Can you still make a sales pitch in the era of COVID-19?  Should the message be different?

“This is new territory for sales and marketing,” said Fawn Annan, President and CMO of ITWC. “Customers are cautious, anxious and behaving differently.”

Annan discussed the issues faced by sales and marketing during the crisis with Tibor Shanto, Principal of Renbor Sales Solutions, at a recent ITWC webinar.

Although some companies are using the kind of fear marketing that led to an unprecedented rush on toilet paper, most are trying to focus on the human side, said Annan.

As for sales, Shanto said he sees them divided into two camps: those on the sidelines looking and talking, and those who are anxious, but acting. “They’re looking at how to use this time to reinvent themselves,” said Shanto.

How to stay connected to clients

The playing field has changed, but not everything in the playbook has changed, said Shanto. “If you have a relationship with the customer, the fact that they’re working from home doesn’t preclude communications.  You should still focus on helping customers achieve their objectives.”

Shanto had little sympathy for salespeople who say they feel guilty about making a pitch when people are suffering. If that’s the case, “get another career,” he suggested. “If you’re selling a legitimate product that they could make use of in the current situation, you need to make the call.”

Annan noted that salespeople also feel the pressure of “selling into uncertainty.” This is going to be an issue where organizations have set up their salespeople to be “product jockeys,” said Shanto. “If you had a sales philosophy and a moral compass before, it’s just a question of how to execute,” he said. “Salespeople have to think like a business person and offer value.”

Salespeople also have to deal with the practical challenge of making calls with kids and dogs in the house. Shanto supported the idea of locking yourself in the bathroom, if necessary. “You have a choice every morning,” he said. “You can find ways to get things done or make excuses.”

“There’s a different way to look at it,” said Annan, noting a recent online keynote speech by a CEO that inadvertently included members of his family. “People loved it and are still talking about it. It puts a human face on it,” she said.

What about sale quotas?

Refusing to change quotas is “not a smart way to keep good salespeople,” said Shanto. While there is no “one-size-fits-all, he said that businesses need to realistically assess when their customers will be ready to buy and evaluate quotas based on the remainder of the sales cycle.

Getting marketing messages right

Both Annan and Shanto opposed a marketing approach aimed at capitalizing on fear. “It was crass even when things were good,” said Shanto. “Now, it’s dangerous because people will remember who tried to scare them and who offered a path forward.”

A better approach is to focus on the human side, said Annan. She noted a U.S. survey that found that most people prefer marketing content that supports the community or provides feel-good, optimistic stories. “We need to listen for changes in customer sentiment and behaviour,” she said.”That will help on how to approach the customer.”

Annan also pointed to marketing initiatives by companies like McDonald’s which displayed its famous golden arches as “socially distanced” from one another. “We can take a creative hat and have some fun,” said Annan. “We really need some fun right now.”