With mandatory work-from-home policies, travel bans, and government issued stay-at-home orders, salespeople are quickly trying to adjust to reaching customers and prospects through virtual meetings and over the phone.
The reality, though, is that unless a prospect has an immediate need, they don’t want to hear from a salesperson right now.
For many companies, business has ground to a halt as the pandemic crisis rages across the globe. Why would they want to start a conversation about buying your product when they’re worried about decimated budgets and whether they’ll even still have a job?
For some sales teams, this means focusing on closing Q1 deals that were already under way before the COVID-19 pandemic began upending our lives. But as the second quarter fast approaches, they face a whole new, uncertain scenario.
What can sales teams do? What can sales leaders do to help their sales teams cope through this crisis?
Facing Q2: How sales teams can survive
Focus on providing value
Sales reps shouldn’t stop reaching out to prospects and customers, but they need to tread carefully. More than ever, it’s critical to understand the prospect or customer and be empathetic to their situation.
Whether conducting virtual meetings, sending emails, making calls, or reaching out on social media, sellers need to think first about how they can help customers, advised Byron Matthews, chief commercial officer at Korn Ferry Digital.
“It can’t be activity for activity’s sake,” he said during a recent webinar presented by Korn Ferry’s Miller Heiman Group. “Make sure when you’re engaging with clients, it’s not just from your perspective. It’s about being there for your customers. Think about engaging with them on their terms, not yours.”
Time saved by not traveling to meet customers in person should be spent on building relationships, not administrative tasks, he said.
Perfect the virtual meeting
For many salespeople, in-person meetings are core to what they do. Now, with virtual meetings the only option, sales leaders need to make sure their teams have the right equipment.
Sales reps need the basics to ensure an online meeting or teleconference without technical difficulties: a good home office setup, reliable internet service, and quality headset. There are a lot of video conferencing technologies options requiring varying learning curves; make sure your sellers are comfortable using your preferred solution.
To boost the effectiveness of virtual meetings and make them more engaging, consider ways to leverage new video conferencing technologies and perhaps even augmented reality tools. Advanced technology may be essential if you sell a physical product, like a giant piece of machinery. Software products, meanwhile, are well-suited for sales reps to demonstrate in a virtual environment.
Consider that money saved from traveling to customer sites could be reallocated to virtual meeting technology.
Increase communication and coaching
Regular, clear communication is critical during a crisis. Things are changing constantly, so keep your sales reps informed on a daily basis.
Sales managers may want to start the day with a team meeting to share latest updates and to give sales reps time to voice concerns or share what they’re hearing from customers. Spending time each week to recognize accomplishments also is important to maintain sellers’ morale.
Sales coaching is always important, but never more so than now. Sales reps not accustomed to working from home and virtual customer meetings may need guidance. Sales managers need to provide support for any professional issues they encounter as well as their personal needs. Sales is a stressful job to begin with, and the pandemic adds a whole new level of stress.
Coordinate with marketing
When you can’t visit prospects at their offices or meet them at conferences and other live events, it’s important to align more closely with marketing.
Many organizations say they try to align sales and marketing functions, but in reality, the two departments often operate in silos. By working more closely with marketing, sales can keep the lines of communication open with customers and prospects via digital channels.
Adjust sales compensation
As the pandemic takes its toll across a broad swath of industries, many sales leaders will have to rethink their sales compensation plans.
If sales reps are struggling to meet quota, sales operations will need to weigh the possibility of making quota adjustments. Organizations may want to consider a partial quota adjustment or moving to a system that adjusts performance based on how a company performs overall, compared to the market, according to ZS, a professional services firm.
Other possible ways to adjust sales compensation include foregoing the comp plan and paying based on activities or target, ZS advises.
Salespeople will be asking questions about their payouts, so sales managers need to be ready with some answers as to what actions the organization is considering.
Adapting for the long term
We all hope that we can resume our normal lives and ways of doing business soon, but it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting impact. While some industries such as healthcare are seeing skyrocketing demand, global economic forecasts are bleak.
The next three months will put sales teams to the test. Sales operations will likely need to adjust forecasts and develop plans for reducing costs.
Above all, it’s important to maintain perspective by focusing on what’s most important: the safety of your customers, your employees, and your family.