Cast your mind back to January 2020 and consider what your priorities were in life. What was most important to you?
Now take a moment where you are right now in May 2020 and consider how your life has changed.
- What is driving your daily decision making?
- What seems less important now, compared to January 2020?
- What aspirations and habits will you take with you into the future?
- What will you let go of and leave in the past?
Lastly, imagine your customers asking themselves the same questions – because they will be.
Courtesy of the pandemic, life has changed for all of us. As society emerges from the lockdown, we will begin unwrapping what we put in place to protect ourselves, but we won’t be throwing the wrapping away. A new normal is emerging. It will be shaped by new behaviour driven by our values as we realise that what was important to us in the past, has now changed.
Business is no different. Our customers, clients, members, patients and partners will all be going through the same process. (I’ll refer to the group as “clients” from here on) They will assess their status quo, collateral damage will be managed and a sustainable business model established. There will be a strategy to be formed to make up financial ground and new problems to solve based on what is now important to them.
Plenty of commercial opportunity will emerge from this disruption, but unless a business is willing to learn and has skilled selling capability ready to roll, this opportunity will be lost as the window rapidly closes.
As Albert Einstein famously stated: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
With many businesses now a different shape, we simply can’t do things the same way. This includes the way we interact with our clients.
How do we prepare our Commercial teams to maximise their impact in client facing conversations?
Connect with meaning
Our ability to connect and form trusted connections with clients has never been more important. Businesses are vulnerable. Sophisticated conversations with key decision makers will need to be timely as we seek to explore and understand a client’s new landscape.
Who they decide to partner with will be well considered as values change, fresh problems emerge, and a new risk factor introduced – the new personal risk caused by Covid-19. A business will need to trust that those they choose to interact with are respecting their hygiene and following protocols as much as they are. The risk the client absorbs is more than person to person transmission, it includes the risk of reputational damage if their business is identified as a cluster source. The stakes are high.
Refined communication skills and reliable behaviour will help build the bridge of trust in the absence of face to face meetings. Start by focusing on the person you are speaking to and not yourself. It’s not about what you want, it is about making a concerted effort to understand them. Their new landscape, their priorities, challenges and needs. How can you help them solve their problems and grow their business?
Be mindful not only of what the client is saying, but of what they aren’t saying. We are all processing information at different rates, including our clients. They might need time to understand how what you are saying fits into their new world. Give them time, your patience and your respect. If you get a sense a conversation isn’t comfortable for them right now, that is OK. You will be respected for backing down. All in good time.
Lastly, it’s not a time to pull a client back into the past or hold them to account for what was promised “pre-pandemic”. In all likelihood, it is no longer relevant. We need to let go and move on.
Communicate with intent
Empathetic curiosity is how I would describe the mindset required when interacting with a client for the first time “post pandemic”. We need to explore their new perspective rather than assume it was the same as before.
Consider the outcome you are looking for in that first meeting, the information you need, and the questions required to uncover that information. Calibrated “What” and “How” questions will be your friend as you seek to understand any impact on the client’s business and for them personally.
Be clear in how you will follow up with a client and use this as an example to demonstrate your reliability down the track. Every email sent on time, phone call made when promised or action delivered when committed to, is a step towards building trust.
Serve with purpose
Our brain has four core needs – to connect with others, finding a sense of meaning, continually learning and giving back. (Murden, 2018) To understand that the work we do matters to people other than ourselves, is both personally fulfilling and deeply engaging (Duckworth, 2016). It fulfils our fourth need (giving back) and contributes greatly to our satisfaction in life.
We have a chance today to hit “ctrl-alt-del” on our professional lives and lead with our legacy. That’s right, we lead with the legacy we would like to one day leave and be remembered by.
- How would you like your clients to describe you?
- What difference would you like to make in the lives of your clients?
Each of us makes an impact on the life of our clients and it is up to us, to design what we want that impact to be. Once defined, it provides us with direction and helps us organise ourselves around that direction, leveraging off our values, our strengths and our interests to help us do so.
As we move into this new stage of life with Covid-19, we need to be duly reminded of the importance of human decency. Every human living through this will be affected if not scarred in some way. Be mindful of the person behind the customer as you move forward. Understand their perspective, be gracious in defeat and above all, remind yourself you are as valuable a sales professional now as you were then. As Charles Darwin’s theory goes – like all species, sales professionals need to evolve too.