Where Do We Go From Here? Preparing to Capture Demand
Our recent insights on our perspective and what we are hearing regarding the COVID-19 crisis suggest many B2B industrial manufacturing executives expect their demand outlook in 6-12 months to be either at plan or above their pre-COVID-19 plan. Given these expectations, how can these executives ensure their company is well-positioned to generate and capture this demand after weeks or even months of shut-downs, furloughs, and the resulting limited customer contact and engagement? A key consideration is the face to the customer, the sales organization. To position the sales organization to be effective in the short term, and to be ready to drive demand and bring revenue in the door in the latter half of 2020, you must focus on staying relevant to customers and leveraging additional time you have today to plan for future sales success.
Stay Relevant to Customers
Shelter-in-place and social distancing orders make it difficult to engage customers in the typical fashion. Furthermore, customers themselves may be struggling financially, facing cratered demand, and not prepared to have a conversation about buying your offering. Nonetheless, it is important to stay relevant and useful to your customers or risk being forgotten. Your customer engagement approach will therefore have to change in 2 ways.
- Consider how to conduct customer interactions differently. These will likely need to be virtual, and you will need to ensure your sales organization has the tools to conduct productive virtual interactions with customers. Video calls and video conferencing can help maintain the personal bond and relationships with customers much better than a phone call.
- Consider the goals and objectives of the customer interactions. The typical value selling objectives, understanding needs, demonstrating value, tailoring an offering, gaining acceptance, negotiating, etc., may not be relevant at this moment. If selling to financially stressed customers, the objective should be to communicate that your company is there for them, wants to be helpful, and hopes to work through this crisis together. Find ways to be a resource for your customers aside from selling and providing them your typical valuable offering. This could include sharing insights on the market conditions your company is seeing or offering special lower-cost solutions and creative payment terms. To accomplish this, your company will need to equip the sales team with information and tools to empower them to help customers easily access these alternative solutions. The goal is to be relevant and remembered in their minds once somewhat normal conditions return later this year.
Leverage Additional Available Time for Sales Planning
The sales organization will likely find additional time on their hands in the short term. Use this time to be prepared and ready to attack in the latter half of 2020. Focus on revising territory plans and account plans.
- Territory Plans – You may find that territory plans must be significantly revised for the latter half of 2020. Things you believed, expected, and planned around will be very different going forward. Some customers may be out of business, and others may have different needs and priorities compared to the pre-COVID-19 world. You may have intelligence that certain customers have suppliers who are struggling with supply chain challenges, which provides an opportunity for your company. Goals and expectations may need to change, as well as the strategies and tactics to achieve them in each territory. Different scenarios will need to be considered and planned for given the uncertainty of the situation heading into the latter half of the year.
- Account Plans – Plans for top accounts may also need to be significantly revised. Based on territory plans, priority target accounts may change, and different customers will become priority targets requiring new account plans. Target accounts’ priorities, expectations, needs, and supplier situations may have changed, necessitating a different approach than originally planned.
Leveraging this additional time to reset the sales organization’s strategy and tactics will position it well to capture demand later this year. You may catch competitors unprepared for new and different market conditions, and therefore slow to react and respond. This can be a significant share gain opportunity.
As the recently departed Kenny Rogers sang, “every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser.” With COVID-19 we’ve all been dealt disappointing hands, but how your organization comes out of this crisis will largely depend on how you play the cards you’ve been dealt. Ensuring your sales organization maintains and furthers customer relationships, along with revised sales planning, will have your team ready to play a winning hand, capture demand ahead of competitors, and take share later this year.