“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” Author unknown
You know how images can become so engraved in your brain that you never forget them? I have one such image. While traveling as a sales manager for a Fortune 500 floorcovering manufacturer I had the opportunity to visit the corporate office of a big box retailer. When I exited the elevator onto the executive level there was a large picture of a lion chasing a gazelle and under it was the quote above. What made the visual even more extraordinary was the fact that this big box retailer was publicly stating its goal to put local hardware stores out of business. Next to the picture was a list of the local stores that had closed because of this retailer entering their market.
During shelter in place, many of us in the sales profession watched the sun come up every day and struggled with the question of how can we run if we are locked in a cage (our home)? Just like the big box retailer, sales teams must discover new ways to outsmart their competition.
The bad news.
Shelter in place is over for now, but physical distancing is going to be a part of our lives for some time, and this global pandemic will change the way every company conducts business. The bad news for us in sales is that we are not going back to selling the way we did before the pandemic.
Everyone talks about the “new normal,” and I believe that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Over the next couple years, we are going to see constant changes to sales strategies across all industries. The sales team that greets the sun each morning by running with a strategy fashioned to address these changes in the business landscape will be the ones to survive and thrive.
The good news.
Elite sales leaders analyzed the landscape during shelter in place and began crafting a sales continuity plan. These leaders took the sales tools they had been using and put them to use in new ways.
Pre-pandemic, these sales leaders had already implemented value selling as the way to influence customers to use their services. Value selling is where sales leaders analyze the known and unknown pains of their clients and then offer solutions. To do this, you must dig deep to understand the customer’s industry even better than they do.
Working from home (WFH) gave sales leaders something they typically did not have and that is time to think and do research. During a sales managers meeting, I once had a VP of Sales say to me and my peers, “We don’t pay you to think!” I disagree. Sales leaders need to embrace strategic sales thinking during every encounter with their sales team or the next world event may be the end of their career.
Don’t stop running.
During the WFH period, the elite salesperson learned that it was good practice to continue their sales routes virtually by checking in with clients, showing they cared, and asking how they could help.
These elite salespeople took their sales plan and accelerated the quantity of value-add material they were making. They discovered new material to introduce that was related to the pandemic. Then they applied new platforms to share this value-add material with their clients.
- Instead of creating monthly value-add material, elite salespeople produce it twice a week using both written and video content.
- The pandemic allowed the elite salesperson to talk about how their company’s services could help clean up and prepare for the next potential disaster, be it viral, man-made, or natural.
- Elite sales producers began using a variety of platforms to deliver their value-add material.
- Posting on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Video conference calls.
- Social media messaging on Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Tried and true communication tools such as phone calls, emails, and texting.
The elite salesperson recognizes that the new sales practices they have implemented during WFH are creating value with their clients. They are not going to stop running with them. Instead, they will incorporate the new practices into their new physical distancing sales strategy.
What is the right direction?
So, where do we go from here in these uncertain times of physical distancing? I am going to say that elite sales leaders need to develop a new sales strategy. History has proven that global events change the way business and life are conducted.
- World War I created the Great Depression which resulted in a generation that would be frugal all their lives.
- World War II stimulated the revival of manufacturing and entrepreneurship which created a generation of consumerism.
- 9/11 created an emphasis on protecting our critical national infrastructure.
- The Great Recession of 2007 accelerated the shift from “ownership economy” to “experience economy,” resulting in the millennial generation moving away from ownership in favor of renting and not accumulating possessions.
Sales leaders need to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has already accelerated several consumer and business trends that revolve around the “shut-in economy.”
- WFH is going to become the business normal. Since March, it has been proven to work, and there are huge benefits to the bottom line for businesses that implement it.
- Service deliveries of consumer goods are going to grow stronger. Amazon has paved the way in this market segment. Retail businesses will see bottom line increases with smaller, consumer-friendly building footprints.
- Manufacturing will shift away from offshore production due to supply chain shortages, but the new manufacturing plants will be run by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots. Technology will drive manufacturing processes.
- Healthcare and education will continue to be the recipients of a major focus of improvement.
- Transportation will see significant changes.
The sales leader cannot predict the future, but they can get up every morning and figure out how to hunt for breakfast or not be eaten for breakfast.
Elite sales leaders will stay connected to their team through more frequent, collaborative video conference calls. They will have continual discussions focused on discovering the customers’ needs and desired outcomes, considering they will be changing frequently over the next few years.
The sales team needs to look at the services they offer and identify an exhaustive list of differentiators they can offer to solve their clients’ needs before outlining how they will articulate their value-add presentations.
Which way will you run? Will it be forward by developing a new sales strategy or backward via your old ways?