As Covid-19 sweeps the nation and the globe, businesses have scrambled to adapt and adjust. A study released on May 6th shared that 29% of companies saw sales in their workplace diminish during recent events.
B2B companies are facing new hurdles, as many professional service and technology companies rely on a long sales cycle, often with several face-to-face meetings and interactions over a matter of weeks or months.
These companies often have a robust sales staff, sometimes spread throughout a geographic area, working in the field and closing deals. So, when a remote sales team is “grounded”, what should they do? How can sales leaders navigate their teams through this new landscape?
We reached out to our network to find out how CEOs and Sales Leaders are handling sales during Covid-19 and the subsequent closures and restrictions. As we expected, each business is facing unique circumstances.
Some of the businesses we spoke to are busier than ever because their products solve for challenges brought on by the crisis. Others are less busy than normal, but confident business as usual will resume. We only spoke to one company that was facing a reduction in staff in order to manage risk – but that is a reality many throughout the country are currently facing.
How effective can your sales staff be if they aren’t out hitting the street? If what we learned when researching this article is any indication, the answer is plenty. We’ve compiled a brief guide on best practices that CEOs and sales leaders should apply right now to keep their teams productive and profitable.
Manage your Messaging
You’ve likely heard “We’re all in this together.” It’s important to communicate with clients and prospects now, and be honest when you do.
Have empathy – Be sensitive. When you reach out to clients or prospects, ask them about their family or personal life first. In any communication you put out, make sure you display the fact that you know things are difficult right now. People may request changes to contracts or for dates to be moved out. While you certainly have a job to do, entertain requests where you can.
Be proactive – Don’t wait for clients to reach out to you. Get in touch with your audience often, and be honest about the way you’re conducting business.
Be honest – Most people are not conducting business in the usual way. If you’re working at home, say so. If you have a child at home with you, it’s ok for you to mention that (though, try to keep them occupied during online meetings!). Trying to appear as though you’re more available or have access to your normal tools can backfire, leading you to under deliver. Not only that, it doesn’t appear genuine. People know we are in the midst of a pandemic – it’s ok to work as though you are.
Stay in constant contact – It’s better to over communicate than under communicate. Do your best to be present, without being overwhelming. Now is a good time to follow up with previous prospects that have gone quiet, and one manager even told us that his team is having an easier time reaching decision-makers right now. End every communication by letting people know how and when to reach you.
Suggest weekly contact – Encourage your team to touch base with current accounts or warm leads weekly. If there’s one thing we know about this pandemic, it’s that our reality is constantly changing. Their needs might change from week to week. Set reminders to reach out on a regular schedule. However, that doesn’t mean hounding people – mix up your medium. Try phone, text, email, LinkedIn messages, etc.
Understand Your Client’s Position
Regardless of how slow or busy a particular company is, one thing is true: their sales team isn’t traveling to close deals. So where does that leave the sales process?
Understand the environment of your client/prospect – Some companies went through a period of being closed altogether (some may still be). Others moved to a WFH model, which may or may not truly work for their business. Still others might be so busy with production that previous processes are on hiatus. As you communicate with your contacts, keep their current working conditions and needs in mind. It’s imperative to know where they are before trying to move a sales process forward. If a company is struggling to make payroll, asking them to upgrade their account right now will rub them the wrong way. You could do irreparable damage to a relationship you’ve worked hard to build.
Offer support at every turn – Many CEOs and sales leaders we spoke to mentioned customers having issues with other vendors or with their supply chain. Constantly look for opportunities to support and service those customers. How can you help them to fill gaps that may have emerged? Can you make introductions, provide a new offering from your own business, set up a brief tutorial? Think outside the box. Their needs might not be exactly aligned to your offering right now – but if you can support them and serve as a trusted resource, they’ll think of you first when they do. Additionally, many SaaS companies or manufacturers are in a position to quickly build out new offerings (for example, an app that helps real estate agents hold showings remotely, or a new face shield produced in an auto supplier factory). If your company is innovating to meet more needs, let people know!
Make sure leadership is visible – It can go a long way toward building a relationship if clients or prospects hear from leaders in your company. Have them speak on webinars, draft an email or blog, and be present in meetings if time allows. During these interactions, they should share their personal side: joke about being at home, or share some insight about what’s happening in their town. Optimize those “we’re all in this together” feelings to create more brand loyalty down the road.
