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.

Should you dump your inside sales team?

don't dump your inside sales teamI have worked for two major corporations that eliminated their inside sales teams. Both corporations thought they were “saving money” by dismantling the inside sales teams and transferring the duties to the outside sales reps. Both corporations also believed there was too much overlap between the inside and outside sales departments, so they wanted to eliminate duplicative efforts. The thought was that the outside sales team could handle simple duties like renewing customers and selling smaller products or services, along with the rest of their responsibilities.

However, in both cases, the corporations realized a major mistake was made and they later reinstated a new inside sales team. In fact, one corporation did an about-face within a matter of 4 months. However, since most of the inside sales reps were no longer working at either company, both corporations had to start from scratch by hiring and retraining a whole new group of inside salespeople.

What happened?

In the first case, the corporation saw a major drop in the sales of durable medical equipment parts. Since outside sales reps earned most of their commission selling large equipment and services, they didn’t waste their time selling smaller items.

In the second case, the corporation received pushback from both their outside reps and customers. The outside reps complained they didn’t have time to follow-up on renewals, and frankly, they weren’t earning a lot of commission on renewals to make it worthwhile. Customers began complaining they weren’t given the same level of excellent service they received in the past from their inside sales reps. With renewals starting to drop, a new inside sales team was quickly assembled and they began the long process of retaining customers.

What can we learn from these two cases?

1). Focus. Selling is about focus. If your sales team is selling too many products and services, something is bound to fall through the cracks. Salespeople are commission driven. They are going to focus their time and energies on products and services that will generate the most commission. That’s common sense. For example, if given a choice between generating a new sale for a $5,000 product vs. a $50.00 product, which one would a smart salesperson focus on? You got it – the $5,000 product. So an outside sales rep isn’t going to bother chasing after a small order when there are bigger fish in the sea to catch.

2). Time. Salespeople have only so much time in the day to sell. So smart salespeople realize they must set priorities and stick with them. Time management is critical. Larger orders will always be a sales person’s first priority.

3). Small products add up. While renewing customers or selling small products may not be very sexy, the orders do add up. A $700 subscription may be chump change for some. But when you start dealing with thousands of subscriptions with that price point, you are looking at some serious money. Not to mention the opportunity to cross or up-sell once a subscription or small product is purchased.

4). Eyes and ears. The inside sales department serves as the eyes and ears for the outside sales reps. Outside sales reps can’t be everywhere at once. They have too much of a geographic territory to cover. But inside sales reps can cover a lot more territory quicker and easier. They can provide intelligence that outside sales reps can’t always get. Examples – a competitor is making a major play on a large account, or an account is threatening to cancel. By acting as an early warning system, inside sales reps can alert outside sales reps of potential threats to their sales.  This collaborative effort is a win-win not only for both sales teams but for their employer too. It ensures more sales.

5). The larger picture. What many companies don’t understand is this – inside sales departments don’t exist just to sell.  Inside sales departments are your last line of defense. If the marketing department fails, if the billing department fails, if top management fails, if the outside sales reps fail, if the production department fails, it is the inside sales department that will come to the rescue and turn things around.  Thus, the inside sales department serves as the checks and balances to the rest of the departments.  Inside sales teams are more motivated to solve problems because they are earning a commission.

Inside salespeople are also serving on the front lines. They “get it” if customers are upset and complain. They act quickly to resolve issues before they erupt like wildfire throughout the market. Inside sales reps know so well the power of social media these days. All it takes is a lot of negative reviews on Yelp, Google Reviews, industry discussion boards, and blogs before its game over, and sales begin to slide.

While some companies may have a love and hate relationship with their inside sales departments, it’s time to start sharing the love. Don’t dump your inside sales team.

Is Inside Sales the same as Telemarketing?

telemarketerAs any new job hunter out of college will tell you, one of the most difficult things to determine when pursuing a sales career is what is the difference between Inside Sales and Telemarketing. Many job postings seem to use those words interchangeably and the job descriptions appear to be the same. Frankly, I don’t think even some employers even know the difference between both terms.

First, there definitely is a difference between Inside Sales and Telemarketing.

Telemarketing is a quick and dirty sale. You make tons of phone calls every day, do a quick sales pitch and see if the prospect will bite. No real sales techniques are used. No qualifying questions. No establishing rapport. No building relationships. Before the prospect can even get a word in, the telemarketer is blasting away, speaking a mile a minute in hopes you will listen before you hang up.

Telemarketers usually use scripts and are required to stick with them. There is no improvising. It’s simply a cold calling technique used to make a transactional sale. Very short sales cycle. You either get a yes or no answer. If it’s no, you move on. If it’s yes (which is rare), you then expand more on what you are selling, obtain the credit card information, thank the new customer, and move on.

No lead generation required on your part. All the leads are provided in a Customer Relationship Management  (CRM). If the phone number is bad, or if the contact is bad, you quickly move on to the next call.

telemarketerOn the other hand, inside sales require a more long-term and strategic approach to selling. You use all the basic sales techniques that you have been taught – asking qualifying questions, determining needs and problems, being an expert in your field, finding the right decision-maker, handling objections, asking trial questions, and closing the sale.

Inside sales require a lot more patience and discipline because the sales cycle can be long. You may be required to do some research before calling on prospects. You have to take good notes, schedule follow-up phone calls, and stay on top of your game.

While you may not make as many phone calls as a telemarketer, you still have to hit the phones. But besides making calls, you also need to send good emails and maybe even some direct marketing material. Also, unlike a telemarketer, you are required to update and correct your customer/prospect files in your CRM. That means not just correcting contact information, but entering good notes too.

Inside sales require a lot more thought and planning. You are usually working more closely with your sales manager and marketing team. Depending on what you are selling and the industry you are in, you may not have a large pipeline compared to a telemarketer. In fact, a telemarketer really doesn’t have a pipeline per se; instead, he just has an endless list of prospects he calls on based on time zone and geography.

So when seeking a new sales position, if you see the terms “telemarketing” and “inside sales”, you now know there is a difference. Just make sure your employer knows the difference when you go on a job interview.

Customer Service is not Inside Sales

Ian Heller in the video below makes a very good argument that Customer Services Reps are not Inside Salespeople. He argues that for a company to grow you need to create two separate teams – one for customer service and one for inside sales.

While Customer Service Reps are great at answering questions and solving problems, they tend to shy away from making sales calls or up-selling. Inside Salespeople, on the other hand, love making sales calls because they earning commissions and bonuses, and have a greater incentive to be more assertive than Customer Service reps.

I once worked for a company that tried to encourage their customer service team to do sales. The results were dismal. The company eventually created a separate sales team.

Now with that said, that doesn’t mean you should discourage Customer Service Reps from not selling. On the contrary, by all means, encourage it because some Customer Service Reps may develop a knack for selling, and decide to switch teams. I’ve actually seen Customer Service Reps transfer to an Inside Sales Team because they discover they had the talent and skills to sell. They also loved the potential of earning more money.

On the flip side, don’t discourage your Inside Salespeople from doing customer service work either. Nothing makes a customer more angry than being told that “it’s not my job, let me switch you over to customer service.” Bad move. If a salesperson can solve a customer service problem, let him do it. If the issue is too complex, the salesperson should admit it, and then transfer the call to customer service.

My point is this – while I agree with Mr. Heller that there should be two separate teams, each team needs to work together.

Here is his video below –