. Because there are three key elements we have to see to know that our products are the right fit, that we're the right fit between you and us. So, we want to figure that out before we just pitch stuff. Is that okay?”

And it's refreshing for the client, because they're thinking to themselves, wait, you mean, you don't want to just come in and give us a demo and have a meeting and all these cliche terms that we hear? You mean, you actually want to hear whether or not there's a fit first? Well, there's a novel concept. They may not even know what to do with that.

Meridith Elliott Powell:

That's right. There's a differentiator in the marketplace. Absolutely.

Ian Altman:

Yeah. And so, I think that's an element that really gets down to focusing on as we come out of this pandemic. Making sure that we're focusing on those pieces that are relevant to the client, and then remembering that it's all about the client and their needs, not about what it is that you're selling.

Meridith Elliott Powell:

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, we've got to focus our time and attention there.

You know, it's interesting, our circumstances may change, the situations may change, there may be markets full of opportunity and those full of challenge. But, the basics of how to sell, the foundational piece, really, really remain, you know, remain the same.

Ian Altman:

Excellent. Well, let me let me try and do my best to give a quick 30-second recap of all the topics we talked about, and then I'll give you opportunity for rebuttal to tell me which things I missed. And we'll, we'll take it from there, so that way people have actionable steps they can take coming out of this, this episode.

So first, we need to make sure that we remain relevant with our clients. So, what we were selling six months ago, six years ago, or six days ago may not be what the client needs today.

The second thing we need to focus on is that it's not about us. It's all about the client and their needs. And to that end, what we want to do is make sure that we're focusing on: here are the biggest issues that we're seeing today. Which one of those jumps out?

When that client then says, “Oh, that one piqued my interest,” avoid the temptation to go into your pitch, because what we want to do is, we want to hold back that key information. We want to hold back what the solution might be until, A: until we've learned enough about their situation to know what's the right fit , and B: because if we prematurely give that information, then any conversation, any questions we ask will seem to have an ulterior motive, and we won't get to the truth.

So, what did I miss Meridith?

Meridith Elliott Powell:

I don't know. I think you did a great job. I think you really did a great job of summing it up.

I guess the only thing that I would add is, what's interesting about everything that Ian and I have talked about today is, the longer that you talk to customers, the better questions you ask, the more you're going to learn.

The more you learn, the more relevant you're going to be. The more relevant you are, the differentiator you're going to have in the marketplace, the better you're going to be able to provide a customized solution, and the more deals you are going to close.

I think if you go into a sales call, the less you can speak, the better. The more questions you can ask, the more successful you're going to be.

Ian Altman:

Excellent. So, I encourage our audience reach out to Meridith Elliott Powell or Ian Altman on LinkedIn. We're happy to connect with you there. In fact, if you just mention, “Hey, heard you on the podcast,” that pretty much locks you into us accepting your invitation and connecting with you.

And of course, you can visit ValueSpeaker.com for Meridith and SameSideSelling.com for me, Ian Altman.

We'll see you on the next episode of the Same Side Selling podcast

Meridith Elliott Powell:

See you next time!