Is it safe to come out yet? This is your sales pipeline talking.
Like many individuals and businesses, my pipeline disappeared within hours of the lockdown; an experience shared by many businesses I have spoken to in the last six weeks.
Although crisis management may have prevailed for many since the lockdown began, we now face the daunting task of recovering from weeks of business disruption.
Economic crises are a reality of our world. They have all felt dystopian in their own way, but with some robust preparation, there is a pathway back to stability and success. We all eventually adapt to our new normal, but fortune favours those that prepare.
Trying to picture the future midway through a crisis is tricky, which is why I have spent time reflecting on the past; seeking out the practical steps I have previously advised my clients to take when emerging from difficult times, and what has had the greatest impact in getting them back on the road to success.
Here are some practical and low cost ways to sales and marketing readiness:
Revisit your sales and marketing strategy
It’s essential that you have a strategy. This needs to encompass the full sales cycle from lead generation strategy to negotiation strategy. Each part of the sales process should be understood and mapped out.
Many businesses I have spoken to will need to focus on lead generation; some from markets they have never approached. This needs to be planned now before businesses re-emerge and get sidetracked by operational issues, such as social distancing measures in shared workspaces.
Here are some useful questions to ask yourself when refreshing or writing your strategy:
- Market insights – when will your market be ready to buy?
- What are the current needs of your existing markets? How might they be different during / after this lockdown?
- If you are targeting new markets, what do you know about their current needs? What is your plan to ascertain this information?
- Who are your targets? How are you prioritising them?
- Do you have an existing database to work from? Is it cleansed and up-to-date? My advice is to remove anyone you haven’t had meaningful contact with for 3 years. If you have been sending them newsletters for 3 years, for example, and they haven’t unsubscribed, it may be prudent to leave them on the list for now.
- What is the best approach to engaging your targets? According to the Covid-19 Trend Report by Mailchimp*, engagement levels have increased, so now seems like a great time to engage your audience with well thought through content. People have more time to open compelling emails and read them. Make it worth their while.
- How fit for purpose are your products or services coming out of the lockdown?
- What are the new products or services that are needed?
- Do you need to be honest about cash flow protection and create ‘buy in advance’ or ‘pay it forward’ products or services?
- What needs to pivot online as a method of delivery?
- Who will undertake sales and marketing in your business? How clearly defined are their roles? How will you measure their success?
- How resilient is your supply chain?
- Will your pricing strategy need to change? If so, how?
- What are the new products or services that are needed?
If you don’t use a CRM system properly i.e. with meaningful analytics and data, this activity will be harder for you. You will need to understand when your potential revenue may be secured. This means understanding what your process and lead times are, but also, the resilience of the deals currently in the pipeline, if any.
Those who have been diligent in capturing historic data will definitely have an advantage. Past performance will allow you to more accurately predict what will happen in the future, even during an economic crisis.
Develop a list of, what I call, accelerators (what could speed up revenue generation) and also decelerators (what has / could slow this down).
Focus on what your clients need most right now
In the first couple of weeks, I saw post after post on LinkedIn by panicked businesses and consultants “pitching” their wares to anyone that would listen.
There are material points in the sales process where your solution needs to meet both the emotional state and actual (not perceived) needs of your client. Unless both are fulfilled, it’s harder to close the sale. Right now, if your client just needs a friendly voice to speak to, be that.
I always advise businesses not to push their own agenda in the sales process. Always be led by the client’s responses to your investigations and probing questions.
Stress levels may be high right now. Clients may feel like they have let you down by having to pull a sale or be embarrassed about having to halt spending, so meet them where they are.
This shouldn’t, however, prevent you from asking strategic and meaningful questions, so you fully understand where they are as a business. This is an important first step in every sales process, so use this opportunity to gather intelligence.
Demonstrate your value
Ascertain what you can provide as pro bono advice or support to your clients to help them get through the rough patch. This doesn’t mean giving away your products or services for free. It could just be your time, or the time of your subject matter or technical experts. These are excellent relationship building opportunities.
If you are struggling to demonstrate your value, now is the time to articulate what it is. It is a crucial exercise for selling your brand.
Most databases I review are severely neglected goldmines. Uncleansed lists, and missing or out-of-date information are wasted opportunities, and a waste of time and money. Understand who exists in your database; prioritise any decision makers; identify the influencers. Produce marketing approaches to meet their specific and current needs. Don’t guess! Ask them.
Prospect your warm contacts
If picking up the phone and seeing how businesses are doing in uncertain times isn’t a good reason to call, I can’t think of a better one. Use this time to fact find and strengthen relationships for the future. Don’t be too eager to sell something, unless you have done the appropriate level of fact finding and established your client’s need and budget for it. As I said before, they may not be emotionally ready to spend.
You are building a pipeline that may not show returns until 2021 and beyond. Focus on getting under the skin of your clients’ businesses, gain knowledge, build trust, and the revenue will come eventually.
Produce meaningful content
The brands currently producing meaningful content and support will thrive post-lockdown. Whether it is Joe the Body Coach offering free PE lessons to your children, or other philanthropic gestures from consultants and businesses alike, you are building a brand loyalty that will sustain. This will be rewarded when the time is right.
Don’t neglect your cold contacts. Meaningful content is the best way to demonstrate your expertise is valuable, especially during this lockdown.
Use webinars, podcasts and live streaming to engage your audience and showcase your expertise. There are plenty of tools and apps to help you do this, and with everyone working from home, a new informality has become acceptable. It doesn’t have to look or sound like you spent thousands of pounds on production, just be authentic.
Consider whether your content can be monetised in any way, whether this is via YouTube or potential sponsors for podcasts.
Update your website
Ensure your content is up-to-date. As many of us use WordPress (or equivalent) sites, we can easily update our own content. If no one in your business has this skillset, it can be learned via WordPress and YouTube tutorials.
It won’t necessarily be the time for fancy website redesigns, but make sure the content is current, particularly case studies. Which brings me to my next point…
..update your case studies!
It is probably the most overlooked activity in the businesses I work with and yet, your most important calling card. Focus on the problem you were solving; explain how you solved it and what the results were. Ask your clients for testimonials.
Rakhee is offering free coaching to businesses needing support with their sales and marketing during the lockdown. Contact her on 07737 345418 or on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rakhee Verma left PwC in 2011 to pursue a successful career as a management consultant and interim director. She works with clients to fulfil their strategic and commercial objectives, with an emphasis on transforming sales and marketing functions, and building sustainable growth. Rakhee brings a unique insight from across a spectrum of organisations in the private, public and third sectors.
You can connect with her on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tigrismanagement/