• April 28, 2020
  • By Mark Ripley , vice president of sales, Insightly

Selling While Sheltering: How Businesses Can Avoid Customer Disruption and Serve Internal and External Needs

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Business has undoubtedly been turned upside down. As the world navigates managing operations in the current lockdown, we will share our best practices in a series of posts aimed at helping businesses, business leaders, and sales teams continue moving forward in the new environment—from managing remote sales teams to engaging with customers and re-evaluating how to rebound in the post-COVID-19 world.

In the first post, we will provide best practices to help companies support the day-to-day for remote sales teams, both externally and internally. 

By nature, salespeople are people people. While many sales teams (ours included) are not face-to-face with customers, salespeople are social people and feed off being around their colleagues in an office environment. So there are two main challenges for this group: (1) no more face-to-face meetings with customers (for sales teams who do this); and (2) social salespeople are forced to fend for themselves at home, without the collective energy from their colleagues. In the face of COVID-19, you must have a plan to weather the storm and a plan for when the storm passes. Businesses, and sales teams, in particular, must find a way to keep a level head and keep moving.

External Care

As you’re probably aware, selling in this climate can very easily be read the wrong way. It’s important to be hyper-sensitive to the fact that people are concerned for their livelihoods. People, and your customers are no exception, want to know you’re in this with them, and this may mean adapting to the way customers need you to adapt. Follow a few best practices:

1. Lead with Empathy: Understanding how their business is being impacted and what they’re going through—personally and professionally, how are they being affected. Some will have to pause, so it’s critical that you stay connected. Check in formally and informally to stay close to what’s happening with them and their business and proactively support them as their business and needs evolve through this time. For salespeople, it’s not always intuitive for them to think about the longer-term relationship-building process, because many are focused on landing the deal. It’s critical that they focus on the needs of the customers/prospects above all else, even if that means postponing the deal. The reality is, if sales teams do this right, they will come out of this crisis with more qualified leads and long-lasting customer relationships. The slingshot effect will take hold.

2. Align with CRM: In times like these, CRM can be a lifeline to your customers. Make the most of each and every touchpoint you have with them through your platform; be overly thoughtful in each and every exchange, whether it’s a marketing email or a customer service touchpoint. Don’t ignore what’s happening, but use the tools you have in place to engage with your community in a new way.

3. The Strong will get Stronger: Keep in mind that the many businesses that use this time to invest in tools that will enable them to grow and succeed post-COVID-19 are going to get stronger. They will be investing in tools, looking to build and rebound after the outbreak. More reason to stay in close contact with your critical customers.

Internal Support

As the vast majority of the workforce that is able to work from home is doing so currently, business leaders’ mind-sets around how and where people work is going to continue to shift. A mere five years ago, working from home was often equated with playing hooky. Now, with the continued advances in tech like video conferencing and cloud computing, it’s much easier for teams to vouch for their productivity and prove that it’s possible to be as productive at home as in the office, provided you have the right tools. One critical requirement is the ability to measure activity with tools like Slack and Google Cloud that enable collaboration like never before. Likewise, a modern CRM platform is the key to enabling leaders to measure productivity and to ensure nothing is dropped.

It’s also important to pay attention to your team, not just your customers. Find fun, interesting ways to keep them engaged during this weird time when it’s easy to feel disconnected from each other. Replicating the energy of a sales team in a remote world can be difficult; here are a few ways to keep the team motivated and connected:

1. Cross-Department Creative: Use this time to have your team do a deep dive into different aspects of your business. Break into teams and analyze a competitor, an issue, etc., and have each group present their findings. This forces people to work together, analyze different aspects of their role, and deliver cross-team collaboration.

2. Namaste at Home: We’re doing extra programming like virtual yoga classes and walks so people can get energized and get a break from the stress of the new workday. I personally offer optional “ask me anything” bi-weekly calls to members of my team; the only caveat is both of us have to be on a walk while we’re chatting. The format is wide open—my team asks whatever is on their mind. The goal is to replicate the highly collaborative office experience we normally have, but in this new remote world we're living in. We’ve also just launched a “Show Me Your Crib” initiative that parodies the famous MTV show. Each person shoots their own segment and gives us a tour of their home and home office. It helps to humanize this experience and reinforces the we’re-all-in-this-together mentality. 

3. Let’s Do Lunch: Virtual lunch groups where people can just shoot the breeze and connect can help create a sense of normalcy and allow your employees to chat about non-work-related items during the day.

4. Share the Love: Leverage messaging tools to increase the frequency of direct communication between employees and encourage sharing “little wins” throughout the day. And focus on sharing stories (versus closing deals). We’ve found our internal messaging system, Slack, to be more active than ever before, with team members sharing updates on good calls with customers, using it to collaborate on projects, and even using it to share interesting articles they come across. People are craving connection during these isolating times; make sure your team has access to it.

At the end of the day, it’s about thinking about ways to connect and show your team it’s okay to step away—and that as the leader, you’re in this with them. While eventually, the world will get back to business, our new normal may look completely different than the one to which we were accustomed. Things are going to be different, but with a little extra work now, you can be prepared to manage your remote sales team now and beyond.

Mark Ripley is vice president of sales at Insightly and is responsible for building and managing Insightly’s sales organization, which expanded from half a dozen members in Q1 2017 to more than 60 individuals by Q1 2018. Ripley joined Insightly from New Relic, where he served as vice president of sales, managing new business development. He holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from San Jose State University.

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