By now, there is no corner of the economy COVID-19 hasn’t touched. Some businesses have been forced to pause their operations, but for those in food and agriculture, the show must go on. How do we adapt sales strategies to meet the challenges of this global pandemic? The Management Consulting and Learning Services team at Curious Plot dug into this challenge and developed the following strategies to guide clients and sales teams through turbulent times.
Acknowledge The Reality.
Face-to-face sellers are social creatures who typically travel from site to site, talking with customers, reading body language and building relationships. Now, sellers must adjust their routines and communication tactics to continue meeting customer needs.
“Many people are frozen in place right now and don’t know what to do with themselves. But it’s important to get up every morning, create a plan, set goals and focus on how you can best serve your customers,” said Lisa Smith, senior vice president for management consulting.
Serving customers looks different now than it has in past seasons. It goes beyond moving product and now requires finding solutions for problems we’ve never seen before.
“We have to get creative about problem solving,” said Mitch Van Kampen, executive vice president and chief strategy officer. “Many people get trapped into just providing product and refilling inventory. Those things will continue, but it’s the salesperson’s business to be asking the right questions and finding proactive solutions.”
Empathize With Your Customer.
COVID-19 is affecting everyone in a different way. Sellers must understand how situations differ for their customers and adjust their tactics accordingly. This can be a challenge but it’s also an opportunity to get to know customers better and grow stronger, deeper relationships.
“Sellers need to be aware of how emotions are playing into their customers’ actions and decisions. Some will not want to talk to a salesperson at all, while some may be looking to their salesperson as a coach or counselor during this time,” explained Van Kampen.
Plan and Prioritize.
While some customers may be wanting guidance from their salesperson, that doesn’t mean their availability has increased. It’s important to plan and prioritize communication to maintain efficiency and respect the customer’s time.
“Salespeople who once spent large portions of their day in a truck traveling between locations are now at their desks full time with more time to contact people than ever before. The problem is, the customer is being inundated with unprecedented amounts of contact because numerous other salespeople are reaching out as well,” explained David Parker, Curious Plot advisory board member.
Purposeful, focused communication is key. This includes prioritizing targets, planning for calls, being mindful of time and acting promptly on promises made. Reps should look at sales history, trends and purchasing patterns for guidance around touchpoints and plan to connect virtually with customers.
Don’t Back Away.
The country and the economy feel vulnerable right now, but that doesn’t mean sellers should stop selling, especially those in agriculture.
“We’re still going to feed animals, put crops in the ground and supply food. Just because we’re doing it by phone does not mean we need to be more passive. If anything, we need to pick up our level of aggressiveness,” said Parker.
“Despite having to work and communicate differently, you still have to make sure you’re positioning to sell your product versus your competitor. If you’re selling a product that’s essential, it’s also more imperative now than ever that you ensure your customers have a sufficient inventory level to make it through the next few months,” added Van Kampen.
Lead With Confidence.
Establishing clear processes and best practices are critical in managing teams. Sales leaders should focus on building and improving their teams’ competencies by organizing virtual learning opportunities to reinforce key selling skills through the lense of COVID-19.
“In the current situation, we advocate for synchronous learning. Prerecorded presentations and webinars are options, but when the team is learning live together, it provides opportunities for leadership to demonstrate empathy and provide live support, while the team can learn from one another’s experiences,” advised Van Kampen.
It’s also important to remember how dramatically the work style has changed for the sales team. Sales leaders should be making regular contact to provide support and ensure the well-being and productivity of their teams.
“I would also be communicating company updates to the team,” added Smith. “It’s important to share with teams what the organization is doing in light of current realities to reduce anxieties about their work and their future with the company.”