Sales in the Time of Coronavirus
Author: Anita Nielsen, LDK Advisory Services
Posted: March 27th, 2020
It’s been a topsy-turvy couple of weeks here in the Nielsen house. I am finally feeling like I have settled into a productive routine. Like many of you, my kids (two teenagers, sympathy welcome) are here at home since school is out. This pandemic situation gets confusing and overwhelming for them, sometimes. I have been trying to find ways to help keep their spirits up. To that end, I’ve told them that we can't become chicken littles because of the current situation. I said that we have to become "silver lining hunters." Yes, they rolled their eyes. Yes, they looked at me like I was speaking another language. Yes, this idea is totally hokey. By now, you probably know that I believe hokey is a superpower. So, that's what we've been trying to do: force ourselves to find the good, the positive in this whirlwind. I am not going to kid you - it's fricking hard to do. Sometimes we just look at each other thinking – “we got nothing - no silver here.” Those moments have become the exception, though, because we're getting good at it. Obviously, the Global Angsty Teen Code (I am certain it is a thing) prevents them from ever admitting they are kinda into it - but, I know they are. They are like almost everyone else right now: hungry for joy, hope and something to believe in.
"We can't become chicken littles because of the current situation... we have to become "silver lining hunters."
Now, I think more than ever, it's critical to focus on maintaining a positive mindset. Look, you have to be deliberate about it, it isn’t going to come naturally for most of us, right now. If you can keep your mind in a positive place, it will make it easier to work through all of this uncertainty and preserve your mental health. I know it's not easy because I am struggling through it, too.
Without optimism and a positive mindset, we can't be as strong and effective as we need to - in our work or personal lives. We can’t keep steadily moving along the path forward. We also can’t make good decisions from a place of negativity, fear or anxiety. Elephant Whisperers: Remember, a scared elephant will confound and stall the logical rider, every time.
As sales professionals, we need to recognize that our customers are also trying to function in this period of extreme upheaval. They will benefit from a positive mindset, too. This pandemic impacts each of them in a different way - personally and professionally. We all know how difficult it is for customers to make buying decisions during steady, safe, business-as-usual times. Just imagine how challenging it is for them in this time of crippling fear and worry. Customers are afraid of losing their jobs, worried they’ll have to let go of their teams, worried about the well-being of their children and parents, and afraid – literally – for their own lives. I mean…good grief - it’s overwhelming AF, right now. All this fear can create a thick fog of desperation which can be paralyzing. Keep this in mind as you go about your newly adapted sales motion. Be extraordinarily empathetic in every interaction.
What’s the antidote to crippling fear and desperation? When someone (i.e. your customer) is in that state of fear - what do you think they crave the most? They crave a sense of safety, and stability. How can you, my beloved sales professionals, help give them that sense of safety in the context of your relationship? Hint: It sure as hell is NOT by sending generic emails that say some variation of "Just checking in to see how you and your family are doing...Please let me know if I can help you in any way….Stay safe and healthy" blah blah blah. UGH. When a vast number of sales reps are doing this, and they are right now, it becomes meaningless, and all of it feels somewhere in between annoying and insulting.
How can you help buyers with maintaining a positive mindset? Can you do anything that will pull them out of the chaos, even if for a short time? Can you do something that they will value personally and/or professionally? You can. You have a golden opportunity to show your clients you genuinely care about them and that you are different from all the reps that are trying to sell them under the guise of a cordial email sentiment. You have a tremendous opportunity to make it clear that you get them and their plight.
"OK, so how the heck am I supposed to do all that?" you ask? I always love it when you are thinking of that question. It means it's time for me to give you some examples - the perfect chance for me to brag about some of the remarkable sales professionals that I have the privilege of working with. I want to share with you three amazing stories about what a few exceptional sales pros have done recently that exemplify the kind of thoughts and behaviors we need to have as we engage with our clients amidst this uncertainty. As you can imagine, I feel an incredible sense of pride as I share these stories:
Early last week, a sales rep I'll call him James, sent a note to 5 of his most cherished clients including an attachment "WFH Bingo” (Work From Home). He explained that he wanted to share something fun he thought they could use with their teams to help boost morale. He promised that if they played it with their teams, he would have a prize for their winner. Sure enough - all of the leaders/decision-makers thought it was such a cool idea.
These leaders went ahead and got their respective teams to play – with practical instructions. It was fun and a welcome change of pace. James’ buyers were thrilled to see their teams enjoying something, together. They thanked James for helping them boost team morale. Now, do you think these leaders will remember a rep who sent a generic email? NOPE. Will they always remember James, "the guy who gave them that bingo game" when they needed it most? Will they remember the person that gave all of them something to laugh about? You bet they will.
