How to Sell During the COVID-19 Pandemic

While toilet paper may be in short supply, your enthusiasm as a salesperson must remain abundant. Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

Your clients are getting bombarded daily with news reports about the COVID-19 Pandemic. Death tolls keep rising worldwide. Coronavirus is affecting thousands of people. Millions of people are now unemployed.

With all this grim news, how can you, as a salesperson, keep your job?

Because you don’t want to spend hours filing for unemployment and standing in line at a food bank. You want to work. But how can you achieve your goals with so much fear and anxiety surrounding you?

Here are five steps to help you.

First, turn off the news. Forget the news. That’s right. Forget it. I know that’s easier said than done. But watching depressing news isn’t going to help you sell. It’s only going to make you more miserable.

You need to keep your head in the game. You need to stay upbeat. I know that sounds trite but hear me out. The last thing your clients want right now is a salesperson who’s anxious, nervous, and scared. Why? Because that’s how your clients are feeling. While I know it’s popular in sales to mirror your clients when speaking to them, now is not the time to do that.

What your clients want — and expect — is a salesperson who’s calm, professional, and relaxed. If you’re doing your job, that means you’re helping your client. Your customers have enough to worry about without you going off the rails.

And remember — your clients can smell fear a mile away. Whatever concerns you’re now facing; you better bury them deep. You need to be the best actor you can. And don’t think for a minute that if you work an inside sales job making phone calls, that your customers can’t tell how you’re feeling. The tone and inflection of your voice tell people more about your attitude than you think.

While some store shelves may be empty, your ideas to help your clients better be overflowing. Photo by Boris Dunand on Unsplash

Second, focus on what you can control. You can’t solve the Coronavirus Crisis. There are hundreds of experts on the job trying to end COVID-19.

So, while you can’t control COVID-19, you can control is your attitude. That means stick with the basics that always work with you in sales. Make your outbound calls. Send out email campaigns. Prospect for new business. Review all your old leads. Dig through those business cards buried in your desk drawer. Refresh and update your presentations. Do what you have always been doing to maintain or exceed your quota.

Continue to maintain best practices.

Are you worried that you can no longer attend trade shows or meet your clients in person? Then improvise. Start scheduling more virtual or online tours. There are many services you can use, including Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams, to name a few.

(Yes, I know there are some privacy concerns about Zoom. But there are plenty of alternatives).

Trust me, your clients are in the same boat you’re in. They’re not traveling either. They’re not holding meetings in person unless they’re practicing social distancing. So, you might as well turn a bad situation into a good one by scheduling more virtual presentations.

By creating the right attitude, you will manage your activities and time better, which in turn means generating more sales.

Third, be empathic. Most of your clients are not in the mood right now to hear sales pitches. So as the old saying goes, “ditch the sales pitch.”

What you should be doing is to be more empathic than usual. Yes, talk about COVID-19, but from your client’s point of view. How is he doing? How are his employees doing? Are he and others working remotely? What impact is COVID-19 having on his business?

And the most important question of all is — How can you help?

For example, are you offering some free products and services? Are you offering lenient payment plans? Are you sharing information you gathered in your industry to help your clients?

I’m not suggesting that you should stop selling. Instead, I’m recommending you find hidden opportunities to sell by digging deeper into your client’s concerns at this critical time.

Listen more. Talk less.

Selling is more than getting an order. It’s about developing long-term relationships so that you will receive more orders and referrals down the road.

While some of your clients are worried, you need to aid them with free products, services, and advice. Photo by Benjamin Ranger on Unsplash

Fourth, collaborate more with your colleagues. I know. Sales can sometimes be a cutthroat business. But this is not the time for backstabbing antics or Machiavellian tactics. With the help of your sales manager, everyone on your team needs to brainstorm for new approaches to get sales. You also need to work with your Marketing Department more than ever before. Whatever infighting exists between the sales and marketing teams, it must end now.

Cooperation is key.

And finally, cast a wider net. Do you think you have enough in your sales pipeline? Think again. You should be doubling your pipeline right now with new and fresh prospects to contact. Depending on the industry you’re in, even in good times, the sales process can be slow. But with the Coronavirus, your sales process is going to be much slower.

