How to Adapt Your Outside Sales Process to COVID-19: What You Need to Know

By John B. Elmer

COVID-19 has hit sales productivity hard during the past few months. This recent post by HubSpot CMO Kip Bodnar shows that impact of COVID-19 is undeniable – deals are down 25-30%, sales emails are going unread. On the other hand, website traffic has jumped significantly. Marketing email opens are up, even though sales email opens are down.

What it means is that sellers must take a hard look at technologies that help sales meet customers in different ways. Here is what successful sales teams are doing:

  1. Invest in conversational marketing. Conversational marketing typically uses live chat and chatbots to engage with website visitors. Well-designed chat experiences can convert leads simply by using dialogue-driven activities. Chatbot software such as Drift gives your sales team the ability to converse with customers at their convenience —in real-time or later on at whatever pace the customer wants. When a bot is available, use of forms usually drops significantly. Bots can be designed to answer common questions that can qualify leads and move prospects further down the buyer journey. Think of bots as offering quick access to information or to a sales person – whichever they prefer.

  1. Connect with customers, even if they are not buying. Sales teams should be ready to support immediate needs related to products and pricing. At the same time, they should think long-term with the understanding that the recovery process will be slow and challenging. Customers may not be ready to buy but are likely open to connecting and learning.

The sales team should brainstorm ways to strengthen existing relationships by serving as a trusted advisor. This includes:

  • Directly reaching out to prospects and customers to understand their world view.
  • Step into their shoes, make it about them, and don’t ask for anything in return.
  • Focus on listening, helping, and looking for ways to help customers solve problems.
  • Understand that customers may not be able to make a buying decision today, but by building trust and offering practical advice, the foundation for future sales is being built.
  • If they provide useful insight, document this in the CRM for later reference, and brainstorm with the sales team how it could be used to refresh the sales process

In essence, successful sales teams are focusing on the bigger perspective – avoiding pushy selling that comes from anxiety, and understanding how they will need to adapt to the needs of their customers.

  1. Give sales enablement a makeover. In the day-to-day busyness of sales, it’s easy to get in a rut of using the same scripts, templates, and dated resources. Successful sales teams are using this time as an opportunity to step back and evaluate how to refresh their content, process, and scripts.

As a starting place, the team should embrace using digital channels to distribute valuable content that is interesting to your target audience. In fact, HubSpot’s data demonstrates why this is more important than ever: Their blog data shows a 40% increase in organic traffic volume since March, while sales mail response are down over 25%. What does this mean? Customers are looking for content even if they are not ready to buy.

Sales teams should consider how to better integrate sharing of content into their sales process. Content should go beyond what you are selling to create value and provide useful information to prospects and customers.

When planning content, think customer-first: What information do they find valuable? What are their pain points that your company can help them solve? What tips or tools will help them meet their goals? Examples of ways that you can share this content include blogs, downloadable white papers, case studies, and email newsletters. Social media or paid search advertisements can be leveraged to promote content.

As a long-term goal, we recommend transitioning website pages such as “news” or “announcements” to a resource hub that can be used long-term. Regularly creating and sharing valuable information is a foundational step in generating interest and attracting new leads.

Here are some tools to help you start:

  1. Power up your CRM with Sales Automation: A Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) is critical for working in a remote environment and providing transparency among the team. Essentially, the CRM should be the epicenter for the sales team to track leads, opportunities, and communications. HubSpot Sales Hub has powerful automation tools to increase the productivity of sales reps.

Though the case for a CRM is magnified now that sales teams aren’t able to meet face-to-face, its importance goes beyond this immediate COVID-19 crisis. A modern, connected CRM is the new competitive battleground for business. It is the single source of truth about customers and prospects. By making rich information and insights easily accessible, a CRM allows selling to become more customer-centric than ever before. It prevents sales representatives from holding information about customers and prospects in silos. Additionally, a CRM could be connected to your website to identify leads even before they get in touch with your company’s sales team.

If your team does not have a CRM, or it is not being used to its fullest potential, Bayard Bradford’s e-book serves as a guide for making the best use of CRM to grow sales.

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