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How to Adapt Your Sales Process Amid COVID-19

This is your opportunity to play offense, not defense

Doug LandisGrowth Partner

During an economic downturn, B2B buyers actually rely on salespeople even more. As a sales leader for Emergence’s portfolio of companies, I have been helping teams adjust their goals, strategies and find ways to work with marketing and customer success teams for retention. In just the past eight weeks, so much has changed in the world of sales—and we continue to learn more every day—but I thought I would share the learnings from my most recent webinar with John Barrows (link below) to help anyone else that is struggling to navigate these tricky waters right now.

Feel free to drop me a line with any questions, and I am happy to do my best to help: Remember, we are all in this together.

Qualified salespeople provide stability, so be confident.

A recent study by Avionos found that although 81% of B2B buyers are worried about the recession in 2020, 92% of respondents said that during the uncertainty, qualified salespeople provide stability and actually help them weather the downturn.

Keep in mind that most buyers are in the same state of apprehensive uncertainty as most sellers are, and because of this, sales teams must stay focused on trust and transparency as well as demonstrating genuine empathy. These are the critical components to building and maintaining the health of your relationships now and into the future.

You’re probably thinking how can I earn their trust at a time when I, myself, are also feeling apprehensive and uncertain. Well, first things first. Start by getting your confidence back. Confidence is correlated to fear, doubt, and action. When fear sets in, uncertainty rises, actions cease, and confidence plummets. Dale Carnegie said it best, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit and think about it. Get busy.”

Commit to understanding your customer’s real needs.

Even when faced with some uncertainty, being a sales professional—with emphasis on “professional”—means you should be committed to understanding customer needs and delivering highly-differentiated solutions to solve those needs. It is the crux of our job, but yet, often, our customers don’t see us in that way. They find salespeople out of touch. A common survey question is always, “What are your biggest challenges with the people that sell to you?’’ For decades, those answers have come back the exact same; the number one response is, “They do not understand my business, my pain, my problems, and challenges.” Perhaps even more telling is the second most common response, “They do not listen.” 

There you have it, folks. Listening is KEY. The only way you are ever going to build a solid foundation with your customers, your prospects, your friends and family even, is to be a better listener. You will never be able to provide the proper information or be responsive to someone’s needs if you don’t know what they said.

  • Pro Tip: By really listening to your customer’s needs, you can be genuinely empathetic.

We are probably as empathic as we think.

Most of us think we know what empathy means or how to express it. I am sure you have been in situations where someone shared terrible news and you really didn’t know what to say, so instead you quoted a commonly heard phrase. Although the intention was good, these phrases are impersonal and rarely leaves the person with any positive connection to you. In fact, perhaps the opposite is true. 

Right now, sales data is showing empathy wins. Your customers, your leads, your prospects, and everyone on their teams are going through a lot right now. You have to show up with genuine empathy, or it could cost you. To do this, try to get a clearer picture of what they (and even their customers) are going through and think through how you would think, feel and react in the same situation. What are all the external factors that might also impact you? Not only will it give you a better sense of how to respond, but it also might clue you into a lot of non-verbal cues that you can get ahead of and address before the issue even arises.

This is your opportunity to play offense, not defense.

Every single person in the world right is having to adapt to the new normal. It is not easy, but it is our reality, and we must face it. Adaptability is the only way anyone can be successful right now. Continuing to act on your strategies in a post-Covid reality is a sure way to come across as irrelevant and insensitive. In working with our portfolio company sales teams, we’ve found that the individuals that are finding new ways of doing things are the ones thriving. They are moving fast, they are agile, and they are innovating— and they’ll be the ones that come out of this with success. 

Unfortunately, this is not easy as there is no one-size-fits-all go-to-market strategy. But start by addressing your product, staff, and business process expertise, and coming up with a realistic narrative on how your product or services fit into the realities of the new economic landscape.

Now, more than ever, companies “Financial Case for Change” is dominated by either cost-cutting or risk mitigation. If your solution can connect with either of these strategic initiatives of their business, then stop calling! You are only going to come across exactly as I already mentioned they’d expect you to: “They do not understand my business, my pain, my problems, and challenges.” 

However, if you hear from prospects that they need to defer purchasing, find out what might be the biggest roadblocks, and see if there is anything you can do to improvise. You’ll probably hear ‘budget’ as everyone is struggling with that right now. However, there are other ways you can nurture the relationship and provide them with the key information they need to make a decision when they are ready. Example: Schedule Zoom Meetings to still get in your FaceTime and continue to share compelling data or use cases of other customers that have purchased in the last few months.

  • Pro Tip: Find ways to pivot revenue growth to cost savings, or refocusing customer on-boarding to more team and managerial training.

Find what really sets you apart and update your Ideal Customer Profile.

As a result of these new purchasing initiatives, it will be inevitable to look closely at your ICP to determine if it still fits or what needs to be adjusted. Even more important, reevaluate the value proposition of your product or services and determine if you need to adjust the drivers. Most likely, what was valuable to your customers pre-COVID is now not enough. 

Get Marketing & Customer Success to help. 

Given the current economic conditions, customer retention is more important than ever before. Do you have an insight into your customers’ experiences with your brand? Why are customers happy and what’s causing them to expand? How can you share that with other customers? 

Don’t rule out opportunities for customer expansion. You should already have a strong relationship with your Customer Success Team, so use customer feedback to uncover new insights. Their needs have shifted along with their business model, so identify leading indicators or trigger events that point  to customers who may benefit from add-on products or additional licenses. Armed with that information, develop subsequent workflows to execute on those opportunities. 

Ask Marketing to help by developing campaigns that help people optimize their usage of your product. Think about creating educational resources and filming a series of explainer videos. Nearly every video conferencing platform has been sending tips on holding better remote meetings. How could that translate to your business?

If you don’t already have a Knowledge Base, now is the time to develop one. People want on-demand self-service more than ever. They don’t have an IT department down the hall right now. They’re likely working odd hours from the comfort of their home.

  • Pro Tip: It costs 7x more to attract new customers than it does to retain existing ones. Research also shows that a 5% increase in customer retention can generate up to 125% in profits.

The strategies you used two months ago are no longer relevant.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a ‘work from home’ survival kit delivered
  • Offer to do an account review to help them optimize
  • Send a food delivery gift card and invite them to a virtual lunch
  • Host a Q&A for their team
  • Simply call and ask how they’re doing

The only thing you can control in this world is how you respond to your life, and I hope that we all use this time of uncertainty to build better, more honest relationships so that we can be as successful as we can now, and that will carry over until the future. 

For even more, check out my full webinar with John Barrows below.