An important question being discussed in every business these days is "how should we sell in a crisis?" The short answer is "smartly." Demand for some products and services has increased, while other sectors have experienced substantial declines in sales. Companies and individuals still need to purchase certain items for work and personal use. You must focus now, more than ever, on the changing needs of your customer as the important factors in developing a sound sales strategy.
Understanding your customers’ needs or wants guides you in determining how to solve their problems or help them take advantage of opportunities. A winning game plan starts with a customer-focused sales strategy. If you are trying to "push" your product or service to a customer at this time, you will most likely turn them off you for now, and potentially forever.
I spoke with several Winnipeg CEOs of large and mid-size companies, and sales professionals in different industries, to understand how the sales process has been adjusted in their specific industries.
In conversation with Keith Bruch, president and CEO of Sandler Training Canada, he noted, "What is very clear for businesses is that the ways we used to connect with our clients, customers and prospects pre-COVID are no longer working within COVID. Customer calls at location, lunches, networking events, trade shows are no longer possible. Businesses need to quickly revise their sales and sales leadership behaviours to adapt their businesses in our new reality. Using virtual tools and online networks is a must to stay in touch with your accounts and to add more prospects. We need to adjust our email messaging and connect questions to fit the circumstance of our clients."
Every industry has moved to "virtual" selling because of the lockdown. While the tools vary, they should help you to stay in touch with customers.
Here are just two examples of making small adjustments to distinguish yourself from what most other companies are doing. One pharmaceutical company encouraged its reps to hold lunch meetings, virtually of course. Lunch was sent to a specific medical clinic, and while the staff were enjoying this respite, the pharmaceutical representative delivered their presentation via Zoom. A financial services company offered brief webinars on special topics to their customers. This proved to be an excellent way to determine key areas of interest among their customer base of several thousand. And, this approach was new and different and avoided the survey fatigue that exists with so many companies only asking, "how are you doing?"
When summarizing these insights and examples, there is a concise three-step sales approach for developing your winning game plan. First, your offer and approach must be relevant. Successful representatives do their homework before the call to understand what the impacts are on specific companies and industries. Your questions should dive deeper into their needs or challenges or how they may require something new to help them grow forward. As noted earlier, inject some fun and uniqueness to how you are connecting. Your time invested to understand your customer helps the call feel less like a sales call, and more like a sincere expression of interest in me and my business.
Second, this is a wonderful time to strengthen your relationship. You can demonstrate that you do care, and that you are a good listener by simply asking, "how can I help?" This approach may not always lead to a sale, but you may become a trusted adviser by acting in a helpful and empathetic way. You will lock a preferential space in the heart and mind of your customer into the future.
Bruch noted that "We need to remember our best clients are now our competitors’ best virtual prospects. We must stay in touch and nurture those relationships. We need to reach out to our former clients and customers and engage and rebuild relationships. Doing business the way we used to is not an option."
Third, you need to be able to provide something that is perceived as valuable by your customer. This, more than ever, is not the time to worry about your quota. Act with your customers’ best interest in mind by asking and following up on what you can provide to help them. This may mean smaller order quantities, adjusted payment terms, or different shipping instructions. Only your caring questions can unlock what is valuable for your customer. Do not just listen… really hear what your customer is saying.
Tim’s bits: The pandemic should cause every sales leader and representative to revisit their customers to learn what is needed now and into the future. This is a time for you to think innovatively in creating solutions. Winning game plans for business, just like with championship sports teams, build in the ability to adjust based on the changes occurring around them. This is a time to create an extraordinary future with your customers, not simply waiting for a return to what yesterday was like.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.
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