4 Types of Questions to Uncover Customers’ Most Pressing Needs

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By Miller Heiman Group

 

young-smiling-businesswoman-talking-phone-workplace-mobile-communication_1163-4258Now is the time when organizations need problem-solvers who can help them overcome unforeseen challenges, putting sellers in a position to engage with customers on a deeper level than ever before.

Our research shows that more than 70% of buyers wait until after they have already defined their needs to engage sellers. They see sellers as product representatives rather than problem-solvers, and often see little to differentiate one seller from another.

This makes it hard for sellers to exert much influence—and the seller loses any opportunity to differentiate themselves. As a result, the gap between buyers and sellers is widening, launching a cycle we call the buyer apathy loop. But crisis introduces a new level of need, giving sellers an opening to provide solutions that can resolve present issues and adapt for whatever the future brings.

To break out of the buyer apathy loop, sellers need to exceed their buyers’ expectations by finding the right opening that provides the best solutions, which allows them to engage earlier in the sales process. One way to break the cycle is to create a better buying experience using the questioning techniques taught in SPIN Selling Conversations. SPIN helps sellers engage customers in conversations, questioning and listening until they understand why their customer is exploring new solutions.

Four Types of Questions Lead to Better Deals

The better your dialogue with your customers, the better your results. And good dialogue begins with good questions asked in a strategic way.

The research behind SPIN shows that salespeople who close more deals tend to ask the same questions in a similar order. As with all elements of enterprise sales strategy, process and consistency matter.

SPIN provides sellers with the questions and skills to uncover buyer needs and overcome hesitations and objections, which results in an outcome that’s better for both the seller and the buyer. The acronym SPIN identifies the four stages of the questioning sequence designed to move the customer toward closing a deal:

  1. Situation
  2. Problem
  3. Implication
  4. Need-Payoff

Let’s take a closer look at each type of question.

1. Situation Questions

Situation questions ask about the buyer’s background and show you where your customers stand. Use these questions to collect facts about the buyer’s current state, processes, challenges, competitive strategies and results.

Be careful, however, not to ask questions that you could find the answers to easily through online research or preliminary calls. Spend some time gathering information before your conversation to avoid this problem. Given the availability of information online, this should be your shortest set of questions.

Situation questions include:

  • What are your company’s goals over the next 24 months?
  • What products/services are you currently using?
  • What is your process for accomplishing [a goal]?

2. Problem Questions

Problem questions deal with the buyer’s difficulties and obstacles that stand in their way. These questions probe more deeply into buyers’ needs and dissatisfactions, unearthing unstated needs. They also give sellers an opportunity to show their understanding of the buyer’s problem, enhancing your credibility.

One technique to generate these questions is to work backward from the solutions you offer to problems, ultimately linking your offerings to the buyer’s areas of opportunity.

Problem questions include:

  • What is lacking in your current product/solution?
  • How much time of your day do you spend doing [a task]?
  • Are you happy with your current provider/supplier?

3. Implication Questions

Implication questions ask about the impact of a problem that you’ve diagnosed. These questions combine the seller’s critical thinking skills and industry insights to help buyers understand the magnitude of the problem, to increase their urgency to solve it.

Implication questions include:

  • What is the productivity cost of [this problem]?
  • Would your team be more satisfied if you didn’t experience the problems related to [this issue]?
  • Have problems with [this issue] negatively affected your customers’ satisfaction?

4. Need-Payoff Questions

Need-payoff questions focus the buyer on a potential solution and its benefits. They ask about the value or usefulness of a solution, gently moving the buyer to put the solution’s benefits in their own terms. This persuasive technique is much more compelling than if you, as the seller, described the benefits yourself.

Need-payoff questions should build off your implication questions including:

  • Could solving [this problem] raise your productivity?
  • Would your team find value in fixing [this problem]?
  • Do you think your customer satisfaction scores would increase if you didn’t have [this problem]?

The goal is to frame the solution in a way that the buyer hasn’t considered.

It’s Time to Get the Answers You Need to Close the Deal

Customers don’t want to be told what they need—they need sellers to ask questions designed to guide them to a solution. The key is identifying hidden needs rather than accepting the customer’s statement at face value.

