What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?

 In Rural Strategy

Here are the problems most businesses – including rural – will be experiencing now or more so with COVID-19:

– uncertain income

– lack of or decline in sales

– customers unwilling to commit

– dealing with unproductive sales staff

– worrying about looking weak or vulnerable to competitors

Each of these problems will have accelerated making even more demands on your business and sales people than they normally would.

Let’s focus on each of these in turn and offer up some solutions:

1. Uncertain income

The best thing you can do, as we’ve said many times in many of our emails, is to love the ones you’re with: your current customers.

You can’t control everything but you can control something.

You need to protect your base and keep hold of what you’ve got.

We all know it takes 5-7x as much time and money to acquire a customer than it does to keep one.

You don’t have that same time and money so it’s time to double down on those you know and who know you.

  • What ways could you be of greater service to them?
  • How can you help them more?
  • What are they struggling with most?
  • If you can’t help them can you introduce them to someone who can?

Having a dedicated Client Development Plan can help to guide this conversation too (you can download your free copy here).

Uncertain income also means stripping out all the non-essentials like subscriptions you never use or maybe only used once.

Controlling your costs is key and I’m not a qualified accountant so I will leave that to the experts.

What I will say is don’t waste money on marketing that doesn’t work. If you can’t see or prove an outcome from it, stop doing it now before you burn more cash.

Stick to the basics – keep close to your customers by communicating. Create content that they can use. Go for the narrowcast stuff, not the broadcast.

And most of all be of service and do above and beyond. Go the extra mile even if the pay off is way in the future.

This is what you’ll be rewarded and remembered for most when things get better.

2. A lack or decline in sales

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein

In good times or bad, when a lack of sales occurs you need to work out why.

You need to treat the root cause, not the symptoms or you could be treating the wrong problem and digging yourself into a deeper hole.

The hard question you have to ask yourself is:

Is my product or service seen as essential (adding value) or non-essential (adding cost)?

Right now every purchase decision will be made with much greater caution and consideration.

You have to adopt the same lens your customer is using.

Your job is to reassure and prove why your product or service will work for them by justifying the value and return, or the pain of not taking action.

Maybe your sales team have never been formally trained. Maybe you don’t have a documented sales process that’s causing surprises with sales pipeline predictions. Maybe you don’t follow up in a disciplined manner. Maybe you can’t get prospects to pain their pain so they’re not motivated to take action.

The answer will always be a combination of factors and never one single thing. I could bet my life on it.

Sales have always been essential and are the oxygen that will keep your rural business alive during times like these. 

Don’t ever under-estimate how important sales are. Never neglect your sales training or you won’t ever become better.

The other option you may face is not being able to create sales now but you can set up sales for the future:

  • What relationships could you nurture and develop that could lead to future sales?
  • Who could you reach out to in a complimentary way that has customers that look like yours?
  • Who do you know, such as your suppliers, who you could refer you to others who they know?
  • Who could you partner up with to offer a product package?

You could also follow up on your lapsed or inactive customers.

They knew and worked with you before. If you have a clear value proposition and the work you do they know works, get back in touch with them to remind them of how you can help them again. 

3. Customers unwilling to commit

Everyone is conserving cash and being ultra-cautious with their money right now.

You need to stop and think: what commitments can I make that will make my customers commit?

  • Could you offer a money back guarantee?
  • Could you offer a simple cancellation clause?
  • Could you arrange a flexible payment plan?
  • Could you offer fixed fees?
  • Could you offer a penalty for non-performance?
  • Could you offer a discount for payments made in full and in advance?
  • Could you commit your best team or business owner to them exclusively?

You need to reduce all risk because ALL purchase decisions are about risk (and the bigger the purchase the bigger the risk).

Customer case studies can help other customers make more confident and informed decisions for themselves.

  • Have you got success stories you can share?
  • Have you got testimonials people can turn to?
  • Do you have a track record that people can trust?
  • Are you writing and researching content that makes you an authority in your field?
  • Do you have a media page on your website?

The other reason that customers won’t commit is because they see what you’re selling not benefitting them. It’s not compelling enough so they stay still or stall.

