July 29, 2020

Total Performance Leadership Blog Post #26: Customer Experience-The Pandemic

By Rob Andrews

Build B2B Revenues during the Pandemic

Paraphrased from Jeff Winters’ article in Harvard Business Review July 29, 2020

Covid-19 has changed the world of B2B sales. Even if you started the year with a packed pipeline, few businesses have escaped the economic turmoil. Heidrick & Struggles posted revenues of $145.6 million during the second quarter of 2020, vs. $173.1 million the same quarter in 2019, a 16% drop in revenues. They expect similar results during the 3rd and 4th quarters. Other search firms are reporting similar results. Statista states that global management consulting revenues dropped 18% from 2019 to 2020.

Businesses that have been less hard-hit are redoubling their efforts, deciding not to participate in the temporary downturn. Of course, the pandemic certainly creates new challenges for their teams. However, those that take advantage of the opportunities that are available right now are the most likely to thrive during and after this crisis. Keep in mind, there is no guarantee that these selling conditions won’t persist even after a vaccine is distributed. Consumers are creating new spending habits, which may very well continue into the “new normal.”

Businesses who wait to brainstorm ways to drum up new leads until after the storm has passed will be too late to gain a competitive (or any) advantage; when the pipeline runs out, it will take time to get it flowing again. Don’t stop testing your tactics and tightening your processes. To keep closing deals, try implementing the following steps:

Ramp up your prospecting. Successfully closing a deal during Covid-19 will require most teams to rethink their approach. Face-to-face sellers need to focus on becoming effective selling remotely — in many cases, a lot more effective than they were pre-Coronavirus. This will require a significant increase in prospecting. All sellers, even seasoned prospectors, should dedicate themselves to learning best practices, executing new methods, and finding fresh resources.

Engaging with prospects’ social posts, writing handwritten letters, and giving strategic, genuine gifts within your company’s ethical guidelines are all smart tactics for staying top of mind — but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Continuing to generate leads and close sales will require continuous experimentation. No tried-and-true tactics exist for selling during a global pandemic. We are all pioneers in this new environment. Trial and error is necessary for adapting to the unique circumstances you face in helping your prospects.

What’s more, the tactics that worked in the past may or may not work now. For instance, standard email open rates decreased overall during Covid-19, but emails acknowledging the pandemic saw a 41% increase in March, according to Worldata. This reality necessitates that all selling organizations foster a testing subculture: making minor adjustments and regularly retesting their approaches to ensure their efficacy.

Think about your prospect’s customer. Your prospect’s customer now holds the key to your success. If your prospect’s customer is doing okay financially, then your prospect is likely more inclined to buy from you. If they’re not, your prospect’s buying behavior will change, too. These changes can range from not buying at all to slowing down the sales cycle a few weeks.

Once you know how the people your prospect are selling to have been affected, you’ll better understand your prospect’s buying urgency (or lack thereof) when going into sales calls. For example, if you’re selling your software to a company that sells to stadiums, you will know immediately that they’re less likely to purchase quickly right now. It has always been useful to practice this kind of awareness; now it is essential.

It is also critical to know how your prospect’s customer is faring as you think about the resources you’ll spend on a deal. If your pool of deals is now down 50% or lower, then you need to focus on the deals you can win. The status of your prospect’s customer can help you determine whether you’re working a deal that can close. If your prospect’s customer is struggling, it’s likely that your sales cycle will take longer. Take this into consideration when you’re forecasting deals to leadership and deciding how to spend your time.

If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to press in on your prospect. Ask questions like: “Given the new environment, has anything changed with your process?” and “Can you walk me through the approval process for a deal like this?”

Switch to ‘yes’ mode and be empathetic. What does your prospect need in order to get the deal across the finish line? Sales leaders should have a playbook of possibilities that sales reps can deploy in the right situations. Consider offering a temporary discount or deferred payment option to help your prospect get through the pandemic. For instance, some banks and lenders have begun waiving overdraft and late fees. You might also consider throwing in a free feature that would normally cost a premium. SAP, for example, is making its Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse complementary for companies that have been forced to adapt to a new reality of work.

Just remember that you’re doing some good here. You may not be able to sell your product at a premium, and that’s okay. If you can get something you sell into the hands of a prospect who needs it during a difficult time (even at a discount), that’s a win for everyone. They’re receiving what they need, and you’re still selling. The few nickels you sacrificed to land the deal will be worth it for the long-term prospect loyalty you build.

Pitch all deals like you’re pitching to a CFO. In our current climate, all deals are receiving more scrutiny from financial decision makers. This means that more people will be involved. Sellers should assume that everyone is a champion — a person who will share your information internally. Sapper Consulting states that “our experience with sales in recent months has shown us that there are no final decision makers right now.” Even individuals who have unilateral authority are sharing the decision-making process with teams and committees. According to a Young President’s Organization survey, 68% of business leaders are communicating more consistently with employees.

Because people will be scrutinizing buying decisions more, you need to be more intentional, direct, and repetitive about ROI. You have to emphasize to your champions that you have a very clear, demonstrable ROI. “The promise of great value is not cutting it,” Alyssa Merwin, LinkedIn’s Vice President of sales, said during a webinar. “It is a hard-dollar ROI, not soft. As sellers, we are going to have to up our game.” To demonstrate hard ROI, you must highlight the direct connection between the product or service you’re selling and the customer organization’s goals. Hard ROI is usually defined by the money saved in terms of reducing or avoiding a cost. Use the ROI ratio formula to get a percentage representing a net gain on the investment (gain from the investment minus the cost of investment divided by cost).

The pandemic will pass eventually, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to stop selling and wait for better times. These pieces of advice can help you deliver the kind of pitch that snags (and keeps) a prospect’s attention.

Warmest Regards,