How to Adapt Your Sales Strategy in a COVID-19 World

April 28, 2020

Businesses are pivoting their sales strategies due to COVID-19. Finding the right tone, product benefits and communication methods are essential to avoid appearing tone-deaf and losing customers. Another tip? Keep your mouth shut.

“The best sales reps are not just great public speakers, they are great listeners,” Colin Fields, a strategic manager at Meero, a platform for photographers, said. 

Sales professionals across NYC gave us their top tips for adjusting sales strategies to unprecedented times. 

Mark Hoffman, a sales executive at real estate software company VTS, said listening to what clients really need is crucial. After virtual discussions with clients, his team learned landlords are focused on retaining their renters. That meant sales reps needed to become hyperfocused on the solutions that help landlords do just that, rather than the whole suite of products. 

Another best practice? When it’s time to pitch to new prospects, lead with empathy.

Jorge Gamboa, head of growth at Doorkee, starts conversations by commiserating with customers and lightens the mood with jokes about his small apartment. From there, he talks about how both his and his prospects’ businesses have been impacted.

 

Tim Dorris
VP of Sales

How stensul is adapting sales pitches: We are fortunate in that our offering can add value, including improved efficiency and reduced costs. However, we deal with the same challenges most vendors are facing right now, which is that customers are less open to onboarding new vendors due to budget cuts, uncertainty and dealing with their plans and priorities shifting drastically. I think about our sales pitch in two buckets: people we have not yet engaged with (cold prospects) and those we are actively speaking to (opportunities). 

For cold prospects, we’re shifting our messaging to drive awareness of the problem we solve through added-value content. For current opportunities, we’re cutting to the business case and ROI more quickly and working to engage stakeholders that will have a final say in their budget. We’re also looking for opportunities to be flexible. For example, an enterprise may not be ready to onboard our solution across multiple teams right now, so we’re offering reduced commitment on the platform for that one piece of their business.

We’re also looking for opportunities to be flexible.”

How workflow is changing: Stand-ups, one-on-ones and all-hands are all virtual. I think the biggest thing we have adapted is our training sessions and workshops. If you’re still doing slides, having one person host and relying on questions from the rest of the team will lead to a struggle with engagement. Our enablement folks have done a great job of making workshops interactive. For example, infusing learning into games like Jeopardy and rapid-fire objection handling sessions with the gallery view on Zoom. These two sessions have ranked higher in terms of team feedback than any other session at stensul, even pre-COVID-19.

 

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: We are using the same forums, including leadership team meetings, go-to-market leadership meetings and sales and marketing syncs. We’re doing them more frequently and running on shorter durations for projects and campaigns, knowing that things can change quickly. Beyond that, we’re looking more closely at leading indicators in our data so we keep the feedback cycles tight. Share, discuss, plan, execute.

 

Colin Fields
Strategic Account Manager

How Meero is adapting sales pitches: It is important to exercise empathy and acknowledge that we are in an unprecedented environment. The best sales reps are not just great public speakers, they are great listeners. Listen to your clients to adapt to shifting priorities across industries. What was once an auxiliary product offering or add-on may now be a central value add.

At Meero, our biggest real estate clients have always prioritized photography, but now we’re seeing a huge surge in demand for virtual tours. Today our conversations with new prospects are centered around the ability to provide 3D tours at scale to support prospective homebuyers who may no longer have the luxury of visiting their dream home in person.

The absence of the workplace energy can sometimes be paralyzing for a sales team.”

How workflow is changing: For most of us in sales, the workplace is a fast-paced and oftentimes stimulating environment. The absence of that energy can sometimes be paralyzing for a sales team. We’ve implemented more frequent check-ins with our remote sales teams to maintain the energy and culture that has been vital to our continued growth and success. I encourage sales teams to have a virtual happy hour, start a book club or simply take some time to talk about life. Fostering relationships with your teammates is important in an office environment; make it a virtual priority too.

 

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: Collaboration across teams is crucial now more than ever before. It’s essential for sales teams to be the eyes and ears on the ground and identify actionable changes that can be made to meet our clients’ changing needs. While we may be the tip of the spear, it’s important to take input from every team in the organization to catalyze innovation. Our operations team has done a tremendous job in quarterbacking this process. It’s a balancing act; we want to give our sales teams the flexibility to adapt to difficult circumstances but do so without departing from the formula that led to our growth.

 

Mark Hoffman
VP of Sales

How VTS is adapting sales pitches: Our suite of offerings helps our clients improve leasing outcomes in the commercial properties they own and manage. Due to COVID-19, almost all of our clients’ effort and energy has been focused on finding ways to help and retain their customers. So while our sales pitch hasn’t changed, the scope of solutions and how we present them certainly has. 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent more time with our clients than we normally do. We did this by doubling down on bringing our customers together through curated virtual roundtable discussions and webinars and by deploying countless free hours of professional services to anyone who was willing to talk to us. Just changing our pitch was never going to be enough. Listening to our clients and doing our part in helping them get through this time has been the core of our strategy.

Our CEO asked that, when possible, we keep our cameras on when we’re in touch with our peers or with clients.”

How workflow is changing: Our CEO asked that, when possible, we keep our cameras on when we’re in touch with our peers or with our clients. There was no request to systematically change the number of meetings we were having with our teams or any new cadence for managing up and reporting on the progress of our people. Just “keep the cameras on.” I realized by having the camera on, we are more connected both as a company and with our customers.