To learn how to ask these questions, sellers need sales effectiveness training that teaches them to ask the questions that unlock what buyers truly want, allowing them to provide the insights and perspective to help buyers see it.

Posted in DIscovery Questions, Sales Planning, Sales Training

Most Companies Can Boost Sales From 30-100% in Just One to Two Years

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By Dave Kurlan

colorful-rocket-composition-with-flat-design_23-2147903854Your teenage daughter, growing 4-6 inches per year, asks for two new pairs of sneakers.  She’s already outgrowing 3 pairs each year and these two, which are completely unnecessary, would keep her in fashionable footwear for only a few months.  It would make total sense for you to say, “Let’s wait a few months until you’ve stopped growing so fast.”

An employee asks for a new car, believing that an SUV crossover (not the Maserati in the picture!) would be more practical than a mid-size sedan.  There are 8 months left on the lease so it would be completely reasonable for you to say, “Sounds good.  Let’s make that change when the lease comes to an end in 8 months.”

In both 2012 and 2016, companies everywhere were telling salespeople, “We’re going to wait until after the election.”  There was tremendous uncertainty surrounding those two elections and companies didn’t want to commit to anything until they were sure who the next President of the USA would be.

Surprisingly, in the year of the pandemic, salespeople are not hearing the dreaded, “We’re going to wait until after the election.”   Despite the polling, pandemic, and incredible divisiveness, companies are not pushing the pause button.  But why?

It’s not because salespeople have become so strong that they have obliterated that put-off!  89% of all salespeople accept stalls and put-offs and that’s changed by only a quarter of a percent since before the start of the pandemic.  That’s right.  There has barely been a change in salespeople’s ability to overcome stalls and put-offs since before the pandemic.  Ugh.

Biden has promised to raise both the corporate income tax and the capital gains tax if he gets elected so it can’t be fear of that.

It’s not because there’s a vaccine on the way which will help stop the spread of the virus because when it comes to Covid-19, nothing is certain.

So what is it?

Many companies already experienced at least 3 to 6 months of uncertainty and they can not withstand even 2 more months of that.   As a result, companies are investing, streamlining, expanding, hiring and going all in to save their 2020s, and position their companies for historical growth in 2021.

As I review what our clients are hearing, what OMG’s partners are sharing, and adding my own anecdotal experience, there has never been a better time to sell!

But seller beware. Favorable conditions do not equate to easy selling.  There is tremendous pressure on margins, competition is fierce, and the selling challenges are more difficult than ever before.

Current conditions require resistance proof sellers however only 54% of all salespeople fit that description and that’s improved by only 1% since the start of the Pandemic.  Current conditions require salespeople to take a much more consultative approach and sell value.  Unfortunately, only 12% of all salespeople have the Consultative Seller competency as a strength and only 30% have the Value Seller competency as a strength.  Among the weakest of all salespeople – that’s half the sales population – the percentages drop to 2% and 7% respectively.  As we begin to purge the virus, how can companies surge when half of their salespeople suck at selling?

Companies don’t really look as I just described them.  We don’t see many companies where half the people in the sales organization suck.  In many of the companies whose sales organizations we evaluate, most of the salespeople suck!

You don’t think that applies to your company but you aren’t really sure whether a quarter, a third, half, or all of your sales force sucks because some of your people sell more than others.  Don’t be misled by distribution of revenue.  Keep in mind that distribution of revenue usually has more to do with quality of the territory, number of established accounts, size of the established accounts, length of time in the industry, repeat business and call-in business than sales capabilities.  There are only two ways to compare the relative sales capabilities of your salespeople:

  1. Have every salesperson look for new customers under the exact same conditions (calling on the same size accounts in the same vertical against the same competition in the same territory)
  2. Have us evaluate your sales force and from the more than 180 findings and 21 Sales Core Competencies, compare Sales Percentile scores.

