Covid-19 has changed the world of B2B sales. Even if you started the year with a packed pipeline, few businesses have escaped the economic turmoil, and about 50% of B2B buyers are holding off on purchases because of the pandemic, according to McKinsey & Co. Lowering quotas, slashing forecasts, and cutting marketing budgets are a must for many companies that have been disproportionately affected by the virus, particularly in industries such as automotive, travel, and hospitality.
However, businesses that have been less hard-hit — namely in the technology, e-commerce, and marketing sectors — can read that 50% statistic in reverse: Half of B2B buyers are not holding off on purchases, meaning deals in their markets are still moving forward. While the pandemic certainly does create a series of new challenges for their teams, those that are able to take advantage of the opportunities available right now will be the most likely to thrive and survive during and after this crisis. In fact, there is no guarantee that these selling conditions won’t persist even after a vaccine is distributed, people return to work, and we begin living out our next “new normal.”
Businesses who spend their time brainstorming how to drum up new leads once the storm has passed will be too late to gain a competitive (or any) advantage: When the pipeline runs out, it will take time to get it flowing again. Don’t stop testing your tactics and tightening your processes. To keep closing deals, try sticking to the following steps:
Ramp up your prospecting. Successfully closing a deal during Covid-19 will require most teams to rethink their approach. Face-to-face sellers will need to become even more effective remotely — and in many cases, a lot more effective than they were pre-Coronavirus. This will require a significant increase in prospecting, even for those sellers who aren’t as seasoned at it.
Engaging with prospects’ social posts, writing handwritten letters, and giving strategic, genuine gifts within your company’s ethical guidelines are all smart tactics for staying top of mind — but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Continuing to generate leads and close sales will require continuous experimentation. No tried-and-true tactics exist for selling during a global pandemic. Under the current conditions, trial and error is the only way to figure out how to help prospects who are facing unique circumstances.
What’s more, the tactics that worked in the past may or may not work now. For instance, standard email open rates decreased overall during Covid-19, but emails acknowledging the pandemic saw a 41% increase in March, according to Worldata. This reality necessitates that all selling organizations foster a testing subculture: making minor adjustments and regularly retesting their approaches to ensure their efficacy.
Think about your prospect’s customer. Your prospect’s customer now holds the key to your success. If your prospect’s customer is doing okay financially, then your prospect is likely more inclined to buy from you. If they’re not, your prospect’s buying behavior will change, too. These changes can range from not buying at all to slowing down the sales cycle a few weeks.
Once you know how the people your prospect are selling to have been affected, you’ll better understand their buying urgency (or lack thereof) when going into sales calls. For example, if you’re selling your software to a company that sells to stadiums, you will know immediately that they’re less likely to purchase quickly right now. This is something you likely had to think about less before, but today, it is vital to practice awareness.
It is also critical to know how your prospect’s customer is faring as you think about the resources you’ll spend on a deal. If your pool of deals is now down 50% or lower, then you need to focus on the deals you can win. The status of your prospect’s customer can help you determine whether you’re working a deal that can close. If your prospect’s customer is struggling, it’s likely that your sales cycle will take longer. Take this into consideration when you’re forecasting deals to leadership and deciding how to spend your time.
If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to press in on your prospect. Ask questions like: “Given the new environment, has anything changed with your process?” and “Can you walk me through the approval process for a deal like this?”
Switch to ‘yes’ mode and be empathetic. What does your prospect need in order to get the deal across the finish line? Sales leaders should have a playbook of possibilities that sales reps can deploy in the right situations. Consider offering a temporary discount or deferred payment option to help your prospect get through the pandemic. For instance, some banks and lenders have begun waiving overdraft and late fees. You might also consider throwing in a free feature that would normally cost a premium. SAP, for example, is making its Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse complementary for companies that have been forced to adapt to a new reality of work.
Sticking with the same blanket incentive for all of your pitches won’t work, so you must ask probing questions to understand what your prospect’s true hang up is. After, you can tailor your sales pitch to meet their specific needs, which is what 69% of buyers want. By attempting to provide a solution, you may hear more objections that you haven’t heard yet. This is a positive unintended consequence of trying to be in “yes” mode.
Just remember that you’re doing some good here. You may not be able to sell your product at a premium, and that’s okay. If you can get something you sell into the hands of a prospect who needs it during a difficult time (even at a discount), that’s a win for everyone. They’re receiving what they need, and you’re still selling. The few nickels you sacrificed to land the deal will be worth it for the long term prospect loyalty you build.
Pitch all deals like you’re pitching to a CFO. In our current climate, all deals are receiving more scrutiny from financial decision makers. This means that more people will be involved. Sellers should assume that everyone is a champion, or a person who will share your information internally. At Sapper Consulting, our experience with sales in recent months has shown us that there are no final decision makers right now. Even individuals who have unilateral authority are sharing the responsibility with teams and committees. According to a Young President’s Organization survey, 68% of business leaders are communicating more consistently with employees.
Because people will be scrutinizing buying decisions more, you need to be more intentional, direct, and repetitive about ROI. You have to emphasize to your champions that you have a very clear, demonstrable ROI. “The promise of great value is not cutting it,” Alyssa Merwin, LinkedIn’s vice president of sales, said during a webinar. “It is a hard-dollar ROI, not soft. As sellers, we are going to have to up our game.” To demonstrate hard ROI, you must highlight the direct connection between the product or service you’re selling and the customer organization’s goals. Hard ROI is usually defined by the money saved in terms of reducing or avoiding a cost. Use the ROI ratio formula to get a percentage representing a net gain on the investment (gain from the investment minus the cost of investment divided by cost).
Don’t stop testing your tactics and tightening your processes. To keep closing deals, try sticking to the following steps:The pandemic will pass eventually, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to stop selling and wait for better times. These pieces of advice can help you deliver the kind of pitch that snags (and keeps) a prospect’s attention.