No one will never take action unless they can see what benefit or return they will get.

Your job is to work out what your customers want.

What are the barriers and blockers to purchase? Do you know or are you assuming? Have you spoken to customer to find out what they are thinking and feeling? Or are you relying on your own bias(es) which will mean major blind spots?

Customers will commit to you when they trust you. This means they can see what you do is working in their best interests, not your own.

Stephen R Covey’s (who wrote the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) has a son who wrote his own brilliant book called The Speed of Trust. In it he proves the quickest and easiest way to secure trust is to secure results.

When you get results you are trusted. Trust lowers any sales acquisition costs and commitment will always come from that confidence.

It’s quite simple: if you can make and meet your commitments, it’s much more likely customers will make and meet theirs too.

4. Unproductive sales staff

At times like these you will see some of your sales team players rise to the occasion whilst others go AWOL.

These are the times that you see what your team is really made of.

A lot of your people will be working from home (WFH) so it’s harder to see their productivity. It’s also harder to make sales for some who prefer face to face, despite being able to set up a sale remotely.

To me, saying you can’t sell remotely without seeing a customer is an excuse that’s hiding a sales deficiency. They either don’t believe in themselves or the product they are selling. 

Either fear creates call reluctance. If you saw this same reluctance play out when they could physically see customers, they will be struggling even more now.

The key is to empower them to reach their goals and not micro-manage. 

Agree to key times to meet and check in (even if a quick 15min Zoom). What are their goals this week? What do they need? What’s getting in the way? Make sure you listen.

There are plenty of apps to help team collaboration and conversations like Microsoft Teams, Asana, Monday or Workflow Max. We use these all the time as most of our work and creative teams are remote workers.

They have time-sheet based technology which is a good thing because time is all we have and some of us spend it better than others. Seeing where people spend their time tells you everything. It shows you where their priorities lie.

Just like with sales, if you sense a lack of productivity amongst your sales team get curious about the root cause:

  • What is causing a lack of productivity?
  • What are the things you can control (vs the ones you can’t)?
  • What’s happening in their heads or homes that’s preventing them from performing?

This isn’t about simple, surface level stuff. This is about taking a deep dive and understanding at a much deeper, psychological level what they’re doing, saying, thinking and feeling. Each at an individual level, as they will all be different.

The best thing you can do with your sales staff right now is to make sure you support them.

When you support your sales team with regular communication, your time and being crystal clear on goals and expectations they will feel safe.

No one works for or trusts someone when they feel unsafe. 

As a sales leader you need to make sure you have the tools and strategies that you can teach and train your team to be the very best they can be in lots of different sales situations.

You cannot blindly hope to expect more from your sales team without making changes to support them so they can get to the next level.

Time and business climate have both changed massively. Sales will be so much harder now so you need to work smarter to get them.

What worked for you before won’t work as well now because the game has gone up another gear.

Sales are, and always have been, everything so it pays to invest in your best sales people. 

I would double down in this area right now because your best performers are always the ones who create the wealth (plus high performers HATE carrying poor performers and will hate you for it if you do).

5. Worrying about looking weak or vulnerable to your competitors

The only thing you can control is you.

Don’t worry about what others think. You can’t control what your competitors are doing so focus on your game, instead of theirs. It’s a wasted energy.

The best way to beat feeling weak or vulnerable is to take action.

  • What can you do to get closer to your customers?
  • What media could you approach and write for?
  • What ways could you improve your visibility? (Blogs, emails, webinars, podcasts, SEO, editorial, e-books, white papers, lunch n’ learn workshops…the list goes on)
  • What new products could you create?
  • What content could you share?

Rather than defend, attack. Play your game with your own rules. Don’t be governed by what others do. Do what you need to do and get it done.

So there you have it – solutions that solve some of your sales problems.

There’s nothing stopping you, except you of course.

Solve those problems and you will prosper.

PS. Don’t forget to download your Client Development Plan for free here


We exist to help those rural firms and agribusiness companies who are under-performing in their sales and marketing efforts to secure real results that make them more money. Results we even guarantee. Find out how we do here.

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