The ability to compare the sales percentile scores of your salespeople is not the ideal reason to evaluate your sales force.  But identifying where your challenges lie and learning what it will take to significantly increase sales is. Large and small companies alike that evaluate their sales teams learn that with targeted training and coaching in the areas identified, sales increases of between 30-50% within one to two years are very achievable. Some companies are able to double sales in the same period of time.

This is not the time to purposefully do nothing, wait and see, or worse, hope for the best.  Improving sales effectiveness has a greater impact on your top and bottom lines than any other thing you can do, including cost-cutting, operational efficiencies and lay-offs.

When it comes to sales transformation, you don’t say, “let’s wait until things get better” because sales transformation is the very thing that makes things better.

Posted in Consultative Selling, Sales Process

Developing a High-performance Sales Team

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By Lance Tyson

group-multiethnic-busy-people-working-office_1423-214The current coronavirus crisis has exposed several shortcomings in our society. It has also upended our business interactions and exposed some of the shortcomings in how we conduct sales. The question now is: Do you have the people on your team who are flexible enough to navigate this new terrain and drive revenue in the current environment?

The Post-pandemic Business Environment

Since this crisis started, the word that has dominated conversations among business leaders across industries is “uncertainty.” It’s as if a massive earthquake had shaken up the business landscape and changed it forever. Some managers are wondering if they have the right people on their teams to sell through this upheaval. Others hear their clients saying that they are planning for an unknown future. Almost all the leaders are asking, “What do I say to people right now?”

Based on conversations with business leaders, here are the most significant business obstacles dominating the landscape for your clients now and in the near future:

  • They are facing additional or new restrictions on their budget.
  • They will be asked to produce more with less money and fewer people.
  • They will want to renegotiate agreements to accommodate their new environment.
  • Talent will become an issue; many leaders are realizing that they do not have the right people on the team to succeed through this crisis.

In this environment, most organizations will contract. People sell to people, and, based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and survival will be the mindset from which most of your buyers will be operating. Since people behave differently when they don’t feel safe and when they are just trying to survive, your salespeople will need flexibility and agility in order to navigate this terrain while building their credibility with buyers.

Situational Selling Is the Foundation of a High-performance Sales Team

A variety of sales methodologies have arisen over the last decade, and each one has a unique way of viewing the customer-salesperson relationship, which governs strategies, tactics and how the salesperson perceives the buyer. But everything changes when new elements create situational dependencies.

Consider this analogy: Let’s say you’re having routine surgery like hernia repair — a simple procedure so common that you could replace the surgeon with another, and he or she would do the same procedure in the same way without missing a beat. Let’s say that during this procedure, your blood pressure unexpectedly starts to drop, and the doctor can’t go forward with the same process. He or she must modify the process and use a new strategy that addresses the blood pressure drop in addition to achieving the desired result. In this situation, the doctor’s awareness, ability to analyze the situation and experience come into play. The surgeon must be flexible and nimble to change how he or she is executing the surgery in the moment.

Similarly, now and into the near future, more of our sales encounters will become situational, and salespeople will need to be flexible and nimble and use the information they have on hand to make quick decisions based on their experience and the situation.

 

Safety and survival will be the mindset from which most of your buyers will be operating.

 

Elements of the Sales Process That Support Situational Selling

Considering these new conditions, you may find yourself asking if your salespeople have been adequately prepared and coached to address these conditions. Do they have the skills and abilities to achieve their outcome, regardless of the changes in the business environment — or have they been trained with a one-size-fits-all mentality? To handle the new environment, salespeople will need to have the awareness to read the situation and the flexibility to think on their feet. Unfortunately, many sales reps aren’t prepared to do so.

Four elements of situational selling are important. The first is the mindsets of the buyer and the seller. The mindset of the buyer has changed considerably over the past six months, and salespeople must be aware of this reality at every encounter.

The second element is the strategies needed to move the sale forward. In this business environment, it isn’t be a single strategy that will enable salespeople to succeed but multiple strategies, whose deployment depends on the situation. And, reps will need to use these strategies throughout the sales process.

For example, most salespeople have a single strategy for reaching a prospect when opening a sales call. Today, successful salespeople have multiple strategies to reach a prospect and choose among them based on their experience and the information they have on the prospect and the company.

