There probably isn’t a single industry or organisation that isn’t being affected in some way by covid-19. A few sectors – healthcare and food retail amongst them – are seeing increasing demands for their services and increasing stress on their ability to deliver. Others are seeing an often-precipitous decline in demand.
Many of the latter industries and organisations are now restricting their purchasing – particularly when it comes to discretionary as opposed to inevitable purchases – to those things that are essential to their immediate mission and objectives.
Many are urgently reviewing their current cost bases in order to identify expenditure that now appears to be a “nice to have”, rather than critical to their current mission. Regrettably, many have already reacted by laying off staff – and despite the intervention of governments around the world, there will inevitably more to come.
Some – typically the better-funded organisations with a clear future vision, or the ones whose underlying business is relatively unaffected by the current situation – are determined to prepare themselves to take advantage of the opportunities that will undoubtedly emerge once the current crisis subsides, as it will inevitably do.
So – what about the impact and implications on B2B-focused sales organisations?
A shallow recovery curve
First, we need to acknowledge that the upward slope of the recovery, when it comes, will be far shallower than the downward slope of the decline. Some industries will naturally recover faster than others – but what we and our customers choose to do right now will have a material impact on how fast that recovery comes for every organisation.
Whatever the current impact on their business, we need to empathise with our customer’s current situation. We need to do whatever we can to sustain our customer relationships in the short-term, and to build on those relationships for the long-term. And we need to be there to help.
We need to understand how the current situation is affecting their industry in general, and their organisation in particular. What new stresses are they under? Is there anything we can do to share our experiences of the responses of other similar organisations that could prove helpful to them?
If they are suffering a short-term spending squeeze, are they getting all the value that they could from their investment in our products and services? Is there anything we can do to help see them through their immediate situation whilst retaining them as a long-term customer? Are there any concessions we might offer to them that would be in our respective long-term interests?
Surviving – or emerging stronger?
Perhaps most important, what mindset are they adopting? Are they in survival mode (in which case their short-term ambitions are likely to be restricted to trying to do as much as they can with less), or have they adopted a “emerge stronger” mindset – in which case they will already be making judicious changes to their current approach to position themselves better when the upturn eventually comes.
When customers are clearly in survival mode, we need to ensure that they see us as an important component of that survival, as someone who can help them maintain as much as possible of what business they had, and as a partner they can rely on going forwards.
But when they have an “emerge stronger” mindset, we should also be making a constructive contribution to shaping their future vision. Can we share – without compromising client confidentiality – the initiatives that others are taking? Can we help them shape a new perspective?
Can we help them lay the foundation for implementing new approaches? Can we identify opportunities to help them achieve their short-term high-priority goals as well as their future outcomes?
Our own mindset
And in thinking about how we can best help our customers, let’s also be very aware of our own mindset. Are we ourselves operating in survival or emerge stronger mode? If the former, it’s going to be hard for us to effectively engage clients who are determined to use the current crisis as a catalyst for change.
Have we been selling as effectively as we could have? Have we been targeting the most valuable issues, organisations, roles and trigger events? Have we seen ourselves as pursuing a sales process, or as facilitating our customer’s buying decision journey?
Have we done all that we could to establish value in every customer interaction? Have we helped our prospective and existing customers to emerge smarter from every conversation with them? Have our salespeople embraced a consultative mindset? Have we been paying it forward?
Have we obsessed about identifying and eliminating the most common sources of waste and error in our own sales activities? Have we deliberately sought to understand what makes our best salespeople successful, and sought to transfer those skills and behaviours to the rest of the sales organisation?
Have we made sure that our salespeople regard our CRM as a valuable resource that they want to use, because it reminds and guides them in what they need to know and do, or have we ended up with something that salespeople see as nothing more than burdensome admin?
Have we taken steps to identify and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy that diverts salespeople from spending more time selling? Have we equipped our front-line sales managers to provide the coaching that their salespeople need?
Have we already started to rethink and plan for what the “new normal” might look like for our own business, for the industries we serve, and for the problems we solve for our customers?
If you can answer “yes” to every one of those questions, you already have the foundations for emerging with a faster recovery than the vast majority of your peer group. But if you can’t, now is the time to take action. The changes you undertake and the investments you make now will have a huge influence on your future outcomes.