When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, the world anxiously waited for it to pass so everything could return to normal. Whether normal ever returned, or ever will, seems iffy at best.
That uncertainty continues to shake up the sales profession. Keith Strauss, president of Sales Concepts Inc., a Westlake sales and sales management training firm, says his clients must adapt to the new, unstable business climate if they hope to find success again.
“When COVID-19 hit, seasoned, experienced salespeople who relied on face-to-face meetings didn’t know how to navigate virtual platforms like Zoom, and they struggled to interact with customers,” Strauss says. “A lot of the work we did was teaching people to sell virtually.
“Now, my clients are finding other ways to leverage online tools and social media to create an audience that will move toward them,” he adds. “They are target marketing and text messaging and using popup ads to push more people to their websites, where they can use e-commerce to sell directly from there.”
Proceeding with Caution
The sales landscape remains rocky, though. Companies are still struggling to regain the foothold they had two years ago. For a while, it seemed that the pandemic had passed. Then came another spike in COVID-19 cases, and the business community turned tentative again.
Strauss says customers and potential customers are using that uncertainty to avoid making buying decisions, just like they did during the height of the pandemic, when sales activity was virtually shut down.
“Clients called me saying that they hadn’t talked to customers for a year-and-a-half,” Strauss says. “For a lot of our clients, it was debilitating.”
This time, however, it’s not just COVID-19 that’s worrying customers and stymieing sales. Due to the Great Resignation, companies are having trouble finding workers. Supply chain breaks are delaying projects. Inflation has reached a 40-year high. Economists are predicting a recession.
In that kind of atmosphere, salespeople should proceed cautiously and show empathy toward individual customers. Before visiting in person, for example, determine the customer’s COVID-19 protocols and mask-wearing practices. Sales professionals should then respect the customer’s position, regardless of their own beliefs.
“We need to be ultrasensitive to where people are,” Strauss says. “Matching and mirroring your audience has always been important, but this pandemic has been so divisive that it has become more important than ever. Learn what your customer’s belief system is so that you don’t alienate them.”
Strauss says one salesperson he knows visited a customer unannounced. The customer was offended because they weren’t ready to receive anyone in person, due to the lingering pandemic.
“They lost business right there,” Strauss says.
Understanding Your Customers
Salespeople must realize that customers, like they’ve been since the pandemic started, are afraid of making the wrong decision. They’re frozen, unsure what to do.
“We have to understand the emotions of prospects and get those emotions out of the equation,” Strauss says. “The salesperson needs to focus on the problem they’re solving for the customer.”
For example, if customers are worried about the employee shortage, a technology that would help them operate with fewer workers would probably interest them.
“We, the salespeople, should focus on something the customer is excited about and the value we can add to that, or focus on making a problem go away for them and providing a solution,” Strauss says.
Since 1981, Sales Concepts has provided tailored training for people who work in sales, service, telemarketing and management. Sales Concepts was founded on the philosophy that training should be productive, competitive, tailored to the individual, enjoyable and designed to improve performance.
The company believes there is more than one right way. There is no such thing as a silver bullet that works in all markets, for all people. To be applicable to your business, training must be tailored to your market, products, services and people. Customized training by Sales Concepts helps to develop a continuing, focused training program that is delivered in the time and format specified by its clients.