Thirdly, it’s important to consider tactics — and not all tactics are useful in all situations. For example, using scarcity tactics to create a sense of urgency probably won’t help salespeople gain much traction in today’s environment. Sales tactics aren’t magic bullets; like strategies, they aren’t universal, and reps shouldn’t use them in every situation with every prospect. Instead, they must use them with planning and thoughtfulness.

The fourth element is which skills salespeople need in the current business environment.

Identifying the High Performers on Your Sales Team

As a leader, you’re going to start looking for the factors that predict sales success when creating a team of high performers. And, when you perform that quick assessment of the salespeople on your team, you’re going to find some members who only have one speed. They know one way to execute a sale, and they don’t have the sales experience or flexibility required to navigate this new business reality. Therefore, one of your considerations must be whether you should retain these individuals and, if so, how you are going to train them, coach them and bring them up to speed.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when conducting sales performance assessments:

  • High sales performers have a dominant selling style based on the situation that they are addressing.
  • In reviewing the assessments of salespeople, there are clear patterns in the win/loss rates when accounting for the combination of the situation and the strategy a sales rep used.
  • High sales performers are more likely to use the strategy with the best odds of success in any given situation when compared to the rest of the sales organization.
  • The only accurate labels you can use to classify your high performers are the labels of “agile seller” or “situational seller.”

Going forward, sales leaders will need to put the right people with the right competencies in the right place in order for their teams to be successful in the post-pandemic environment. Salespeople who are nimble, flexible, and able to process information and make decisions quickly will do well. To build and develop a team of these agile sellers, perform a skills assessment, and be diligent about training and developing their skills. Then, you’ll have a sales team that is flexible and agile enough to navigate any future business uncertainty.

 

Salespeople who are nimble, flexible, and able to process information and make decisions quickly will do well.

 

About author
Lance Tyson, president and chief executive officer of Tyson Group, works with some of the top sales teams in professional sports and entertainment today, training high-performance sales teams and consulting with management and top leadership. He is a noted speaker and author of the bestseller “Selling is an Away Game: Close Business and Compete in a Complex World.”
Posted in Sales Strategy, Sales Team, Sales Training

Effective Sales Prospecting Techniques You Should Be Using

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By Matthew Cook

iStock-924450398-576x384Though many salespeople despise prospecting, it’s an important part of sales.

Unfortunately, the majority of reps use ineffective and outdated sales prospecting techniques, instead of the effective practices that could actually lead to a higher volume of well-qualified leads (and make them more partial to prospecting).

Just like every other aspect of the sales process, you need to put in the effort and focus required. This is the only way to prospect efficiently so that you don’t waste your time on unqualified leads that aren’t suited for your product or service.

Use these modern sales prospecting techniques to help you better find leads who you can serve, engage, and eventually, convert to customers.

Sales Prospecting Methods

Sales prospecting methods are any way a salesperson conducts outreach to source new leads or engage with existing leads. Effective prospecting methods can vary by sales organization and industry and can include email outreach, social selling, event networking, and warm outreach over the phone.

Traditionally, there were two very different types of prospecting: outbound and inbound. Outbound was an approach that required the salesperson to conduct “cold” outreach in which they called and emailed prospects who had not opted in to speaking with them.

Inbound sales took the opposite approach, encouraging salespeople to build relationships with their prospects and call or email only those prospects who had expressed interest in their product or service.

Today, most sales experts agree the best approach to sales prospecting is a combination of both inbound and outbound selling.

Sales Prospecting Techniques

1. Make warm calls.

Your initial contact with new prospects doesn’t have to be — and in fact, shouldn’t be — completely cold. It can be incredibly useful to warm up your prospects before making the initial contact.

You can increase your chances of a warmer reception by familiarizing the prospect with your name or your company affiliation before you make your first call or send your first email.

A few ideas as to how to achieve this: get introduced by a shared connection, comment on a piece of content the buyer shared on social media, or “like” a status update or job change announcement on LinkedIn.

2. Become a thought-leader.

By establishing yourself as a thought leader or subject matter expert in your industry, you can establish your credibility and trust before reaching out to new prospects.

