Right now, salespeople in every industry are being confronted with what is certain to be the most unusual business environment they’ve ever seen. The massive global economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have upended the landscape in ways nobody could have predicted or prepared for. Supply chains have gone haywire, altering long-established sales patterns. Brick and mortar retail has come to a screeching halt. Worst of all, consumer confidence has plummeted with the spread of the disease.
All of it adds up to a very uncertain future for anyone that makes their living selling goods and services. It also means that salespeople are going to have to make some adjustments to their routines and tactics if they hope to thrive in what many people now refer to as the “new normal” of the post-pandemic business world. To help them get a head start, here are four ways sales will have to change in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Less Selling, More Serving
Under normal circumstances, the average salesperson spends a great deal of their time looking for ways to convince a potential buyer to commit to making a purchase. Right now, however, as individuals and businesses take stock of their own weakened financial positions, there’s a pretty good chance that discretionary purchases aren’t going to be much of a priority. The takeaway is that sales professionals should alter their focus more toward identifying customers who will make purchases out of need, and shift to more of a customer service-type approach for everyone else. This will simultaneously support a reasonable amount of sales volume while nurturing more customers who will start to spend when the situation improves.
2. Take Time to Up-Skill
For all of the reasons mentioned above, salespeople are likely going to have to confront an environment with two major defining features: decreased lead generation, and much higher competition for customer dollars. That means they must do everything in their power to make sure they have the tools needed to convert on every potential sale. In short, they must compensate for a decrease in leads with a higher conversion rate. To do it, they should take the time now (especially during the mandated lockdowns) to up-skill by taking some additional training that could help them increase their efficiency. It’s a win-win move because it will continue to pay dividends long after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror and the economy returns to some semblance of normal.
3. Aim for Flexibility
One thing that often gets overlooked by businesses in times of economic turbulence is the fact that every business and every customer is simultaneously being affected by the same forces. For that reason, they tend to spend plenty of time looking for ways to increase their flexibility in their accounts payable but offer no such concessions to their own customers. Salespeople should try to correct that by working with decisionmakers to devise ways to give customers added purchase flexibility. Things like extended payment terms and shorter contract durations – basically anything that makes it easier to justify a purchase.
Of course, the business has to take care not to over-extend a helping hand as it could come back to haunt them later on down the line. This is also an area where salespeople can take a leading role. Since they have a better understanding of customers than any other stakeholder in a business, they can (and should) provide decision-makers with some guidance as to which customers are worth the risk of more generous terms or other accommodations. Such collaboration is an excellent way for businesses to navigate an economic downturn without taking undue risks.
4. Shift to Long-Term Goals
In the modern sales environment, analytics is king. Salespeople are judged using key performance indicators (KPIs) all intended to translate data points into usable insight. The trouble is, some of the short-term goals that make up an average business’s set of KPIs are unfit for the present circumstances. For example, the typical expectations around sales cycle length must be adjusted to reflect a reality where customers are going to be far more careful in their purchase decisions. Also, businesses and sales teams should place more weight on KPIs like long-term conversion rate growth and the cost of conversion. Those are much better indicators of true sales performance in a recession – since they take the difficulty of the sales environment out of the equation by focusing on opportunity-based performances and not raw output.
Thriving in Tough Times
Of course, since the situation right now is quite unlike anything today’s salespeople have seen in their lifetimes, it’s going to be some time before it’s possible to tell how effective each business’s response is. The changes suggested here, though, represent a common-sense approach that’s broadly applicable in any kind of downturn. There’s every reason to believe that they can and should form the core of an effective sales response to the present situation. Time will tell, but the one certain thing is that the sales teams that react fastest in tailoring their approach – by making changes like these – stand the best chance of thriving no matter what the economic environment has to throw at them next.