It’s the eve of the beginning of 2023. It has become common practice to treat New Year’s celebrations as funerals. The celebration is driven mainly by the optimism of starting over with a clean calendar. The parting days of previous years are condemned. Memories of everything wrong with 20xx are unceremoniously wiped away. Our society has a natural bent for negative bias exacerbated by the daily news reminding us how much things suck. Situations are even worse in the social media world. We live daily with reports of horrible things, oft “unprecedented.” The reaction of late is the universal need to know why, more importantly, who to blame. Welcome to the Schadenfreude Era of the 2020’s. Dealing with his “new normal” keeps therapists, counselors and pharmacists in business, yet manifests as a perpetual cloudy forecast. It does little for the eternal optimists of the world. A trait that is uniquely suited to professional salespeople. How does one deal with all the negativities? Simple. Handle them better than others.
The past several years have seen trade tensions with China, including new tariff implementations, worker shortages, and strict covid restrictions. The pandemic wreaked havoc on routine operations in the industrialized world and had a crippling economic impact. Piling on, a meltdown in supply chain operations appeared from nowhere, increasing container shipments from Shanghai to Chicago from $4000 to $20,000. The result was panic, as evidenced by shelves void of things like toilet paper. The longer-term impact was a glut of overbuying to compensate. These and other anomalies in the business-as-usual universe upset routines. When companies see uncontrollable environmental shifts, they react by looking at ways to prevent problems. The first step in the prevention process is to look at ways to improve affected areas. All your customers will do the same thing: look for better alternatives. There is no better situation for a sales professional than a climate in their industry in a state of flux. Every competitor, every situation, and every new purchasing decision just became fair game and more accessible.
Salespeople can wallow in the misery of the situation as reported by mainstream media or be proactive. Become knowledgeable about the issue. Since the door is open to your customer, meetings to discuss the problem are available. Be honest about the predicament, but present comments as a solution provider, not just a complaint about how bad the situation may be and what gloom it will bring. If delays are inevitable, don’t blame the dockyard or the freight company, admit shipments will be late and present a new initiative to keep customers informed. Offer educated thoughts on the severity and how long things will take to calm down. Be the expert they are looking for to quell their fears.
Keeping customers informed of market conditions that affect your business is good practice. In volatile situations, one should add context and expert advice on what to do about it. When there is an upward trend in the cost of steel or the value of a currency in a location of manufacture, it is always a good idea to report the changes as they will impact pricing, inventory, etc.. It is inadequate to send a chart to show what is happening. Offer advice on how long it may be before the impact is felt. Talk about alleviation actions by order timing or adjustments in deliveries. Provide answers, not just unfortunate news.
The reaction to major issues such as a global shipping upheaval is not to panic and run to customers to tell them they will have to pay more and it is out of anyone’s control. It is to provide information about what is happening and see what the customer’s concerns are, then answer those concerns. Find and present options. Remain optimistic. Be anti-schadenfreude. In times of crisis, people want leaders, not complainers. Remember to up the business development activity as previously untouchable customers or products that were solidly elsewhere are now available.
Be optimistic and keep informed. You may find new business in a topsy-turvy world.