 

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: Specifically, we’ve created a series of initiatives connecting sales, marketing, customer support and PED to stay aligned in bringing the right insights in the most digestible way to those that are hurting the most. One of the core values at VTS is to “move as one” and in my four years of being a part of this journey, I cannot think of a moment in time where a single value defined us any better than this one does today. 

 

How Centrical is adapting sales pitches: We’ve completely changed our sales pitch to focus on a solution we developed with the pandemic. We call it Centrical Connect and it lets large organizations benefit from cross-channel, bi-directional communications, recognition and engagement mechanisms, as well as easy-to-deploy remote reskilling programs.

 

How workflow is changing: Centrical is making full use of its crisis-inspired solution, Centrical Connect via Centri. Its internal version of the Centrical platform ensures all team members feel connected, are aligned on goals and driving toward them with a strong sense of well-being.

As in football, Centrical teams huddle up for 15-minute sessions to make certain they know what the next play is.”

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: Centrical is using a “huddle up” approach. As in football, Centrical teams huddle up for 15-minute sessions to make certain they know what the next play is and each team member’s assignment. It keeps everyone focused, learning and moving ahead. To affect these huddles, we’re using an assortment of collaboration and communication tools.

 

Patrick O'Brien
Account Executive

How Trustpilot is adapting sales pitches: Since the coronavirus outbreak, I am more inclined to ask my prospects about their work-from-home life and how they are adapting to the transition. Understanding their perspective during this time has helped me tremendously. Doing this at the beginning of the call has helped me break the ice early in the conversation and get more comfortable throughout the remainder of the pitch.

 

How workflow is changing: One change I have made to my day-to-day workflow is setting up daily goals. Since working from home I have been able to make my schedule more flexible. This allows me to plan my day the night before to ensure I am getting all my work done while also giving myself time to step away from my computer. Managing my workload as well as some free time took a few weeks to get used to. Staying organized and setting daily goals has allowed me to successfully focus on my work and remain consistent.

One change I have made to my day-to-day workflow is setting up daily goals.”

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: Selling at Trustpilot is truly a team effort. Our marketing, customer success, expansion, implementation and partnership teams are all working together to pool information about the changing needs of our customers. We receive updates about what is working best for companies. This has been very helpful when speaking with prospects who have questions around the topic. Since we are all working together and sharing our success stories, it has made me more successful to portray that on my sales calls.

 

Jorge Gamboa
Head of Growth

How Doorkee is adapting sales pitches: I now lead with more empathy. To start a conversation I commiserate with people and joke about feeling like a hamster in my small NYC apartment, which lightens the mood and gets people talking. Then we discuss how our businesses are impacted. I finally explain how Doorkee can help their current leasing process; we facilitate remote leasing, which is the best way to lease now. We also started deferring our first three months of fees to alleviate the financial burden on them.

 

How workflow is changing: I’m trying to minimize the interruption to my routine as much as possible through substitution. Instead of the gym I now use the SWEAT app; rather than work breaks with colleagues, I read for 15 minutes. I even created a home office in the storage space in my loft so my girlfriend knows when I’m doing heads-down work. My routine allows me to be highly productive.

I’m trying to minimize the interruption to my routine as much as possible through substitution.”

 

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: Before the quarantine was announced, we held a meeting with all the team leads to brainstorm how we wanted to respond to the crisis. We created a shared internal document where each team lead noted the changes that needed to be made to our messaging, website copy, collateral, product and internal processes. Then we immediately began making the necessary changes. 

It was a rough two weeks, but we’re in a much stronger position for it, and we’re still closing as many deals now as we were pre-crisis. Now we’re communicating minor adjustments regularly in our daily huddles and bi-weekly meetings where we discuss major lessons learned across all departments.

 

Avi Ishofsky
Head of Sales

How Meetup is adapting sales pitches: Selling in times of crisis is not new, so the key is understanding what unique challenges and opportunities have emerged in this particular crisis and adapting to them quickly. Meetup has always been about in-person events, but when we’re not able to gather together the need for human connections doesn’t go away, it only gets stronger. 

We’ve built new features that allow Meetup organizers to create online events and my team is helping brands connect and build relationships with the most engaged Meetup groups across key categories including tech, startups, gaming, fitness and health. In just three weeks, 40,000 Meetup organizers hosted over 60,000 online events with over 1 million RSVPs to those events. We’re giving clients a new way to authentically engage communities at scale and receive the data, analytics, branding, messaging, and listening tools they cannot get anywhere else. Sponsoring Meetup groups has always been a great way to engage communities in ways that move the needle for brands, and doing so during this crisis with the right messaging is generating even more value for both the Meetup communities and our clients.

Working from home when you want to is great.”

 

How workflow is changing: Working from home when you want to is great. But doing so while simultaneously caring for children because schools are closed, helping friends and family in need, and taking proper time for self-care is challenging. To minimize the amount of time we need to spend in internal group meetings, while still keeping lines of communication open and projects moving forward, we’re prioritizing workflows using shared documents. Documents are shared in advance of meetings for team members to add comments, questions, concerns and new ideas. This helps keep calls more efficient and focused only on the unresolved items. This style of project management has been part of the culture at Meetup for quite some time, and it’s been especially helpful now.  

 

How to communicate and collaborate with other departments: One of Meetup’s six company values is ‘trust in transparency.’ We have a lot of cross-department conversations at various levels to align on priorities, needs, challenges and opportunities so we establish realistic expectations of what cross-department collaboration is achievable in what timeframe. Each department also sends a weekly company-wide email identifying their progress and the challenges they face so collaborating departments can easily see the updates and chime in to help.

 

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