The poet William Edward Hickson taught us all to, “Try, try again.”
But since the coronavirus crisis has changed the world in countless ways, we need to modify the maxim for this new era to, “Try, try something else.”
Many of our clients’ sales teams are telling us they’re having trouble just getting people on the phone. That’s totally understandable! Instead of getting hung up on the challenge, let’s focus on the relationship, not revenue, in this turbulent time. In doing so, we will build up demand, and the sales will follow when the time is right.
I’m not saying let’s give up and do nothing until this crisis blows over. But let’s be attuned to the fact that strangers aren’t exactly standing by ready to take your sales call.
Now is the time to get creative and find fresh ways to engage a new audience—ones that are sensitive to the situation and also effective. Who knows? Maybe these new strategies will continue to get results even after the crisis ends.
To help with this article, I reached out to some outstanding sales leaders for their advice.
Marketers, take note as well: You can use these principles to increase email open rates, boost engagement with your digital presence, and keep your brand appropriately on the mind of your best customers and prospects.
Tap into Your Customers’ Connections
Rich Blakeman, author of The Hybrid Sales Channel, and currently the director of membership at Vistage Worldwide, suggests adding value to your best customers’ networks.
A few weeks ago, Rich and his team promoted free one-hour coaching sessions to prospects, and they got no bites. Rather than getting discouraged, they decided to pivot. How could they focus on existing customers (their members) as a way to grow their reach?
So they set to creating a series of valuable two-hour webinars and asked their loyal members to invite prospective members to join. The topics of the webinars speak to many of the issues that are at the forefront of leaders’ minds right now: SBA loans, furloughs versus layoffs, and working from home.
After generating no interest in their initial free offering, they’re now seeing prospects commit to two hours with the Vistage brand.
There’s no hard sales pitch at the end of the webinar; they’re just trying to be helpful. The sales team will follow up with attendees afterward, in an appropriate manner.
Keep it Virtual, and Keep it Brief
Sales training advisor Ryan Dohrn suggests offering an online meeting. Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and Skype are all in the zeitgeist, so lean into it.
Dohrn adds that subject lines are everything. It’s okay to acknowledge that we’re living through a time that is anything but business as usual. Perhaps try a subject line like “strategic ideas during COVID-19.” Showing that you have value to add even during this period of uncertainty just might get someone to take notice and click on your message.
As far as the body of the email, Dohrn recommends the rule of three and three: three words in the subject line and three sentences in the body of the email. People are overwhelmed and don’t have time right now to focus on a lengthy email. Make your pitch quickly and clearly, and leave it at that.
Don’t Immediately Resort to Discounting
Some businesses are starting to panic. Telling themselves that some low-paying business is better than no business at all, they’re lowering prices to get someone’s—anyone’s—attention. Dohrn, however, would caution against that approach.
“From my perspective, discounting equals death. I encourage people to create loyalty programs to reward those clients that have been with them for quite some time. For example, if a client spent $10,000 with you in 2019, they would potentially receive a 10 percent credit towards future spending.”
Dohrn adds that his concern with discounting is that you almost never get back to your original price, and it hurts your brand in the long run. If you’re not a discount brand, don’t offer a discount price.
Even when your competition is providing discounts, discounting as a business practice is still risky. If you and your competitors are racing to the bottom, there is a problem with either your brand or your business model.
View This as an Experiment
Here’s our view. There is no COVID-19 sales playbook yet—these are unprecedented times. You can be part of writing it, though!
Be sure to take action, measure, and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. As our own Dick Ryan urges, “Don’t stop investing.” You need to stay relevant.
We must also be extra sensitive in our communications today, but that does not mean we have to be scared to send an email or pick up the phone.
Come up with a laundry list of ways to add value in a considerate, empathetic way. Then do something! Try out different strategies. Ride the winners, shelve what’s not working. Force yourself to try one new approach each day.
And share, please! Let me know what you and your team are doing that is getting traction. You can shoot me an email here.
About the Sterling Woods Group, LLC
The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to predictably grow sales. We apply data science to help you optimize your sales funnel, improve your marketing ROI, launch new products successfully, and enter new markets profitably.
We use a hypothesis-driven, data-supported methodology to discover insights that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right sales strategies, marketing plans, technologies, and resources to seize this opportunity.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Starting his career at McKinsey, his focus has always been on embracing digital technology and data science to spur strategic growth.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.
He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob lives outside Boston, MA with his wife, Kate; daughter, Leni; and black lab, Royce.