As a result of COVID-19, many of your clients are laying off employees. They are lowering their sales forecasts. They are scaling back on developing more products and services. Your client’s outlook is negative. You need to be positive.

I know it’s difficult right now to get your client’s attention. It’s hard to be optimistic when your clients are watching news reports of temporary morgues being built near hospitals in New York City, and mass graves being dug on Hart Island in the Bronx.

But you must try.

Because COVID-19 will end. What you don’t want to end is your job.

Don Lee is the author of — Jumpstart your Sales Career, Help for New Salespeople.

Are you chasing too many rabbits?

Don’t waste time chasing after weak sales leads.

One of the challenges of inside sales is dealing with an inbox box flooded with inbound leads. Usually, these leads come about because the Marketing Department sent out a promotional email at a targeted group of prospects.

The email sent out usually has teaser information and a link where someone can click to download a special report or some other information. But there’s a catch – before you can read the information, you must first attend a one-on-one or group webinar or agree to speak with a salesperson over the phone.

Sneaky? Maybe. Effective. That depends.

You see, there’s nothing wrong with receiving inbound leads. Far from it. The problem is distinguishing between good and bad ones.

How do you correctly set priorities before contacting inbound leads?

First, are the inbound leads decision-makers, influencers, or curiosity seekers?

Let’s face it – most decision-makers are not going to download reports because they’re too busy making decisions. That leaves just the influencers and curiosity seekers. So, your first task is to determine which one is which. You can do this quickly by doing research on LinkedIn or a company’s website.

Second, you need to determine what size company (e.g., revenue, employee number) is the best one to contact first.

So true.

Third, but be careful – the company size isn’t always the best determining factor. You also need to ensure if the lead works at a company or organization that would need what you are selling. Are they a good fit?

Fourth, some inbound leads will provide bogus email addresses or phone numbers. Others will leave a generic email address like Gmail in hopes that you can’t find out where he works. Clever, but rarely effective, because you can always check on LinkedIn. And, in some cases, the inbound lead may already be on your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) under the correct company name and email address. You need to look.

If that’s the case, should you waste your time in contacting them? Again, it depends. If you can tell through your research that the lead comes from a hot prospect company that you have been trying to reach for a while, do yourself a favor and use a lead generation tool to uncover the best phone number and email address. Sure, the lead may be surprised that you contacted him. But…he also may be impressed that you were persistent enough to find him.

What you want to avoid is chasing rabbits. But that, I mean you don’t want to waste so much time tracking down every single inbound lead, that you lose sight of targeting high priority ones first.

I know it’s overwhelming to receive a lot of inbound leads simultaneously. But you need to take your time, do your research and take a steady aim.

Better to bag one big rabbit, than no rabbits at all.

If you like my post, please read my book – Jumpstart your Sales Career: Help for New Salespeople.

Are you a Teller or a Seller?

Running your mouth too much could hurt your sales.

Once upon a time, two salespeople worked at the same company. While both were friendly, they are competitive and hungry for new orders.

The salespeople were Mr. Teller and Mr. Seller.

After several months of hard work, Mr. Teller was depressed. He wasn’t making his quota. On the other hand, Mr. Seller was not only meeting his quota, and he was exceeding it – big time.

What was Mr. Teller doing wrong?

Here are the differences in the approaches between Mr. Teller vs. Mr. Seller.

Mr. Teller loves to talk to his customer’s about all the features of his company’s products. He was like a walking encyclopedia or brochure and telling everything he thought his clients wanted to hear. Mr. Teller was doing what is commonly referred to as a “product dump or vomit” to his clients.

Mr. Seller liked to talk too. But he learned from experience it is always better to listen more and talk less. He viewed his role as being a problem solver. But before you can solve problems, Mr. Seller first had to uncover the pain points and needs and wants of his clients.

Mr. Teller avoided asking too many questions. He was afraid of rejection, and he didn’t want to offend his clients by being too noisy or appear pushy.

Selling is better than telling when you listen and engage more with your clients.

Mr. Seller, on the other hand, enjoyed asking questions because he knew it was the only way to qualify his clients. He didn’t fear rejection or take it personally when a prospect said, “No.”  He knew it was all part of the job.

