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How to Achieve Sales Success Post-COVID-19

COVID-19 has shined a very bright light on the single biggest reason most salespeople are failing. 

 

As a B2B salesperson in 2020, your ability to quickly earn trust and demonstrate credibility, has just become your biggest challenge. Back in the BC era (before COVID-19) there was an entire phase of the sales cycle dedicated simply to developing “Trust & Rapport” and that phase usually required multiple face-to-face meetings with your buyer just to prove yourself trustworthy. Those days are over.

A big part of your future success in sales will now hinge on your ability to establish trust online. For those of us in sales, we must now make a concerted effort to create online proof points because “word-of-mouth” is now a digital-first format.

However, before you get a chance to establish some trust or credibility, you first have to get attention. In the pandemic era this has become the single biggest challenge facing salespeople in every industry and company–small, medium and large–there’s just so much noise out there now. 

In the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, more and more desperate salespeople (working from home) began bombarding more and more buyers (also working from home) with old-fashioned forms of outreach, and guess what happened? Yep–buyers tuned out and started blocking these old-fashioned and impersonal outreach methods. Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of “spray & pray” tactics; that’s why we now have GDPR and increasing privacy legislation. 

See the illustration below from a recent HubSpot study showing a significant spike in outbound email beginning around March, and then look at the corresponding downturn in email response rates. This data suggests there is still a significant disconnect between where salespeople are focusing their time, and where buyer interest exists. Proof that we have to engage modern work from home buyers in a different way. 

Source: HubSpot

 

The No. 1 Post-COVID Business Challenge

What’s the biggest challenge in the post-COVID era and beyond?

Answer: getting attention.

Sales leaders often tell me: “We just don’t have enough opportunities in the pipeline.” Or that other old chestnut: “Our pipeline looks solid but we’re just not closing anything.” I hear this stuff practically every day in my role at SalesTribe.

Let’s be clear, lack of pipeline and pipeline quality, are simply the by-product of this new world order where buyers have become adept at “blocking,” and most salespeople are now unable to initiate enough business CONVERSATIONS with genuine prospects. Worse, most salespeople are not only failing to get a seat at the table, they are often getting a seat at the WRONG table. 

It has never been more difficult for salespeople to cut through all the noise and create visibility, and it’s even more difficult now to get a prospective buyer engaged in a conversation when they are being constantly bombarded by desperate sounding vendor salespeople. 

 

Opening Is The New Closing

Sales folks must rethink their day-to-day activities and begin to focus on becoming highly proficient at opening new conversations because old methods won’t open new doors. If you can’t open new doors and get a seat at the table, it won’t matter how well you think you can manage or CLOSE the deal; you’ll never get that chance if you fail to open up a new conversation. Opening is your ticket to the dance.

 

“We used to generate leads to start a conversation. Now we start a conversation to generate leads.” – Michael Taylor

 

Step 1 – WHO IS YOUR ICP? 

In order to sell smarter in a world of smarter buyers, you must begin by rethinking who your ideal customer profile (ICP) is, and why? What does your perfect-fit prospect look like? Gone are the days of ‘wishful thinking’ salespeople wearing happy ears wasting valuable company resource trying to shoehorn poor-fit customers into a deal.

We must become crystal clear about our ICP and how THEY want to be engaged. This often requires us sales and leadership personnel to drop everything we think we know about our buyers and in some cases, this requires us to go and ask these ICPs exactly how they now expect to be engaged. 

 

“Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.” – Seth Godin

 

Step 2 – EDUCATIONAL CONTENT ON SOCIAL 

Matthew Dixon (co-author of The Challenger Sale) said “the best salespeople are engaging customers where and how they learn – social media, social groups, web forums, online communities and blogs.” In the AC (After COVID-19) era, you better have a strategy for getting attention and creating value on social platforms where modern buyers now reside. 

HBR recently said that “82% of the B2B buyers said the winning vendor’s social content had a significant impact on their buying decision.” Even if HBR is only 50% accurate, then this means that almost half of your target buyers are making decisions based on your social content. So, like it or not, all salespeople must now curate and create educational content on platforms such as LinkedIn. We must use educational content to help initiate those all-important conversations, and whilst we can’t all be ‘thought leaders,’ we do all have to be ‘thought contributors.’ 

 

Step 3 – YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE

Frankly, it’s pointless doing either of the first two steps if you have failed to cultivate a professional and authentic LinkedIn profile. Why? Because the first thing that a modern buyer does, once you have managed to get their attention, is check out your profile and anything else that they can find pertaining to your online presence. They do all of this ‘in the dark,’ meaning that you never know when someone is watching. 

This means that your profile must be complete and jammed packed with all the information that your buyer might want to know about who you are, and how you might be able to help them solve THEIR  business problems. 

 

“For the first time in history, we get to shape how people see us BEFORE they meet us. We now get to create the framework for how we want to be perceived by others.” – Jim Keenan

 

So, don’t waste your time curating content or engaging people via online platforms if your LinkedIn profile (your own personal landing page) looks unremarkable. 

Sales success now requires a re-think. Any form of spray and pray sales outreach which treats the buyer as just another number will no longer work in 2020 and beyond. 

Modern buyers expect us to:

    1. KNOW them – have done some research (on them) before we engage.
    2. PERSONALIZE every message – to their context.
    3. TEACH them – be able to disseminate information, data and insights that they can’t find themselves on Google. 
    4. ANTICIPATE their future needs – help shape their thinking about future value-add. 

COVID-19 has just expedited the need to move away from old fashioned brute force sales models where getting a seat at the table was done by simply churning through the numbers. Your sales success will now be decided by your ability to initiate a conversation with buyers who don’t want to talk….how will you go about getting their attention? 


Graham Hawkins is a globally recognized futurist, author and international key-note speaker specializing in the rapidly shifting world of B2B sales and marketing. Graham was awarded LinkedIn Top Voice in 2018 and is regularly voted in the Top 50 Global Sales Thought Leaders. Graham has authored two books – the most recent is an Amazon Best Seller. Graham is the Founder & CEO of SalesTribe