Ways to establish yourself as a thought leader include starting a blog, writing guest articles for industry publications, and speaking at trade shows and conferences.

This also helps you familiarize your leads with your name before the initial contact, which was discussed in the first technique.

3. Be a trusted resource.

To be successful as a salesperson, you have to do more than sell. You have to be your client’s go-to person and support them after you’ve closed the sale.

By changing your position from salesperson of products and services to a provider of solutions, you can increase your chance of getting referrals from happy customers.

Draw on these referrals when it comes time for you to introduce yourself to a new prospect. When you become a resource for your clients, before and after the sale, they’ll remember your help and will be willing to help you in return.

4. Reference a script.

For new salespeople, referencing a basic script while prospecting can help them reduce uncomfortable pauses, use the right language, and respond to common objections.

Experienced, seasoned sales representatives often recommend not using a script in order to sound more natural during conversations.

However, some do still use a script — it’s just so ingrained in their minds that it comes out sounding natural and unrehearsed. But whether you use a script or not, make sure to actively listen to your prospects and customize your conversation based on their needs.

5. Don’t sell.

Prospecting is the first step in selling, but in and of itself, it is not selling. It’s about sourcing leads who can then be qualified and entered into the sales funnel. Only once these steps have taken place can the selling begin.

If you want to be successful in today’s sales environment, you need to focus on building relationships while prospecting. Start selling too quickly and you’ll put undue pressure on the prospect.

Building a foundation of trust can help you and the prospect become more comfortable with each other, so once selling techniques come into the picture, they’ll be more effective.

6. Follow up.

Keep the prospect in the loop and follow up at each step of the deal. Whether you’re confirming a time for your next meeting or sending over additional resources, an email or call helps you build a relationship with your point of contact.

And it gives you the opportunity to further establish yourself as a trusted resource for the prospect, rather than simply following up with “just checking in“.

7. Use video.

Make your outreach even more enticing to prospects by including a video. Use it to introduce yourself, provide additional content, or to recap your connect, discovery, or qualification call.

Capture the prospects’ attention by adding “video” in the subject line, and include a thumbnail image that links to the video.

8. Block of time for prospecting.

Set aside dedicated prospecting time on your calendar each day. Prospecting isn’t easy — more than 40% of salespeople say it’s the most challenging part of the sales process.

By blocking off time to prospect, you’ll be better off in the long run because you’re actively filling your pipeline, which often results in more conversations and better win rates.

9. Spend time on social media.

Implement a social selling strategy and meet prospects wherever they are. It’s likely that a fair amount of people who’ve researched your product are active on social media (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Answer their questions and share content that’s relevant to their research.

And your social selling activities can have a positive impact on your sales. In fact, companies who use social selling practices regularly are 40% more likely to hit their revenue goals than those who don’t have a social selling process.

10. Host a webinar.

Webinars are a perfect place to source leads, because you know the attendees have a demonstrated interest in the topic. Partner with another organizations in your industry to host a webinar on a mutually beneficial topic.

After the webinar, poll your audience to see who’s ready to learn more about your product/service. Consider a polling form that asks them to answer “Yes” or “No” to statements like “I’m ready for a demo,” or “I’d like to learn more about [Your company name.]

Follow up with those who responded positively to your poll or post-webinar survey within 24 hours, and schedule time for them to learn more. And don’t give up on those who said they weren’t yet ready to buy.

Place them into nurture campaigns, and stay in touch over the next few months to see if their buying position changes.

11. Ask for referrals.

If you’re not asking for referrals, you’re leaving your most reliable prospecting well untapped. Once you’ve successfully closed new business, ask your prospect or champion if there’s anyone in their professional network you might connect with.

It’s also a good idea to use follow-up communications over the next few months as another moment in which to ask for new connections.

For example, after your customer has onboarded (and is happy with their experience) ask, “I’m so glad you’re already finding value in Sunrise Staffing Software Solutions. Is there anyone in your professional network who might also benefit from chatting with us?

12. Network at events.

First, find the right events to attend. Identify why people are attending a certain conference, if the agenda has topics relevant to your ideal customer, what the size of the community is, and the overall purpose of the event.