Mr. Teller was not proactive when it came to finding new clients. He was very passive. Rather than make cold or warm sales calls, or ask for referrals, Mr. Teller used social selling. Mr. Teller thought all he had to do is connect with key decision makers on LinkedIn, and like their comments or posts, and the key decision makers would magically call him or appear at this door.

Mr. Seller liked using social selling too. But he didn’t rely on it exclusively because he knew that few key decision makers would contact him because of connections and likes on LinkedIn. Mr. Seller believed in warm or cold calls. He also effectively left good voice mail messages and used interesting subject lines on his emails to gain the attention of key decision makers.

Mr. Teller always waited for the prospect to decide. He never asked for the order. He just hoped and prayed that the prospect would make the “right” decision based on all the information he presented.

Mr. Seller didn’t wait for the prospect to decide. Instead, he helped guide the prospect through the sales process by asking qualifying questions, determining needs, and pain points. Once Mr. Seller thought the client was ready,  he asked for the order. He didn’t use tricks, gimmicks, or high-pressure tactics because he knew that wasn’t necessary.

Finally, frustrated, Mr. Teller went to Mr. Seller and asked him what his secret was to get more sales.

“Stop telling and start selling,” replied Mr. Seller.

So, are you a Teller or a Seller?

You decide.

Should you leave voice mail messages?

You must be creative and strategic when leaving voice mail messages.

There is a running debate in sales on whether you should leave voice mail messages when contacting prospects.

One school of thought goes like this –

Leaving voice mail messages is a waste of time because most people rarely return phone calls anymore from salespeople. If you leave enough voice mail messages, the prospect may delete them before having a chance to listen to your entire pitch.

Thus, it’s better to keep calling until you reach someone or send them enough emails that they will reply to you.

The other school of thought goes like this –

Leaving voice mail messages is just one of many ways you can break through the wall to reach a prospect. Sure, the argument goes, most prospects will not return your voice mail messages, but with a combination of different tools, including emails, and social selling, like Twitter and LinkedIn, you will eventually reach your important contact.

So, which is the better school of thought?

I take the middle ground.

Yes, you should leave voice mail messages. But…. don’t waste your time leaving your phone number. Because based on my experience, most prospects these days will not return your phone calls. Even inbound leads will rarely return your phone calls. Why? Most of them are busy, and they don’t want to play phone tag.

(I will only leave my phone number if the prospect requests it in his message as a matter of courtesy).

The better solution is this –

Leave a short voice mail message telling the prospect why you are calling. Then identify who you are and what solution you have that you think will solve their problems or pain points. And finally, let them know that you are sending them an email with openings for this week and next to schedule a short initial call.

I recommend doing this at least four to five times in a combination of using LinkedIn and Twitter.

What you want to avoid is the following –

First, you don’t want to do a “product vomit”, i.e., telling the prospect everything about your product and benefits before you had a chance to qualify him and understand his concerns or problems properly.

Second, you don’t want to leave cryptic messages, like “This is Joe Doe. I have some important information to share with you. I will call you at 4:00 p.m. today to discuss further.”

That kind of message will make most prospects angry because they don’t have time to play games. Also, because they have hectic schedules, they probably will not sit around and wait for your phone call.

Sure, you may try the approach of leaving an honest message about why you are calling and inform the prospect that you will call back at a specific time later that time or the next. It could work. But I doubt it.

Just as phone technology has changed, your voice mail techniques must change too.

Third, don’t repeatedly call and leave messages. Give prospects some space and time to call you back. As a rule, when I leave a voice mail, I quickly follow-up with a short email outlining some openings I have for that week and next. Further, I may attach an interesting article or some other content to share that I feel will interest the prospect. After leaving a message and sending out an email, I will usually wait at least two to four days before following up.

Fourth, I leave a different voice mail each time. I usually have a script of different voice mails to leave. The same is true when sending emails. Leaving the same message or posting the same email is boring and will undercut your chances of getting a sale.

