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Selling in a VUCA World

By Deb Calvert (1193 words)
Posted in Sales & Business Development on July 23, 2014

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Ever feel like you have whiplash as a result of the jarring changes and conflicting directions you’re getting from your customers and your company?


You’re not alone.


The swift acceleration of change and the constant struggle to keep up with it (let alone get ahead of it!) causes everyone, at times, to feel like the silver ball inside a pinball machine. Your sales leaders and support departments are in reactive mode, zinging around at lightning speed as they accommodate and adjust to all this change. Your customers, too, are caught up in this frenzy. Sellers get the brunt of this from all sides.  


This is how things are and how they will be for the foreseeable future.


The Center for Creative Leadership has coined a new term – VUCA – to describe the dawning of this new age. VUCA describes the world we live in and must sell in as increasingly:


Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.


As a seller, you are already taxed with all the burdens and accountabilities of your day-to-day workload and quotas. It’s adequately challenging to simply maintain and stay on course in the here-and-now. Throw in an occasional change and, suddenly, your job is multiplied with long hours, new work habits to form, added stress, and the performance pressures associated with selling to prove the ROI of your company’s new initiative.


It’s survivable, and you’ve undoubtedly run this gauntlet a time or two. It’s the nature of selling.


But what’s a seller to do when change is relentless and its effects are constant?


In a VUCA world, that’s exactly what sellers are faced with.


It can be overwhelming to consider coping with the unexpected upheavals and dramatic fluctuations of a volatile world. It can be maddening to manage buyer’s expectations when your own uncertainty undulates just beneath the surface and causes buyers to hold back. When the complexity of what you’re doing convolutes buyers’ understanding and derails sales, it’s not easy to muster motivation. In addition to all that, operating in ambiguity can be frustrating as you are forced to resort to best guesses and temporary patchwork fixes while waiting for that oh-so elusive clarity you crave.


At times like these, the worst thing a seller can do is shake buyers’ confidence. Your doubts, frustrations and hesitations will only intensify the VUCA impact and impair your sales effectiveness.


Instead, to sell in a VUCA world, you must be a rock-solid stabilizing force. Despite the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity you and your buyers are mired in, you must find your firm footing and tether your buyers to a foundation they can believe in.


Here are three ways you can find your footing plus the one key ingredient your buyers need to see you as a stabilizing force and resource.


Keep your eyes on the prize.


Take the long view out into the horizon, focusing on where you are going. Think of yourself as a ship’s captain. You will have to navigate with the currents and, although your route will change as the ship is tossed about, you will course correct continuously and use the elements to your advantage so you reach your intended destination.  Looking for a good, centering resource that will help you get that focus? Pick up a copy of Profit Heroes by Bob Rickert.


Let go of the status quo.


So long as you remain anchored to the present (or, worse yet, the past), you will be unable to move forward. Develop curiosity about possibilities and openness to new ways of thinking. Reignite your passion for learning and experimenting so you can get comfortable with trying what’s new. Change yourself so you can nurture change. Read Jill Konrath’s new book, Agile Selling, to develop these skills.   


Don’t be too frail to fail.


Be tough enough to fail. You can take it. When you give yourself permission to fail, you’ll also have license to get outside you comfort zone. When you can boldly say “Let me try,” you’re also demonstrating that you and your ego are strong enough to withstand disappointments. When you fail multiple times, you will be all the closer to success in a VUCA world. If you’re looking for some undergirding to help you fail (and succeed) with confidence, check out Be Bold and Win the Sale by Jeff Shore.


It’s imperative for you to feel as confident and sure-footed as possible before you ask buyers to tether themselves to you and your plans. When you have a firm foundation, there’s one more ingredient you’ll need to be a stabilizing force for buyers who are also navigating a VUCA world. That imperative ingredient is trust.


Trust breeds security.


Your buyers want to feel secure, and they will feel that way when you develop mutual trust with them.


To foster buyers’ trust be sure you, yourself, are not operating in a VUCA manner. Be predictable and transparent as much as you can be. Remember that the fastest way to erode trust is by exhibiting self-orientation rather than other-orientation. To make conversations about your buyer, ask quality questions and listen empathically. You can download a free book chapter from DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected, for buyer research that explains the links between buyer trust and seller questions. 


In sales, we can’t deny or change the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is the new norm. But we can insulate our buyers from this VUCA world by equipping ourselves for it in ways that will give them respite when they work with us.    



{#/pub/images/DebCalvertNew.jpg}Written by Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions-Author of the DISCOVER Questions book series, Deb has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. She is certified as a Master Sales Coach, Master Trainer, and host of CONNECT! an online radio show for selling professionals where listeners ignite their selling power in just an hour. Deb helps companies to boost productivity through people development. This work includes leadership program design and facilitation, strategic planning with executive teams, team effectiveness work, and performance management program design. 


Do you have a sales question for Deb?  Please visit our Sales Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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