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It’s business as unusual and no one has a crystal ball to guide us through what life is going to be like following the reopening of America.
Some of my clients have a two-year backlog. Others have received federal grant money which will help them fulfill existing orders. Others still have had large contracts canceled and they are doing their best to restructure and stabilize their business.
Uncertainty and volatility have become the new norm.
Having lived through 9/11 and the 2008 recession, the leaders who proactively designed and implemented a strategic sales plan recovered faster. Some generated increased market share as a result of their strategic prospecting efforts.
Before developing a sales plan, three company insights are needed:
1. What is operations able to produce?
For example, production may be able to manufacture Product Line A now, but Product Line D is faced with supply chain constraints that will delay production. Unknown delivery dates make for an uncertain future and the sales team will need a strategy for how to address this situation with clients.
2. What, if any, are the new payment terms?
In the near term, companies are likely to be cash flow challenged. Will the company be offering a flex payment plan? For example, a customer might pay 30% upfront to cover initial materials and some labor, and then 10% per month until delivery. Sales needs to know what terms they are working with and what they can negotiate.
3. What marketing support will be available?
How can marketing impact key prospects, customers and influencers? Are there low cost/high impact email or direct mail campaigns that can be leveraged? LinkedIn? Webinars? Whitepapers? A coordinated effort with sales can ensure that whatever budget is available is targeted to the right audience.
Once the marketing details are available, the team can develop their sales plan that, at minimum, includes these four elements:
What does the sales team need to communicate to the market?
Being real with clients and prospects is important, but equally important is how the messages are being delivered. To illustrate, if the company is unable to produce Production Line D at the moment, sales needs to prepare how they will frame that message to prospects and clients.
“We can’t produce that line right now” is more dead ended than, “We are working on procuring materials and securing delivery dates. On Friday’s update, manufacturing stated that they are targeting to have that line back in production early Q3, which means that you could take delivery early Q4. Would that timing work for you or would you be interested in looking at a different product line that will meet your immediate needs and is available to ship on the timing that you require?”
During a crisis, every company’s immediate need is to protect the base. Retaining the best and highest growth potential clients is necessary for business stabilization. This usually represents the top 20% of clients, but in a volatile market, this number will likely be higher.
The plan should include a market canvass where sales people have a series of caring conversations. Asking decision makers how they are faring, gently inquiring as to what is happening at their business and what they anticipate unfolding in the near future will provide valuable insights. This information should be inputted into the company CRM and shared with the executive team weekly to help executives manage sales forecasts and risk.
Mining for new business doesn’t stop because salespeople are unable to meet face-to-face with key decision makers. In fact, many decision makers under 40 years old don’t want to meet in person. They are happy to jump on a short conference call or have you email/text them.
Ask marketing for their ideas around a low-cost campaign that would trigger curiosity and open the doors for a conversation or drive inbound traffic.
Long-term client relationships are built on trust. Maintaining credibility is essential. When plans change, immediately let the client know so they can proactively re-evaluate their plans. They may decide to buy from a competitor, but putting the client’s business ahead of the sale speaks volumes to your integrity.