Fill in the blank.
Past performance is no guarantee of _______ results.
If you answered “future,” you are correct. You’ve read this disclaimer in your investment portfolio, or you’ve heard it in a financial commercial.
Have you ever considered why this disclaimer is so explicitly stated? It’s because we are hardwired to believe future results can be predicted by past performance. If a mutual fund delivered a 10 percent return last year, we expect a 10 percent return over the next year. Investment firms include this disclaimer to directly address how we think about future performance. In short, investors look to past performance to guide present decisions affecting future outcomes. The same is true for your customers and prospects.
During uncertain times, people hit the pause button. Deals get stalled. Budgets are frozen. People want to wait and see how everything unfolds before moving forward. This is a natural response to uncertainty. In tough times, customers lack the vision to see the brighter future—they’re blinded by the present pain and discomfort.
In tough times, sellers are challenged with overcoming the customer’s internal desire to hoard resources and conserve cash. It’s not just about selling your solution; it’s about convincing the customer to take action. Reviewing past performance encourages customers to move forward. Apply this two-part process to inspire action (even in a downturn).
Step 1: Revisit the past
Draw your customer’s attention to a previous downturn. Tough times create intense emotions and memories. People are easily drawn back to that place. The purpose of revisiting the past is to showcase the progress achieved since the downturn. For example:
Mr. Customer, looking back at 2020, we were all facing uncertainty. However, during that uncertainty you decided to invest in your business. Your decision helped you achieve record growth.
While the customer is thinking of the previous downturn, highlight their success. Show the customer how “taking action” in the previous downturn led to their current growth. Revisiting the past also builds anticipation in the present for future growth.
Step 2: Draw a parallel from the present to the past
Humans make decisions based on precedent. Draw a parallel from the present to the past. Compare the present uncertainty to previous uncertainty. During this comparison, customers experience a desire to act consistently with their previous actions. Continuing with the previous example:
Mr. Customer, the current situation is like the previous downturn. There is uncertainty in the market, but this uncertainty has created an opportunity. Positioning yourself now will help you take full advantage of the current market—just like it did a few years ago.
During uncertain times, people hit the pause button and stick with what’s familiar. That’s why we cling to the status quo; we’re not sure what to do. We would rather stick with what’s comfortable and familiar. However, tough times create unique opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Whoever is willing to act against the alluring draw of the status quo will excel. As you decide how to move forward, consider these prophetic words from Warren Buffet’s open letter to CEO’s:
A thought for my fellow CEOs: Of course, the immediate future is uncertain; America has faced the unknown since 1776. It’s just that sometimes people focus on the myriad of uncertainties that always exist while at other times they ignore them (usually because the recent past has been uneventful).