The initial shock of COVID-19 is receding as people fall into a “new normal” of working remotely and living with the pandemic day-to-day. Nonetheless, the ongoing social, emotional, financial, and physical impacts of the virus are effecting fundamental paradigm shifts in how we work and live every day. Changes at such a profound and fundamental level can be identity-shaking and identify-shifting. They inevitably involve some degree of cognitive dissonance, confusion, anger, and grief.
Selling in the time of COVID starts with a recognition of this background of a primarily-shaken, and primarily-shifting state. Now more than ever, you cannot know what your clients, prospects, former customers, etc. may be thinking about or dealing with on the other end of your email, video chat, or text. Approaching every outreach, every engagement, and every follow-up with extreme empathy and sensitivity, as well as extreme mental and emotional agility and reserve is more important than ever.
Beyond active listening, sellers need to practice “embodied listening.” They must be mentally and emotionally present and intent on creating mental and emotional space for their clients and prospects. Sellers need to attune to and acknowledge what lies below the surface of seemingly normal interactions – for example, a client apologizes for a slow email reply, a seller responds by saying they totally understand how intense life is right now. Allowing focus and clarity to emerge is more important, and more appreciated, than driving for precision and definition up front.
Most importantly, a seller’s primary intent now needs to be on providing support, and being of service – not providing advice, selling solutions, or retiring quota. Our business at The Spur Group is professional services, which is entirely a relationship-based business. Now is the time to magnify the focus on relationships – sales will come from clients who know and trust that sellers genuinely understand what they are dealing with on all levels, and who set aside routine expectations and interactions to be of use. Three fundamental questions should anchor “sales”/service calls right now – “How are you doing? How is all of this impacting you? How can I help?”
Listening and being of service in this way requires a huge amount of patience and a willingness to forego immediate gains for the long-term – a true challenge when one’s compensation hinges largely on the short-term. It also requires a tremendous amount of creativity when the primary means of engaging with customers and prospects is electronic. Fortunately, rather than a liability, this can become a strength.
These are some of the emerging best practices we’re capturing from our early days of virtual “selling” in the time of COVID-19:
1. Personal reach-outs that have nothing to do with selling – asking the three fundamental questions above and being ready to connect with our networks, make a donation, volunteer time, or find other ways to be of service in response.
2. Gift cards for coffee or lunch to thank clients and prospects for remote time together that couldn’t be had in person.
3. Virtual Happy Hours to connect with clients and prospects personally and professionally – literally sitting at the computer and raising a glass of whatever your preferred beverage is together, the balance of time being predominantly personal connection.
4. Sharing with clients transitioning to remote work what we’re learning works for us – for example, enabling with technology, upping the fun, quick daily stand-ups vs. long meetings, cutting meetings to 40 or 50 minutes vs. 60 to allow time for family check-in’s, and so on.
5. Paying attention to social media – what clients are tracking and responding to, what questions they’re asking and comments they’re leaving, and following up 1:1 with relevant comments or content.
6. Partnering with customers and prospects to research what the new normal is for their business/function/industry right now, and what transitioning to the next normal (the future) might involve.
7. Sharing websites, tools, and tips that have helped our team cope during this time (including family, kids, and personal stresses).
Without question, the days and months ahead will require true innovation for sellers as the economy, industries, and businesses as we knew them have irrevocably changed. We have an opportunity now to use technology differently to engage clients, understand how they are impacted and how we can be of service, and providing value in ways that are truly meaningful to them. Being agile and “light on our feet,” willing to let go of ways of working that are no longer possible, is key. As is continuing to lead with our hearts – connecting with and caring for clients and prospects first and foremost on a human level is the order of the day. Innovation, agility, and deep commitment to service will ensure we can continue to be effective as sellers during and long after the time of COVID-19.