If you sell project management software to entry- and mid-level designers, you might want to avoid a conference targeted toward design leaders or creative directors who aren’t in the weeds with the types of software their designers are using.

Once you identify the events that will give you the greatest ROI, map out which sessions you’ll attend, which happy hours or networking events you’ll work, and whether or not your company will have a booth or speaking presence there.

13. Answer questions on Q&A forums.

Seek out ways to educate your audience on trends and best practices in your industry — and eventually educate them on your product.

Online forums, like LinkedIn Groups and Quora, allow likeminded people to post questions to the group members or audience and source answers from experts in the field. Join these platforms, and start by listening.

Get used to how people pose questions, review what is and is not allowed, and chime in on a few conversations before answering questions yourself. Once you’ve built some clout in the community, identify questions you can answer without bias.

For example, if you sell machinery for large agricultural operations, you might answer a question someone asks about the impact of AI on farming.

14. Get involved in Twitter chats.

Twitter chats are a great way to build rapport with prospects, and are an effective social selling tactic. In a recent article on gathering B2B sales leads, HubSpot’s Managing Blog Editor Meg Prater says, “Twitter chats are when a group of people meet on Twitter to discuss a certain topic, trend, or interest area using an agreed-upon hashtag.

For example, if you sell a PPC tool, you might join the weekly #PPCChat, in which chat runners or guest hosts share a discussion topic ahead of time and industry folks share their thoughts and questions.”

Questions are shared by the chat host and participants chime in with their answers using the chat hashtag.

Prater says, “Show up to these chats regularly and know when to contribute and when to listen. You’ll make connections with people each week, and you can ask if it’s alright to follow up with a few of them offline, after you’ve built foundational rapport.”

Don’t just stick to the same old sales prospecting playbook because it’s what you’ve always done. Practice different techniques until you find the right mix of modern and effective sales techniques that effectively support your prospecting efforts and your sales goals.

Posted in Prospecting, Sales Insights, Sales Strategy

Zombies – Sunday Scaries

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By Tracey Wik

creepy-dark-park-with-two-people-distance_181624-589There are many nightmare memes dominating social channels describing the way most of us feel about the impact of the global pandemic on the world of work and how we sell. If people feared Monday before Covid-19, they are panicked now.

Sales managers seem to be slowly confronting this new reality and are beginning to adjust their cadence and management of sales teams the longer the disruption triggered by Covid-19 continues. Yet, they seem to be resisting that their sales team may resemble the zombies on the Walking Dead.

According to a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 80% of Americans worry about the week ahead on Sundays. Some call it the “Sunday Scaries,” you know that fear you feel beginning sometime on Sunday as you count the hours left in the weekend. You fear the mere thought of Monday morning on Sunday afternoon at 3 pm as you mentally confront your awaiting to-do list.

Many believe the Sunday Scaries symptoms are worse in the summer (social distance protocols and lockdowns aside) because people are simply having more fun in the summer: mimosa brunches in the garden, beach days, beers on the roof top, and baseball games in the bleachers. Sending emails to prospects or other work-related tasks pales in comparison to almost any summer social activity.

Have you considered that your sales team is suffering from an extreme case of the Sunday Scaries?

Think about it. They are rising to their home offices early Monday morning only to spend the next eight plus hours on back-to-back Zoom calls with prospects or clients. Just writing it down causes stress let alone doing it day after day after day after day.

Here you have a team of extroverts, the people, used to working their charm on a room of unsuspecting strangers now forced to demonstrate that charm through the lens of their computer video camera over-and-over again.

Quite simply, they are exhausted by the demands of the new normal of virtual selling. While they are showing up and doing their best, they are not experiencing the same feeling of accomplishment because the game has changed.

Last week, the Munich-based industrial conglomerate Siemens announced plans to allow more than 100,000 of its employees to work away from the office for two to three days a week on a permanent basis. While Siemens is not alone in this declaration, their rationale was intriguing and one to pay attention. The company said the coronavirus crisis has “shown that working independently of a fixed location offers many advantages and is possible on a much wider scale than originally thought.”