Make the Most of Downtime
One Sales Manager we spoke to typically spent 3 nights a week on the road. His days usually consisted of meeting with current clients or other suppliers for most of the day, and entertaining prospects in the evening. If you significantly reduce that schedule by cancelling all travel, you’re suddenly left with a lot of downtime! That scenario is typical of many of the clients we spoke to. So, what should company leadership encourage their sales staff to do in this situation?
Complete sales admin – Most companies struggle with keeping their CRM up to date. Administrative tasks often fall lower on the priority list when timing is tight. Between in-person meetings, travel, and completing contracts, it can be hard to enter new names in CRM, sign up for professional training, or network. If everyone on your sales staff has one extra hour per day, think of how much clean-up could be accomplished. Aim to have a complete, robust database build out by the time everyone is back in the office.
Update sales and marketing materials – Collaboration between sales and marketing is a key component of a successful strategy. Why doesn’t it happen more often? Most people would say because of time. With any extra time, sales staff can review current documentation. Not only is this a great time for them to understand what’s at their disposal, they can also provide feedback to help make marketing materials more compelling. Ask your Marketing Director if they would be willing to set up an online session to collect key information from your sales staff. This type of effort would normally be considered time-consuming and more of a “nice to have”. Now, with extra time, sales and marketing can work together to make sure all of the arrows in the quiver are their sharpest.
Remain effective – Regardless of how times have changed, no one should view this time as vacation. As one leader told us, “It’s not a snow day.” Ensure your team is sticking to a disciplined schedule and remaining accountable. Encourage them to begin and end work at the same time each day, and work from one single, private location within their home (not the dining room table).
- Host weekly meetings and expect accountability. Ask sales staff to share forward momentum they are making with contracts, and any tips they have for other members of the team. Have them submit forecasts as usual. While it’s important to show understanding for these unique circumstances, your team should also be aware that though original projections might not be reached, progress toward goals is expected.
- Ask your team to review their performance objectively. Are they giving 100% effort when they are able to? People balancing home-schooling with working, for example, are likely working odd hours. Are they still putting in as many hours as they normally would? Again, sales managers should be sensitive and understanding, while also maintaining accountability.
- Celebrate wins! It can be easy to focus on the negative right now. In your weekly meetings, take time to enjoy your success. Ask each salesperson to bring a highlight from their week, and make sure to praise that activity, no matter how small.
Host online social events for your team – Sales people tend to be social creatures. It’s not easy to have the ability to socialize be suddenly restricted. Host an online happy hour or informal meeting where you won’t talk business, but just catch up. Make these meetings optional, though, since some people are also trying to balance having family at home as well.
Leverage Technology During Covid-19 Crisis
One thing that has been exciting to watch during covid-19 is the level of innovation companies have displayed. Many companies are coming out with new products, new offerings, or new ways of doing business altogether. Necessity is the mother of invention, and many brands have been pushed to create new product or service lines during these trying times. Technology is no exception. There are a myriad of options available to help your sales staff stay in touch and remain effective. Consider the following:
Online conferencing – Systems like Zoom and GotoMeeting are not only great for meetings, but also for other types of events as well. Encourage meetings with clients and prospects on these platforms, rather than just the phone, so that you can collaborate, share documents, and see each other. Additionally, you can use these platforms to host events that you had planned on doing in person, as statistics show that 38% of companies have had to cancel meetings or events. Many conferences, seminars, or networking events have been cancelled. Can you host any online? How about hosting webinars, recording them, and keeping them on your website as a resource? Plan to take advantage of these online tools and think about new ways to leverage them.
Get creative with documents – For most B2B businesses, your goal is a signed contract or SOW. This activity used to take place at the end of a meeting. Now, they likely need to be completed online. Learn about the different e-signature platforms and their capabilities. There are even apps available so that you can execute contracts from home. Use your phone to scan images, sign documents, and send things to the cloud for storage.
There’s no doubt that these are uncertain times, indeed. What your company does – or does not do – right now will determine how your business fares for years to come. Savvy companies will use this time to come out on the other side of the pandemic better prepared than their competition. If you need assistance sharpening your sales or marketing skill sets during this time, reach out to us. We offer several Growth Accelerator packages for B2B companies like yours, and there’s never been a better time to take advantage.