Planning for Post-COVID-19 Recovery: What is Your Biggest Sales Challenge Today?

by Michelle Seger

So much has happened in 2020 that has impacted businesses and sales, the backbone of our global economy. To help put some perspective into navigating your biggest sales challenges and how you can best respond, there are three dimensions that you should consider as you plan, adjust, and implement changes to your business:

  • Your role on the team
  • Business impact
  • 4 phases of COVID-19

Let’s explore these dimensions and put them into context.

 

Your Role 

Sales managers and leaders have been challenged with coaching and developing their teams effectively. They have also struggled themselves with understanding what type of coaching needs to take place since the selling motion has changed as a result of COVID-19.

For the front-line seller, the biggest challenges are:

  • The ability to overcome discomfort, come across as empathetic, and make a natural, authentic connection using technology instead of in-person meetings.
  • Once that hurdle is crossed, there is the ongoing challenge of working from a home environment that may have technology challenges as suddenly “everyone” is home using up that bandwidth. This “family dog effect” covers any and all interruptions that can occur at home.
  • Salespeople are by nature outgoing; they like that personal connection, and we are beginning to hear that they are becoming bored and want to get out and be with their customers.

As a sales leader, staying connected and empathetic with your team is paramount. Take time for one-on-one meetings just to ask how things are going. We believe that the future of sales on the road could be changed forever. Be forthright and honest with your team, at least with as much as you know today. Invite your team to share with you what’s working, what might not be working, and how, together, you can shape the future of sales for your organization.

Coach your team to work with customers based on the impact to each customer’s business and where they are in their COVID-19 recovery. Regardless of where they are in this journey, there are two things we believe with certainty:

  • Now more than ever, customers will continue to value your help with data and information about the market. In many cases, these conversations present a unique opportunity: customers have more time for you and are more open to hear what you have to say.
  • Now is the time to listen and show empathy with your team. As a leader, it is important for you to understand that your team will reflect who you are and what you stand for. This is a real opportunity to listen and build relationships with your customers, and with your team.

Business Impact

Business impact to you and your customers falls into three buckets:

High Impact. Opportunities in the pipeline are put on hold or canceled, and customers may be asking for price concessions, payment delays, or contract renegotiations. This is prevalent with companies that sell to highly impacted industries such as universities, hospitality, or retail—as well as those with products and services that are not considered critical at a time when cost and risk mitigation (office restructuring or upgrades to current services, for example) is top of mind among customers.

The challenge for you is to remain relevant at a time when your customer is not buying.  The best advice that we can offer is to shift from selling to helping. We believe that companies that are working with their customers to provide longer-term help will benefit more than those that take a shorter-term approach. The focus should be on the relationship tomorrow, not the revenue today.

Neutral Impact. According to most estimates, no more than 7% of business has been lost for these companies. However, your customer may be prioritizing cost and risk mitigation and still be asking for price concessions, holding off on new orders, or pushing out deals that were ready to close.

The big challenge here is having the right conversations and trying to understand how to preserve as much revenue opportunity as possible while remaining empathetic and authentic with your customers. Listening is key once again. We are advising companies to “sell beyond the curve” by helping customers with their short-term problems and making deals with them that will take place at a future date that makes sense for both companies.

Positive Impact. Business may be booming or projections higher than expected. Your products and services may be in high demand, or your customer may be experiencing higher than normal business growth. We’ve seen this happen with companies that have not experienced supply chain disruption, or where the circumstances of COVID-19 have caused an unexpected increase in demand.

Again, the biggest challenge is connecting to customers at a time when you can’t be physically present. If they’re too busy to talk with you at this time, then deliver information that you know will be useful, and ask what you can do to help.

The Four Phases of COVID-19 Recovery for Sales.

A structure that helps companies understand, evaluate, and plan ahead for recovery.

Phase 1: Acclimation occurs at the early stages of the crisis as organizations re-orient and adjust to a new environment.

Phase 2: Planful Action is the next step, which occurs when companies begin to act on approaches to help customers and support the sales organization. This typically occurs after the first month, and differs by company size, industry, and business impact.

Phase 3: Building and Adjusting continues in the subsequent months as organizations formalize and implement customer and sales organization programs that they began exploring in the Planful Action phase.

Phase 4: Planning for Recovery—and the future of your sales organization. This is ongoing as most companies begin their post-COVID-19 planning and considering what things will look like coming out of the recovery.

And as you plan for recovery, here are some things we have learned from our weekly round table that includes sales and support professionals from around the globe.

Virtual Technology is here to stay. And it’s liberating and terrifying for a sales professional. Liberating because customers are more available and the impact to sales productivity seems to be increasing (which can mean more earnings for the rep and greater revenue for the business!). Although salespeople enjoy the interaction and being on the road, most do prefer a balance. Well, the scales may have tipped a bit too far for some in one direction, but a balance is definitely in store. Understand how you can leverage this technology to your advantage and to your team’s advantage. It’s not just about saving T&E expense, but your CFO won’t be complaining if you deliver cost savings and increased productivity. It’s also about quality of life. Understand the impact to your team and help them achieve the balance they need. Territories will matter less. Travel will decrease. Sales should have more time to focus on selling.

So, what is the terror all about? Many salespeople who are accustomed to exploring new terrain, enjoying varied life experiences, and getting a thrill out of meeting new people every day are now faced with significant changes in how they work. Whether they will be working from home or an office, chances are their job won’t look the same as it did before the crisis. They’re wondering whether they are facing a “nine to five” desk job—which is not what they signed up for!

Data Matters. Become an information provider. Information has always been valuable, and even more so when people have been isolated in their homes. Remember to carry this forward post-COVID-19. Understand what data is important to your customers in their industry, and become their go-to for the information they need.

Humanity Counts. Let’s not lose that. Not long ago, if you were on a call with a customer or colleague and a baby cried, a dog barked, or the doorbell rang, it might have been considered unprofessional at best, and possibly even resulted in a warning at worst. Now people laugh about it as we are all in the same boat and we understand. This is empathy at its best, and I hope it does not go away. Less stress means more quality of life and happiness. Increased quality of life and happiness equates to more success at work and home. Let’s embrace the humanity.

 

____

This article was originally published via LinkedIn Pulse on 17 June 2020.