Selling is tough enough. Selling through a crisis – when no one is buying anything – is treacherous.
But it’s not impossible.
Yes, crisis – especially on the scale of COVID-19 – will be the toughest selling situation nearly all sales professionals ever face.
Customers and prospects feel paralyzed by fear, reality, demand, lack of demand or even government lock down. It drastically impacts how they buy and how salespeople must sell.
“Many of your best target customers aren’t buying right now. Budgets are frozen, cash is being conserved. But here’s the thing…,” says Matt Heinz, author of Successful Selling. “You’re not going to grow many tomatoes in December. But how you till the garden, condition the soil, add fertilizer – how you work the variables now will give you epic tomatoes this summer. Invest in your relationships, lean in on building value, give generously. The harvest is coming.”
Here are 13 things salespeople can do when customers aren’t actively buying that will set you up for continued success when normalcy returns, regardless of the crisis.
Mind the shift
In a crisis – whether it’s a recession or pandemic – people still spend money. They just spend it differently, more mindfully.
Recognize these shifts:
- Customers and prospects will take longer to make buying decisions and spend money less often. They’ll scrutinize purchases closer than ever.
- Buyers focus more on value than price in a crisis. Value proposition will be the most important element of any sale.
- Prospects’ and customers’ eyes are wide open. They notice and more likely buy from organizations that maintain a strong presence through advertising, marketing and quality sales enablement content.
- Buyers want attention. Customers facing a crisis want to regain normalcy and will spend when they reach it. Salespeople who continue to call on them – whether the customer can buy now or not – and add value will stay in their minds and be the first to get their business.
Shift the mind
Consider and act on the outcomes you can realistically anticipate.
Salespeople know their markets, industries and customers. They’re probably as good at predicting behavior as sales analytic tools.
If you know they can’t buy major solutions any time soon, shift your approach to extending the life of the solutions they have now – whether that’s helping them find the right parts, maintenance plan or techniques to optimize. Make it easier for them to experience, sample and order the components of your solutions that will help them get by through the crisis.
Add emotional support to your duties
A crisis is an opportunity for salespeople to deeply serve customers. To do that, researchers at Miller-Heiman suggest you focus on four areas:
- Respect. Acknowledge customers’ struggles with personal and professional issues. Listen closer to show you care about them, not just their business.
- Solutions. They need help solving challenges. Offer options, help them correct mistakes or loosen policies that might hold them back.
- Simplicity. Don’t stress with excessive details, red tape and long processes.
- Accountability. Deliver what you promise now more than ever.
Get serious, scheduled with outreach
In strong economic times, salespeople often don’t have time to concentrate on a steady stream of social media posts, proactive email and blogging.
But when customers aren’t buying, salespeople should have some more time to send the right message at the right time (these personal messages can be in addition to your organization’s demand generation plan.)
Plus, people use social media more when they’re home-bound (like in the case of COVID-19) or working less (like in the case of a recession). So they’re consuming more online content.
You might build a content calendar within your personal, digital calendar, on a spreadsheet or with a tech solution that allows you create content now and release it later. Most of them will track customer and prospect engagement so you can see what they like, and then provide more of that.
Assess your advantage
A crisis is good time to take a look in the (figurative) mirror and assess who you are to your customers. When you get the clear vision, you can use the strengths to help more buyers and yourself.
Are you the king of emergency help? Or are you the queen of identifying needs and aligning them with solutions? Do you provide a level of support none of your competitors do? Or do you add value every time you connect with buyers?
If you do any of those exceptionally well, you’re already in a good position to remain relevant and strong through the tough times. Amp up your efforts in the area where customers already value you the most, and you’ll see them stay with you and likely refer you to others who need that special kind of attention.
“Connect, don’t collect!” says Carlo Pignataro, author of Sell With Style: The Ultimate Guide to Luxury Selling.
Finding and winning new customers is important, but in a financial or health crisis, keeping your existing customers is critical. Start by thanking them for sticking with you, and pledging to helping them through the tough times.
Then back up your words with actions: Add value with information that will help financially, professionally and personally. That can be as simple as links to great content you’ve come across on managing those issues. Or it might be setting up free online conferences. Maybe you can connect customers who can create partnerships for space or resource sharing that will help them survive through the crisis.
When you connect with customers, be ready to listen more. Commiserate as much as you can.
That doesn’t mean you should complain about the hard times and how it’s affecting you. When you commiserate, help customers process their emotions around the dire situation and move them toward a realistic outlook.
When customers steam blow off their steam, you can talk about solutions you’ve seen work for other customers in similar situations and how you’ll be able to continue the partnership with them to recovery.
Deepen your insight
Less selling leaves time to take a closer look at your market, analyze what’s going on, hypothesize what will happen and make a plan to rebound with customers.
Look at customers’ and prospects changing buying habits almost daily. What are they searching online? Do you see new needs emerging? What are their new pain points? Are there markets emerging for you and your solutions? What new solutions can you build to satisfy changing needs?
Work with company leaders and solution designers to get ahead of quickly emerging needs.
Temper excuses, build attitude
Salespeople might use the crisis and its effect on the economy as an excuse to call less – as much as 40% less, according to one study – and, consequently, close even less. Yes, rejection hurts, and can break you down. But instead of using the economy as an excuse to slow down, consider it motivation to work harder and smarter through better research, qualifying and dialing.
To maintain that motivation, choose to read and listen to anything that’s inspirational, positive and upbeat. Surround yourself with positive people. Stay away from news and people who want to focus on how bad things are.
Reconsider your priorities
Everything changes in a crisis, and salespeople will want to quickly and regularly reconsider the business landscape. An organization or buyer that looked like a hot prospect last month may be long-shot under the new circumstances. Or an unrealistic deal may have new life now that nearly everything has changed.
Regularly look closely at everything at all points in your pipeline to re-prioritize based on the likelihood to buy under the current conditions.
Change your networking strategy
COVID-19 has changed the definition of networking. Even in a slow economy, there are fewer opportunities for meet-and-greets, big industry gatherings and actual contact with prospects, customers and referrals.
So as those opportunities dwindle, join more online networks and communities within your industry and interests. Join in more online seminars and conferences. Offer to participate or host even more industry events to create a bigger expertise presence.
Re-evaluate your goals
Vigorously stick to your sales process. Set up an ambitious schedule to work through each step of your sales process. Just like the best NBA players religiously practice the fundamentals of their game, salespeople want to focus on practicing the fundamentals of the sales process – cold calling, prospecting, presenting, closing .
Make your calls, go for referrals, plan your presentations. Even if the conversion rate is lower than usual, the sense of accomplishment will help you press on.
If you have more time because you truly have less work to do, contribute to your community and the communities where your customers are. When a pandemic or recession practically paralyzes the globe, every community needs help.
Look for ways your organization can shift gears from what you normally produce to something society needs more. Examples: In the COVID-19 crisis, vehicle part manufacturers found ways to build much-needed ventilators. Distilleries and brewers moved from booze to hand sanitizer.
On an individual level, food pantries need help distributing to those in need.