Like everyone else, salespeople have seen their work disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused workplaces to close their doors and compelled many white-collar workers to work from home, like it or not.
As part of the Habits of Highly Effective Salespeople interview series we have been sharing on YouTube and LinkedIn, I’ve been asking sales professionals how they are adapting to the COVID-19 crisis and how it has changed business and social norms. Even after the stay-at-home orders let up, many are wondering how many of the changes we are seeing are permanent. For example, will people be as willing to shake hands to close a deal? On the other hand, will the digital habits we’ve all had to improve by necessity be of some benefit, for example by making remote work more acceptable and helping companies manage it better?
I put these questions to several of our sales and marketing leaders, as well as sellers from other companies. If you have not watched the videos, I recommend that you do. However, here are some of the common themes.
“Right now, everything happens online,” says Alejandro Cabral, the Global Digital Sales Transformation Leader at Kimberly Clark. That presents a number of challenges, he says. “Most of all, it challenges human interaction.”
Without the luxury of meeting customers and prospects in person, it becomes necessary to learn to read “digital body language” to understand how your points are coming across. Everyone needs to create a “digital self” by mastering the idioms of the online world — or else they will be left behind, he says.
Everyone I spoke with agreed this is no time for a hard sell. With everyone under stress, it’s far better to make a human connection with customers and prospects, first and foremost, and focus on helping them in any way possible.
“Now is the time to help and assist them however we can, now that there is time to do so,” says Michael Masiello, director of enterprise accounts at Tact.ai. “We’re the human-friendly CRM company, so what can we do to extend that human friendliness to what’s going on in the world right now?”
“There's a time to sell and there's a time to bring the human aspect into it,” Kelsey Collins, an Account Executive at Netsuite who works with customers in the technology industry. “However, business has to go on, and you have to find a way to reinvent yourself, given the challenges we’re all going through.” For example, she used to host cooking classes in different locales as an excuse for bringing customers and projects together. Today, she and her team are having to invent digital equivalents like webinars that will be useful to people in their business and personal lives.
Usually, salespeople are taught to create a sense of urgency, says Vanessa Willett, Director of Strategic Accounts at DemandBase. “Now, it’s less about the urgency and more about the long-term relationships.”
Even in the midst of tragedy, there are silver linings in the way we’ve all been forced to slow down, Willett says. “It does require you to have some introspection, both personally and in your professional life.”
Tom Herb, Senior Regional Sales Director at Paycor, agreed this is a time for “sharpening the saw,” or making sure you have all the tools you need for top performance. “Sometimes, it can be a challenge to work on self-development, to work on developing different skills.” Now, all those projects that have been put on the back burner or the side burner can come to the fore, he says. “Every burner is getting taken care of right now!”
Even though familiar patterns of work have been disrupted, Herb thinks there is an opportunity to be more productive than ever by maximizing the use of digital tools. “The future of work is here!” he says. “The ones who have been ahead of the curve are hopefully pulling the others along.”
Cabral, who worked in tech before joining Kimberly Clark, says, “Anyone who comes from IT is privileged, without knowing it. You get access to tools and access to trainings before anybody else. I used to take that for granted, but I don’t anymore.” Part of his job is “helping other people get there,” he says.
Adapting to working from home
The people I spoke with all had fairly well-equipped home offices and worked from home at least some of the time, even before the pandemic showdown. Even for them, the current experience is different because so many other social outlets and simple things like being able to go out to dinner are off limits. Having spouses and kids also at home causes additional disruption and stress.
Donald Carpenter, director of strategic accounts at Tact.ai, says he tries to get out of the house at least once a day. “Take a little time for yourself,” he says. “Make sure you eat lunch. I think those kinds of things are critical as well.”
To be productive, you should “wake up every day like it’s on purpose,” Carpenter says. “Add some structure to your day, even though you are working from home.”
“One of the things I always do before I close the computer for the day is make sure I know exactly what I'm going to be doing next day,” Collins says. “It helps to do that the night before. Or at the beginning of the week, planning my week. You have to stay organized, for me it helps to do that the night before.”
Having worked from home for a long time, Willett says she tries to sell lessons learned with colleagues. “I’ve always considered being in sales as being an independent contributor — that I actually run my own company, and I am the CEO, essentially, of my own book of business.” When she speaks with sales representatives, she tries to impart that mindset, she says. “What they do with their business, how they construct their day, is ultimately up to them.”
Whatever the drawbacks and stresses, she says, “I have an opportunity to make the most of this period. Someday, God willing, all this will be over. I want to be able to look back, if it lasts two months, and say what did I do in two months to drive my business forward?”
I'd love to hear from you. How are your salespeople coping with COVID-19?