Securing sales remains top of the agenda for businesses big and small, as countries across the world begin to relax lockdown restrictions and life returns to a new kind of normal.
However, a ‘new normal’ also calls for some fresh thinking when it comes to traditional sales methodologies. In some countries, the tolerance for being approached ‘cold’ and ‘sold to’ by unknown people from unknown companies who have no idea of their needs and issues is not welcomed.
So, what do businesses need to consider, when thinking about their sales strategies and the best approach to take?
Here are 5 steps to selling in the new commercial landscape.
1. Identify your ‘best’ opportunities to mitigate risk
- Examine the sectors, businesses and customers you currently serve to identify your business risk and opportunity. Many companies have had to pivot and reinvent themselves. Some sectors have dried up completely and others have emerged and are growing exponentially. How exposed is your business? Do the maths and ensure that you are not overly focused on a stagnant sector or a customer group that isn’t buying any more.
- Look for growth sectors and focus on those customers to ensure you secure a strong core business. Develop new case studies of how you’re helping now. With great testimonials and possibly referrals, this will enable you to reach out to new prospects with similar businesses.
- If you’re seeking new customers, because your market has changed, or because you’ve recently entered the market, now is the time to reach out and develop new relationships. More about this below.
- Repeat the risk analysis of your market and customers frequently. Major changes in markets and customers are likely for the next 2 years.
2. Re-engage/engage to understand the current needs of customers and prospects
- Once you’ve understood where to focus your energies, re-engage with those Clients, previous Clients, trusted channel partners, and warm prospects in that sector. Get feedback – how is their business? Find out what’s changed and get to know their plans and strategies to adapt to the new climate. Share the market research you’ve undertaken and any knowledge you have on the altered environment.
- Understand what support they need now and potentially in the near future so that you can determine how you can might best help.
- In the B2B sector, you will need to identify who has changed. Your old contacts may have gone, and you’ll need to start to build new relationships and identify the new mix of influencers and decision makers. Do that early as decisions are being made now about the necessary adaptations for business as they emerge from lockdown.
- When starting new relationships, seek introductions and referrals if possible so that you start the relationship via a trusted source and take your time to get to establish a dialogue and relationship before seeking a sale. Don’t assume that they will have the same requirements as your old contact.
3. Be ‘human’ and be helpful as you reconnect/connect
- Ensure you re-establish, or start to establish, a human connection. Be genuine in reaching out and don’t engage in platitudes and motherhoods. Have a genuine human conversation. Again, don’t think about ‘selling’ straight away before you’ve understood needs and established rapport.
- If you’re reconnecting, consider what can you offer – if anything – that demonstrates you’re not just there to take their cash, but to support them and their business as a trusted supplier/partner. Maybe it’s just about having a conversation or two at this point where you share market or local knowledge; maybe there is some expertise, advice, introductions, a white paper, or a free trial of something that may be of help to them.
- If you’re trying to connect for the first time, research your lead or prospect thoroughly, both the person and the company. Learn all you can about their business and business situation, including their competitors and their customers. Consider genuinely how your product or service can help them. Is there any common ground between your two companies or you as people?
- Don’t send the same cold ‘sales’ email to a whole bunch of companies and people hoping something will stick. It won’t. Around 98% of people in the UK ignore cold, spammy emails.
- Don’t rush to ‘sell’: take your time and have conversations and start to develop a relationship. These are odd times and there are cash flow and other problems everywhere, as well as a general nervousness about economic recovery and personal concerns. Now is the time to be patient and get to know your prospect properly and understand how you can help – not use sales gimmicks, or tactics, especially cold calling or spamming: you’ll just get deleted – if not despised – if you persist. This doesn’t build a good reputation either. Ultimately, when companies need help, they will turn to those who have something of value to offer and have been genuinely helpful.
4. Invest in Marketing
- This is a time when trust and relationships are important. If you need to find new customers and build new relationships because you are new to the market or sector, this is the time to invest in marketing to enable the sales process to begin.
- Don’t consider that sales and marketing are two separate disciplines; they’re not. Marketing efforts will help build your name in the right way and raise your profile to captivate and win listeners, followers and develop leads.
