Selling through Difficulty

Selling through Difficulty

For those moments when selling feels like it’s all uphill!

One of the best quotes on selling through difficulty I heard came from a speaker at a sales meeting.  I really wish I could remember his name, but there’s been too many years and too many speakers in between.  However, it was sound advice and needs to be shared as it fits our situation right now.

“When everything is falling apart, nothing is going right and you want to quit, that’s the job.  When customers won’t buy and seem to be constantly complaining, that’s the job!”

Very profound if you think about how it relates to sales.  I reworded the quote to, “If it was easy, they would call it order entry.”  I know how frustrating it can be when customers don’t see our value for what it is.  However, that is why salespeople are hired; to navigate these difficulties and bring together a better business relationship for our customer.

The fact that customers struggle to understand the total value or how to implement your products and services for their best outcome is a good thing.  I can’t tell you how many times I drove out of a farm driveway and thought to myself, “Can’t that customer see that I’m trying to help them.”  When I felt this way, I found it helpful to rephrase that statement to, “They want to be my customer, but just don’t realize it yet.  And, when they are my customer, they will be glad they chose to.”

Don’t misunderstand me.  I like when things go right; when marketing programs work, product quality exceeds customer expectations, customer service is outstanding and compliments outnumber customer complaints.  However, I also understand that when bad things happen, it’s the salesperson’s time to shine.  This is when you step up and prove how valuable you are to your customer.  Remember:

“When everything is falling apart, nothing is going right and you want to quit, that’s the job”

When coaching a salesperson, this is often the greatest revelation they can have.  In their isolated world, they think everyone else is just out there selling with no problems.  At least not as bad as their problems.  There is that moment in the coaching process that I always look forward to.  It’s the part where we are finally going to get to work.  By getting to work, I mean the heart of the sales coaching process.  We start out with niceties, shaking hands, discussing commonalities and the big picture of their business.  Then the person I’m working with will typically say,

I love working here…. I really like my manager… I couldn’t be happier… But see, here’s the problem.”

Now we are getting somewhere.  This is when we get to that part in the coaching conversation where the salesperson or sales manager says, “See Greg, here’s the problem…”  They go on to tell me about how difficult it is to sell their products in this territory for this company with these competitors to these customers.  If I’m coaching a sales manager, it’s how difficult it is to manage these salespeople, in this geography, for this company with this level of competition.  Trust me, there is always a problem.  I have yet to meet a salesperson or sales manager that didn’t make a statement like the ones above.

The reason for their problems might be external forces:

  • Customers and prospects: not enough prospects, customer financial strength, consolidation, buying direct, etc.
  • Competition: too much, unfair, predatory pricing, etc.
  • It’s different here in __________” Fill in the blank, but I have heard this all across North American. We always feel it’s different where we are.
  • Macro: politics, regulations, etc.

The reasons for their problems might be internal forces:

  • The two most common which I hear are pricing and manager issues
  • A close third is customer service problems: administrative mistakes and product quality
  • Production facility location, trucking costs
  • Distribution channel issues
  • Poor performing products or services

If you are in sales for ten minutes, you will realize that someone, somewhere has done something to make your job of selling more difficult.  Here’s the real kicker of it all.  In the eyes of your customer, it’s your fault and you need to do something about it.  When this happens, these thoughts go through your mind:

 “Ahhh! How can it be my faulty the driver didn’t deliver to the right farm?”

“I didn’t personally create regulations that restrict our product’s use.”

“So what if my company made $1.5 billion last quarter.  I didn’t and neither did my local business unit.”

No need to spend a lot of time worrying about whether you are to blame for whatever happens.  Instead, just own it.  You met with them and sold them.  Thus, you are responsible for putting the two businesses together.  Accept it.  Then get to the task of helping both your customer and your company navigate through it.

To begin, ask yourself, “Can I affect a change?”

  • If no. like in politics, international trade wars, or the direction of grain prices on the board, then work with your customer on how they react and plan during these difficulties. What options do they have with or without your products?  You go farm to farm all day long and hear how producers are coping with these difficulties.  Bring this knowledge to your customers.
  • If yes, like with product quality, product distribution, or customer service, then obviously you need to descend upon these issues and make them your top priority.

Communication is one of the most critical components of selling through difficulty.  Err on the side of over communicating.  When a customer reveals a problem, they want to first know that you heard them.  So, step one in communication is to acknowledge their issue in their words.  Once you both agree you understand their problem, then begin the process of understanding internally within your company what is going on.  When doing this, don’t make the mistake of waiting to communicate with your customer until you have it 100% figured out.  Frequent and routine communication gives customers something to rely on.  During a crisis, it’s typically chaotic.  Provide stability by letting them know when you will communicate with them, even if you have nothing new to add.


As you sit, isolated in your home office today and receive yet another complaint or have a competitor step up their offering, just keep one thought in mind.  That’s why you were hired!  That’s the job!

If this article helped you on your journey to being more effective in your selling, I ask you to share it with those who might also benefit from it.


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