Fifth, avoid long lingering voice mails. Try to keep the voice mail no longer than 30 seconds. Your goal is to get to the point quickly, highlight why it’s in the best interest for the prospect to speak with you and move on. You will have plenty of time later to do your sales pitch and presentation.

Sixth, ask a specific question in your voicemail. Instead of opening with “This is Tom Smith from ABC Company calling about Widgets products,” start with “How are you securing your passwords?” or “What types of sources are you using for tax research when doing tax preparation?” And then go on and add that you offer a solution that could help him them, and that you will send them an email with some openings and more details. Sometimes, I might mention specific vendors that use our services/products, and do a little name dropping.  In other voice mail messages, I might add a benefit or two that may help the prospect.

Don’t be mysterious when making phone calls.

Seventh, don’t be that mysterious caller who never leaves voice mails. Yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this before, but I now realize it was a mistake. Why? Because if someone is screening your calls and you don’t leave a message, they may not think it’s important and they will completely ignore you.

And finally, don’t sound salesy. Speak with your normal tone of voice. And, please don’t sound desperate. That’s a major turnoff.

Leaving voice mail messages is just one of many tools you have in your arsenal to make sales. Even if a prospect doesn’t respond immediately, it’s a great way of promoting your company with the goal of getting a deal down the road.

Sometimes you must play the long game to be successful.

Credits:
Middle Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay
Bottom image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

In Sales, How to Climb out of a Slump

We all need a little help to get out of a slump.

We all experience highs and lows in sales. That’s a given.

For a while, you’re on a winning streak. The big orders are rolling in. Your sales manager loves you. Some of your colleagues envy you. Your checking account is balanced. You’re paying your bills on time.

But then it happens – you hit a brick wall. No matter how hard you try, or how many customer appointments you make, nothing is coming in.

You hit a slump.

Now what?

Here are some tips to help you

1). Don’t panic. Unless you are working for a company with a short sales cycle, you usually won’t experience a slump unless it’s during an industry’s slow season. Every industry has a busy and quiet time. For example, in retail, the busy season is during the holidays. In the tax preparation industry, the slow period starts from early March and runs through the end of tax season.

But if you are like most salespeople, you are working in an industry that has a long sales cycle. If that’s the case, of course, you are going to run into a slump occasionally. You already know from experience that the order process can take a long time because several decision-makers are probably involved in placing an order. For example, I’ve read that more than ten years ago, it would take maybe two people to make a decision. Now, it can take as much as five people to make a final decision on an order.

2). Review best practices. Admit it, have you been coasting for a while. Sure, you got lucky and snagged some large orders, but really…. how much work was involved on your part? Now that you hit a slump, maybe it’s time to review your best practices.

For example –

Are you making your follow-up phone calls?

Are you sending out emails with interesting subject lines?

Are you making enough attempts to the key decision-makers?

Are you even sure that you are contacting the correct key decision-makers?

Are you wasting too much time chasing after low hanging fruit and not investing enough time on more difficult, but long-term profitable, prospects?

Are you managing your time correctly?

In short, are you following the basics or just winging it?

Only you can answer that question.

It never hurts to seek a helping hand.

3). Ask for advice. There is no shame in seeking help. Meet with your sales manager. If you have a mentor, talk to him. Maybe have someone listen in on your sales calls or your online tour presentations. Yes, I know that sales can be competitive and sometimes it can feel like a “dog eat dog” world, but you have trust someone to survive.

4). Analyze your pipeline. Is it clogged? Are you chasing after prospects that you know deep down are never going to buy from you, but you enjoy talking to them? Are you clinging on to leads that are offering you false hope? Go through your pipeline. Set priorities. Weed out the prospects that you know are worthless. Then, go back to work and make the calls.

5). Start prospecting. If your pipeline is dry or running low, start prospecting. What!?! You thought the marketing department was going to help you with leads? Do you still believe in Santa Claus? With all kidding aside, most marketing departments are helpful, but you’re the one earning a commission – not them. So, unlike the marketing department, you must make the extra incentive to get sales.

6). Take a break. Are you a workaholic? If yes, stop. Relax.  Go to the movies. Take a long walk. Do some window shopping. The goal is to clear your head and take a breather before jumping back into the fray.