- Marketing will also identify prospects and bring them into your pipeline; they will develop white papers, blogs, collateral, competitive offers, and interesting market information so that you have something to offer and talk about as you start to reach out to have new sales conversations.
5. Ensure you have the right salespeople
- If you’ve had to refocus your business to a new sector, or new types of customers, consider whether your current salespeople and sales activities are still right. You may need new sector expertise; or to deal with a new channel, or group of customers; you may even need to sell differently. You may now be required to tender for every contract; or pitch to a higher level of management; and sales may be won on different factors than previously. Do you need to retrain your salespeople, or do you need a different set of skills entirely? Who is the right person now to secure sales?
- If you have recently expanded to a new country and had planned on sending one of your existing people to ‘sell’, this may now not be possible. What can you do given that hiring a good, UK Sales Director may take on average 9 months? There are companies (including Trade Horizons) that can sell on your behalf by providing the experts you require on a short or long-term basis until a permanent hire is secured. Additionally there are interim solutions. Speak to the experts and consider what might be the best option for you to get sales moving as soon as possible.
- Given the emphasis on trust and relationships, salespeople with good sector knowledge and established relationships will be of enormous value to securing sales, especially if you are new to the market. An investment in hiring or outsourcing sales to such people may be a very wise decision.
6. Be responsible as a company
- Every company has a CSR charter and ‘value’ claims in their annual reports, websites, in the press, on social media and in their ‘brand statement’. This is the time to be true to those values – not shy away. Importantly, it is a time to BEHAVE true to your values and with ‘humanity’.
- The current crisis has seen many companies act with a greater level of responsibility towards their communities, as well as employees and other stakeholders. This has served them well as society is watching and noting how brands and businesses are behaving – the good, the bad and the ugly. Those who have put their balance sheets ahead of employee welfare and societal responsibility are now suffering serious reputation and customer loss. A recent study reports that 21% of UK consumers claim they’ve already convinced others to stop using a brand, or buy from a company that they thought were not acting appropriately to the pandemic. This spotlight on corporate behaviour and ‘appropriateness’ is predicted to continue for the foreseeable future.
7. Above all, be agile
- Consider from your market analysis and the overall feedback of all your prospects, customers and ecosystem what you need to do to meet the new demands and conditions of the market. This may even include the need to refocus entirely. Most companies have had to change – some quite drastically. How can you adjust your offerings to match the marketplace now? Do you need to develop a new product or service, or adapt your existing offer? Do you need to evolve the way you deliver your business? Do you need to attract new skill sets and suppliers yourself? Change your business and pricing model? Find a new target audience? Strategically you may need to change and maybe more than once. You will sell better if you’re in tune with the market.
- Agility and resilience require strong relationships externally and internally. The current largely remote working conditions will mean flatter hierarchies where information and ideas from anywhere can reach top management more easily. Harness the power of all your employees to keep as close as possible to market trends, your customers, suppliers, prospects, competitors and your ecosystem to enable you to understand how to keep your business relevant and keep sales and cash flowing.
- If you are new to the market from overseas, it is critical that you consider all the points above before proceeding with sales efforts. A brief strategic check now that you’re still on the right course now will help reduce your risks and increase your chances of success. Much has changed since the start of the pandemic, so it is vital that you reassess your product or service considering the ‘new normal’ business environment. You may need to readjust your strategies, targets, pricing, suppliers and channels – how you plan to sell and who you plan to engage to help you with sales. Don’t assume you can carry on launching as planned previously. If you need help to reassess, or to find the right local sales talent, ask for help. There are many experts in the UK FDI sector (International expansion) who can assist.
- This pandemic has shaken society to the core; much has changed – and will continue to change for likely the next 2 years. This is the time to ensure that you are agile and can make changes to your business as the markets and your customers change. Navigating a course through the various storms by understanding the direction of the current flows will mean ensuring a clear focus on the actions required to survive today, and then tomorrow.
Should you want more information or advice on any of the points covered here, or to discuss how Trade Horizons can help you with sales, please contact Gillian Kerr at Trade Horizons.