By Brian Giese, CEO of True Influence.
For almost anyone in B2B sales today, COVID-19 is your biggest competitor. The pandemic changed everything, and the daily life of B2B Sales is no exception. It will be at least a year before the old go-to’s of trade shows, business dinners and constant travel re-emerge as the standard – if they ever do.
Sales is about relationships, while COVID is about social distancing. Buyers like to meet the people they do business with. We like to shake hands. Well, we used to.
Still, B2B selling is about personal connections. You’re just much less likely to do it in person.
Everything and nothing has changed.
Wherever we land after this pandemic, it won’t be the world we knew six months ago. Everything about Sales has changed, yet nothing has. What hasn’t changed in spite of “change” is that salespeople must still connect with customers. In fact, in the new COVID-19 world of virtual connections, getting to know your customers is more important than ever. As always, you must understand their needs and aspirations and build a trust relationship from there. Sales can’t rely on a good first impression and a slick pitch deck to get a foot in the door.
Consider these 5 Back-to-Business Tips for B2B Sales Survival to help leaders better navigate in the near-term and come out stronger in the long-term.
1) First, take care of the team.
People are our priority in every department. I’ve written extensively about our 90-day No Layoff Pledge, and other steps we’ve taken to help provide Stress Relief. As a leader, you’ve probably already reached out to your team and encouraged them to take care of themselves. This connection is particularly important if you’re in a market where spending has slowed, and people worry about where their next commission will come from.
Likewise, if you have a large sales organization, spend time with your managers to lead them through stress. Sales is typically a numbers game, but right now everything can’t be just about the numbers. It’s about people first.
2) What’s the best near-term focus for B2B Sales? Retention.
Not every industry is facing a downturn. We’re primarily in the tech industry, and it’s doing well. It appears some markets like B2B lead generation will come through this just fine, and the data backs that up. (You can see data on some of the latest spiking intent trends we’ve collected for various sectors on our home page.) Of course, this comeback varies from industry to industry. Current research shows most buyers in B2B technology expect spending to remain steady or even increase this year.
Opportunities exist for many sales teams, but experts recommend focusing on one group in particular – your current customers.
The top of your call list right now should be populated by current customers and prospects you know are close to the buy call. When everyone is stressed, it’s not the appropriate time to break new ground. Aggressive, cold-call outreach is likely to come off as inappropriate. Stay on top of your pipeline and spend your time reaching out to the folks you know.
3) Your virtual image is your reality.
Your teleconferencing image is now your customer-facing, colleague-facing, world-facing image. For Sales – an inherently image-driven process – this is an especially vital concept to own.
This is easy for me to say, as CEO of True Influence, because #WeWereBuiltForThis. From the beginning, our near-virtual company has had leadership team members and employees around the world. I live in Zoom, as does my team, so in many ways it’s second nature.
For Salespeople though, that hasn’t been the case, and we’ve had to shift our game plan. Running through product specs with a kitchen visible in the background creates a different impression from the conversation over a professional business dinner. With more people on video calls these days, it brings a sense of immediacy and intimacy that’s missing from voice calls.
But finding the right tone for Sales in this medium can be tricky. The lines between professional personal and professional are blurring. Overall, a conspicuously polished approach will ring a little hollow. It’s okay to be yourself.
4) Above all else, be genuine.
For B2B Sales, genuine connections matter more than ever. This may end up as the pandemic’s most significant impact on B2B Sales, even after returning to some sense of normalcy. People don’t want to be “sold to” right now. They want genuine, honest answers to problems, including how your solution helps them get back to business. People are in no mood for anything less than sincerity, empathy, and maybe a little humor.
One of the more interesting points in this smart piece at Sales Hacker states that people are open and willing to talk right now. Many feel isolated at home (and let’s be honest, maybe not quite as busy as usual), so with the right approach, the odds are good you can engage. These times call for empathy and patience — not necessarily what springs to mind when you think of a sales conversation, but things are different now, and we can be different, too.
Successful sales professionals figure out how to become trusted advisors, and today they have to advise customers how to get back to work. Stop selling and start partnering. Be a company that grows in this crisis through good work.
This all adds up to a more genuine, personal approach, and once customers get a taste of it, that will become the expectation, not a short-term adjustment. Because in B2B, you’re not just selling goods and services. You’re selling a relationship, and now is the right time to focus on that.
5) Data still reigns.
The best way to connect with people (including customers) is to speak in their language on things they care about. What’s keeping them up at night, and what do they aspire to? Start a conversation when they’re ready to talk.
That’s where data comes in. You probably know what your ideal customer looks like, but not when they are in market. Data does that for you.
Buyers still do a lot of online research, and understanding the topics that interest them gives you a solid footing for starting or continuing a conversation from their point of concern.
Intent data spotlights the buyers searching on certain topics. By paying attention to their searches and context, you can respond in ways appropriate to their point on the buyer journey. By using data to provide relevant content, you improve your chances of a conversion and a relationship. We’re offering data trials to help people get familiar with what’s available and what’s possible.
B2B Sales: Make it more personal than ever
COVID-19 has shoved us into new ways of selling, like it or not. If there’s a bright side in all of this for B2B sales, it’s that a more personal approach to building connections will last well beyond this crisis. COVID-19 has changed everything, but some of these changes may well prove to be for the best in the long run. Focus on building real partnerships with customers, and your company will emerge from this crisis stronger and ready for growth.