Lisa, one of my dearest sales pros, has been working from home for a couple of weeks, now. All the while she is making sure that her kids are doing their e-learning and having to come up with additional enrichment activities. Lisa wanted to make sure she was on top of this enrichment stuff. She did her research, she met with one of the best schoolteachers, and created a holistic "homeschooling" plan. She put it together with a schedule to minimize daily bandwidth wars and allow her to focus on her work. It worked really well. She decided that she was on to something and shared it with some of her friends who had similar, positive results. Lisa remembered that she had a customer and a couple of prospects who had recently shared with her how they were trying to juggle WFH with homeschooling and managing their kids.
She wrote up an email explaining that she had come up with a plan to address this balancing act and how well it seemed to be working in her house and with a group of other moms. Lisa said she was sharing it in hopes that it may help them, too. She sent the email and her plan to the client and prospects, and….BOOM. They didn’t just respond to her email. They actually, one after another, called her up and thanked her repeatedly for sharing. They told her this was going to be a huge help because they were still struggling to get into a routine. Super Sales Pro Lisa had mastered the magical trifecta for tumultuous times: empathy, compassion, and authenticity. Her prospects and customer mattered to her on a personal and professional level and she made that crystal clear. No doubt that, from here on out, she will be the one sales professional in her space that truly matters to them.
A Gift from the Heart
Last week, Tina, a b2b tech sales professional called her key clients to let them know she’d be working from home and would not be able to have face to face meetings with them for some time. Some of them were still working in offices, at the time. As she spoke to one of the clients, Dawn, it was natural to commiserate and share her own challenges with finding necessities like groceries and toilet paper. They had developed an easy, trusting relationship over the years, so this was not a creepy conversation. Tina mentioned she was glad they had enough right now so it wasn't going to get tough for a couple of weeks.
Then, Dawn shared her own struggle. Dawn’s daughter is immune-compromised and she had been using so many antibacterial wipes just to be extremely safe - she could not bear the thought of her daughter getting sick. She mentioned that she was tearing the wipes in half, now, as it was impossible to get more of these cleaning wipes. This all but broke Tina's heart. She thought about the combination of fear, horror, and anxiety that Dawn was facing and how overwhelming it had to be. The conversation ended, each of the women wishing the other good health and promising to speak again, soon. Lisa’s husband was a self-proclaimed Costco junkie. He went almost every weekend and always replenished their paper products well before they ran out. So, she had a 3 pack of Clorox wipes and a couple of packs of the Costco Kirkland antibacterial cleaning wipes sitting on her utility room shelf. My superstar Lisa knew, as soon as she finished her call with Dawn, what she had to do. She had Dawn’s address because she often sent handwritten notes to her (see…total elephant-whisperer). She boxed up the Clorox wipes and wrote a simple note to Dawn.
“You need these more than I do. I hope you all will continue to be safe and healthy.” -Lisa
Dawn called Lisa immediately after she opened the package. Lisa could hear that Dawn was in tears as she thanked her. It took about 30 seconds for Lisa’s own tears to start. The compassion and the pure humanity of this exchange were overwhelming for both of them...in a good way. Dawn knew, without a doubt, that Lisa valued her and cared for her at a level that no other sales professional ever had. Lisa was moved by how deeply grateful Dawn was. Do you think Dawn will EVER buy tech products and solutions from anyone else? Hell no! Seriously, how could she?
It’s important to note that in all of the above stories, the sales professional acted from a place of good intent and sincerity. They had a servant leadership mentality – they genuinely wanted to make a positive impact for the clients they served. OK, now is a good time for my big fat disclaimer: If you can’t find it in your heart to be benevolent and want to help your customers, none of what I am saying will work for you. There is no point in trying to fake empathy and compassion. People can sense insincerity and selfish intent a mile away- and it's like kryptonite. Never, ever give customers a reason to believe salespeople are “slimy” “sneaky” or “shady.” Please, just don’t.
Based on your relationship with your customers and how well you understand them, you can create a level of personalized, inimitable value and support even when times are tough. Sh…oot, especially when times are tough! Clients will remember that you didn't try to sell them or send them overused scripted sentiments. They'll remember that you were kind, compassionate and empathetic. They will know they are safe with you. A sense of safety is e a powerful antidote for fear. A sales professional that can master the magical trifecta – empathy, compassion, and authenticity - in tumultuous times of scarcity is someone that clients will remember in times of abundance when they need to make a purchase.
One of the precious few things we can control right now is how we react to what's going on in the world around us. That ain't easy - and I doubt anyone (not even me) is naïve enough to think there won’t be times that we are going to feel down, scared and anxious, no matter how hard we try to find silver linings. We have to know how to pull ourselves out of the quicksand. It’s critical during this unprecedented moment in our history, to be conscientious about preserving our well-being and protecting our mental health. Your mindset will determine how you get through this. Mind your mind. We have the power to choose compassion, empathy, and optimism. Let’s try our best to do that, over and over again. Let’s help our customers to do it, too.