The approach toward Business-to-Business selling in today’s business landscape has been contentious and a difficult one to navigate. For some, the thought of selling during the COVID-19 pandemic teeters on exploitation and desperation. For others, the thought of selling is solutions based and necessary to assist companies with their evolving business needs.
During the pandemic, it is important to understand the products you offer and determine if they truly are a solution for businesses to guide them through their current state-of-affairs. In other words, do they offer value?
There are many business owners in the sales industry who are experiencing a Shakespearean crisis – to sell or not to sell. They are unsure if they should offer their company’s products to customers. But, their routines and metric systems have dictated that their sales representatives continue to make contacts, whether virtually, by phone, e-mail, or in-person (hopefully this is not currently an option.)
This is an area where business owners must demonstrate good judgment and be mindful of not only the financial implications of not being able to sell and the possibility of hurting the business’s brand, but also exposing their sales representative to backlash which may diminish morale and potentially impact their ability to sell in the future.
It is imperative to listen to and protect your sales representatives. They are the face of your business and are the first to hear the Voice of the Customer. As a business owner, it is important to be open to constructive feedback with a sense of urgency during this sensitive time. Take time to listen to your sales representatives.
For example, if a sales representative has been averaging one appointment in every five calls prior to the pandemic, and is now averaging one appointment every twenty calls, it may be a good idea to consider having a conversation with this individual to inquire into what type of feedback he/she is receiving from the customer.
By receiving this constructive feedback, it provides you with the information needed to make informed decisions and it opens a line of communication for your sales representatives. It builds trust and makes them feel empowered.
*For those companies who have hundreds of sales representatives, it is important that their managers inquire, then provide feedback directly to you.
Managing Unaltered Quotas
Sales representatives know numbers. They understand quotas. While some may continue to meet their quotas (e.g. face-to-face appointments, phone calls, sales), others may struggle to do so. If your company requires 75 cold calls and 75 phone calls minimum per week, it may be necessary to curve the expectation to meet current business demand.
If an outside sales representative becomes confined to inside sales, phone calls may become disingenuous and begin to impact the brand of the company. This will not only impact current income but will certainly impact long-term income potential. In doing this, it puts your sales representative in the difficult situation of managing unaltered quotas in a difficult market to sell. This, in turn, can create animosity within the organization and put your company in danger of losing not only potential customers, but talent, as well.
Living on Commissions
As the business owner, you already understand that in many cases, the perception of your sales representatives by the public is one of being too pushy and untrustworthy. Many sales representatives do little to curtail the stereotype because they need to execute sales as a means to pay their bills each month.
Often, their base salary is low (if there is a base at all) and their recoverable commissions can be unfeasible in a time such as what we are experiencing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be important to understand the impact these two numbers can have on the individual representing your brand and your company. With the pressure to make sales quotas remaining the same, unethical sales practices may become a potential problem.
What Can Be Done?
Listed are seven minor alterations you can consider as the pandemic continues to impact the economy. These will greatly impact the way business is conducted and how your business is perceived by customers and your workforce.
TRANSPARENCY: No matter the circumstance, transparency within your organization as it relates to your employees should be of the utmost importance, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales representatives need concrete direction, as the level of panic increases with each passing moment because of lost revenue and leads. Daily meetings are not required, but some form of contact (via e-mail, video, etc.) throughout the day should be a regular occurrence, and should be informational. Employees look for leadership during these times and it is your responsibility to provide them with this leadership.
PREPARATION: Once the restrictions posed by the pandemic have been lifted, and businesses are back conducting daily transactions, it will be important that your sales representatives are prepared to “hit the ground running.” Making sure leads have been generated and scheduled cold calls/phone calls are planned will enable the sales representative to be ready for a potential influx in sales. Having an internal protocol at the upper level to assist in a brief increase in sales will also benefit your sales representatives. This will ensure they do not feel alone and overwhelmed if too many orders are initially placed.
TRAINING: Now is the perfect time to prioritize training. While businesses are shuttered, part of the weekly requirement should focus on bettering your workforce. Training should not only be relevant to your company, but should contain material pertaining to the customer experience. You should ask yourself: “How much do my sales representatives know about the products they are selling?” You may be amazed at how little many of them know. Use this time to offer enrichment programs – permitting your employees to take other ‘business approved’ educational courses and seminars.
CURRENT CUSTOMER CONTACT: Perhaps the best approach to solidifying your company’s long-term financial success is to nurture current customers. This should include making contact to find out how your company is doing as their vendor, and to see if there is anything more that can be offered. What this does is eliminate the survey approach and turns the inquiry into an appreciated human experience. It gives your customer a literal voice. Additionally, with many of these businesses slowing as well, it gives your customers the opportunity to properly evaluate how your company is performing.
ALTER METRICS: Sales representatives, especially the most successful, need to know their company is backing them. This may be a good time to temporarily ease the metrics currently in place to better reflect the current state of the economy. Customer contacts, both current and potential, should focus on a high level of quality, not quantity. Encouraging your representatives to increase contacts may degrade the overall customer experience, diminish the company brand, and demoralize your sales representative.
COMMISSIONS: If it can be afforded, temporarily converting recoverable commissions into non-recoverable commissions will solidify your standing with your sales representatives and provide a small financial safety net for them. This, in turn, will motivate the sales representative to provide a quality experience for the customer.
SOLUTIONS, NOT SALES: Offer solutions to your customers. Most sales made during the pandemic will be solutions based. Many companies will not spend money on non-essential items. Their budgets have certainly been altered, and it is important your sales representatives are cognitive of this issue. The approach cannot be the same as it was prior to the impact of the pandemic. Your sales representatives should understand, be aware, and live by the motto: ‘SOLUTIONS OFFER VALUE, SALES DO NOT.’
It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the business landscape. It will not be easy for many businesses to recover, and your business may very well be included on this list.
Regardless, it is important to display a sense of empathy during this time. It is important that this message comes across to your customers, your sales representatives, and your entire organization.
For a swift financial recovery to occur once the economy is headed in a positive direction, it is imperative you instill the appropriate protocols at present to ensure the success of your company’s financial recovery. Without focusing on alternative options, the risk of failure becomes even greater.
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*Kenneth Pearson is the Founder of K-CORE Consulting, LLC. He has extensive experience in operations across a multitude of industries. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University and is Six Sigma Certified. He resides in Sahuarita, AZ with his wife, Cory.