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If you’re a leader of a Canadian company or sales organization that sells in the U.S., changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could significantly impact your business, relationships, and sales. Here’s what you need to know and do to prepare as the NAFTA showdown heats up.

What NAFTA meant for Canadian sales teams

For more than 20 years, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. have operated under NAFTA, eliminating most tariffs among these countries. The primary intent of the agreement was to stimulate cross border commerce between Canada, Mexico and the United States—and that’s just what it did.

This trade initiative has been viewed as largely successful in most circles, seeing a combined trade increase between the three nations of over 258% since inception. A significant part of the Canadian workforce is linked to the NAFTA agreement

Fast forward to 2017 and the NAFTA agreement days seem to be numbered.

Issues ahead

A new U.S. President and a substantial global movement toward nationalism have changed the game. Recent trade events continue to point to either a termination or a significant change in trade policy between NAFTA countries.

In the last six months, issues have surfaced between the U.S. and Canada, including:

  • Softwood lumber dispute regarding Canadian subsidization of Canadian companies
  • Dairy farming dispute citing issues with government funding and artificially low pricing from Canadian companies
  • Significant tariffs have been levied on Canadian Bombardier jets
  • New North American content rules proposed for the automotive industry

If you are a leader of a company or a sales organization that has a significant presence in the U.S. or sells in the U.S., what does all this mean? What can you do to prepare your sales team for this new global reality?

The nature of your relationships with customers could change dramatically:

  • Tariffs and other duties could increase your prices
  • Long time loyal customers may leave for cheaper local alternatives to your products
  • New relationships may need to be built in new markets and industries

Existing agreements with your customers may need to be renegotiated

5 ways to prepare your sales team for the post–NAFTA world

There are things you can do to prepare. Here are five critical sales skills you need for a modern, postNAFTA sales team.

1. Prospecting skills: With the potential of needing to replace lost customer relationships, the skills around prospecting and creating conversations with new buyers will be critical to the success of Canadian sellers.

The skills around hunting for new clients is a common struggle for many sellers in the Canadian market. Those sellers that follow the 6 keys to prospecting success will have a leg up on the competition.

2. Sales conversation skills: Sales are won and lost in the conversations sellers have with buyers. Whether meeting with existing clients or new ones, sales conversations need to position your company in the best possible light. If your sellers cannot conduct effective sales conversations, they won’t win the new business you need.

3. Differentiating: Your sellers must be proficient in differentiating your products and services from the competition. The buyer must see a clear difference that is well substantiated by your organization.

This often comes out in your team’s ability to articulate value. Your team needs to be able to answer these 4 questions to build a powerful value proposition.

4. Account planning: Many Canadian sales teams are made primarily of account managers—farmers of existing accounts. They are skilled at managing existing relationships but may not be well equipped to rebuild relationships that are changing or develop new ones.

To defend and protect revenue in existing accounts, you need to have a well-thought-out plan for maintaining and growing your relationships. You need each of your sellers and account managers to build rock solid account plans to uncover new opportunities and protect their accounts.

5. Negotiation skills: Negotiation of contracts may become critically important to maintain existing clients as well as to close new business. Your team needs to be well equipped to negotiate better, more effective agreements.

The current rhetoric around the NAFTA agreement would suggest that now is the time to build these skills to get ready for a new trade framework in North America. This will be a tumultuous time for the Canadian sales profession, but with the right investments in training and tools, the transition will be much more effective.


Gord Smith is practice director of Rain Group, leading all sales consulting and sales training in Canada. Based out of Toronto and with more than 25 years of sales management and sales training experience, he’s worked with many of Canada’s leading companies and across industries helping them to unleash their sales potential.