7). Continue to educate yourself. I say continue because I must assume that you’re smart enough to realize that you must always constantly improve your sales skills. How? By reading. By watching YouTube videos. By attending sales training workshops. It’s easy to fall into a slump and make lame excuses about not learning. That’s not an excuse – that’s a death sentence to your career.

8). And finally, be persistent. No one says that selling is easy. It’s not.

That’s it. I hope you like my advice. Please let me know if you have any comments that you would like to share with me.

Photo credit, middle picture: by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

What Salespeople can learn from Local Political Candidates

campaign signs at polling area

Salespeople can learn a lot by observing how political candidates conduct their campaigns.

For many jurisdictions, it’s primary season. If you’re like me, you have been getting your daily dose of recorded phone calls from local candidates. Your mailbox is probably stuffed with campaign literature. And if you’re like me, you just recently voted early and dealt with a gauntlet of campaign workers or even candidates asking for your vote or trying to hand you campaign literature right before entering your polling area. And if you can’t find your local polling area, don’t worry. There is probably a sea of campaign signs blocks away from the polling area that will lead you to where you need to vote.

What can salespeople learn from local political candidates?

1). Most people have already decided on who to vote for by the time they enter a polling area –

If you are a candidate or campaign worker trying to persuade a voter as he’s walking to the polling area, you’re too late. I would argue that most people, especially those who vote early, have already done their homework and know who they are going to vote for before arriving at a polling place.

That’s the same for most customers. If someone is calling you about your product or service, chances are, they have already done their homework and are already leaning towards making a purchasing decision. Sure, they may be contacting your competitors, or just shopping around, but in most cases, they are ready to buy. The only question for you is – will they buy from you or someone else? That’s when you need to ask open-ended questions and qualify prospects to ensure they are going to be a good fit for your product and service.

2). Campaign literature doesn’t work unless you are unique –

Almost all the campaign literature I received offer the same promises from candidates. Examples include improving schools and reducing crime. All noble goals. But are any of the candidates offering anything unique? Are they distinguishing themselves from the rest of the crowd?

The answer – NO.

And that’s the problem that many salespeople face. The “we can do the same thing or better than our competitors” mantra isn’t going to cut it anymore. In an age where we are inundated with social media, advertisements, commercials and other distractions, you must grab prospects by the collar and clearly and distinctly show them how you are different from the rest of your competitors.

What are you offering of value that will persuade a prospect to become your customer?

Is it lower pricing?

Is it a better product or service?

Is it more reliable shipping?

Is it better customer service?

woman voting

People not only vote for political candidates, but they also vote for salespeople by how they are making purchasing decisions.

3). Developing a strong base of supporters helps before Election Day –

As a political candidate, you must lay the groundwork early long before Election Day. That means you need to be a community activist. Examples include attending PTA meetings or joining groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. You could also join a local citizens committee sponsored by your city and becoming a regular attendee at local council meetings. Being a chief advocate for an issue like better walkways for pedestrians in busy traffic areas, or higher pay for teachers helps too.

The same is true for salespeople. You need to incorporate yourself in the industry you are serving. It’s not enough to sell products and services to vendors in an industry. You need to network, i.e., join LinkedIn groups, attend conferences and trade shows, and be active on social media. In short, you must give a damn about your customers so they, in turn, will support you with their orders and referrals.

It’s tough being a political candidate, especially during the primaries when most people don’t vote. Since most primaries are held in the late Spring or early Summer, people are too busy celebrating graduations, preparing for summer vacations and doing yard work to follow politics closely. So, it takes a lot of work and commitment to encourage people not only to go to the polls but to vote for you.

As salespeople, we face similar challenges. Our prospects are busy with work and personal commitments. Their attention spans are getting shorter. It’s not enough to bombard prospects with emails, direct marketing, and advertisements. You need to draw a clear distinction between yourself and your competitors. You need to offer real value. You need to embrace the industry you are serving.

In summary, you need to be shrewder than most local political candidates who think that recorded phone messages, “me to” campaign literature, and last-minute pitches at the polls are going to get them votes.

Work hard, yes. But also work smarter than local politicians if you want to get ahead.