This is not necessarily good news for sales teams. As more and more companies make working at home the new normal, sellers will be forced to learn to adapt. What steps can you take to help your sellers rise and shine on Monday morning?

1 – Acceptance is the answer to all your problems today. Sales managers need to stop acting as if nothing has changed. Recognizing that your team is struggling is the first step to making a difference in their effectiveness. Start by having individual conversations for no other reason than to check-in. Ask how sellers are doing? What are they frustrated by? How are they coping with the demands of being online so much?

Often sales managers are afraid to ask because they don’t have answers. Don’t worry about that. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of answers to the current situation. Rather, questions become important because it shows you care. It shows you care about them as a person, and that caring goes a long way.

2 – Assess their capacity to work virtually. This includes their skill and will. Being tech savvy was a table stake pre-Covid 19. Just because sellers are good with tools doesn’t mean they are good with not seeing their buyers. I have heard many companies spending time and money to ensure their workers have the right technology to work from home, but I have not heard of many who have taken the same inventory about the skills to use the technology and the motivation to do so over time. Understanding what motivates your team is even more critical than ever.

3 – Create learning curriculum to address the gaps. Most large organizations have learning and development departments. They are experts in adult learning theory and tools. Now, is the time to lean on them to help you close the gap.

 

Posted in Forward Thinking, Sales Insights, Sales Team

The Best Solutions for Hiring Great Salespeople for Your Company

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By Dave Kurlan

Huge two storeys commercial jetliner taking of runwayWould you fly on a huge jet from Minneapolis, Minnesota to St. Paul, Minnesota, usually a 15-minute drive?

Would you take a train between intersections of the same city block, usually a 2-minute walk?

Would you take a bus to the bottom of your driveway – usually a 1-minute walk or less?

Would you walk from Boston to Miami – a 3-hour plus plane flight?

These are all examples of inappropriate solutions to the simple question, “What is the best way to get there from here?”

How about the simple question, “What is the best way to assure that the salespeople I am about to hire will succeed in the chosen role?”

There are three additional questions that must be asked in order to answer the primary question that asks the best way to hire the right salespeople:

Are assessments in general good enough to identify those salespeople?  There are many types of assessments, including intelligence, honesty and integrity (illegal in some US states), personality (challenged in the courts), behavioral styles, cognitive ability and of course, skill-specific tests.  Because most of these assessments can be provided to any potential employee and are not specific to sales, the answer is a loud and resounding NO.

Are personality assessments good enough to identify those salespeople?  Personality assessments are not role-specific so they have been challenged in the court.  The dimensions and findings in Personality assessments are not predictive of anything and there is no specific personality type (including Meyers-Briggs, 16PF, DiSC, and Caliper which were all mentioned in the article) that indicates that one is a better salesperson than another.  Again, the answer is a loud and resounding NO.

Is OMG’s sales-specific assessment a personality test?  Despite its inclusion in the article’s list of 7 assessment solutions, Objective Management Group (OMG) is NOT a personality assessment. OMG provides a sales-specific assessment that measures a sales candidate’s capabilities in all 21 Sales Core Competencies as well as several additional sales-specific competencies. Does it help identify the right salespeople because it is sales specific?  That is part of the reason but the more important reason is that OMG is validated using Predictive Validity.  Predictive. Validity.  Most validations show that an assessment is properly constructed and will provide consistent and reliable results. That is Construct Validity. On the other hand, Predictive Validity correlates the findings to on-the-job performance.  It is not enough though to simply identify good salespeople; you must identify the right salespeople for the role or roles in question.  Configurations for each role are customized so that the ideal salespeople are recommended for the company’s specific role(s).  Right people in the right seats.  It’s about getting sales selection right.  OMG has proven its accuracy and track record in sales selection having just passed 2 million sales assessments in 30,000 companies.  In the case of OMG, the answer is a loud and resounding YES.

Here’s another question.  Why only 30,000 companies?  If OMG is that predictive and accurate, shouldn’t it be used in 3 million companies?  I don’t think there are 3 million B2B companies that qualify but certainly there are 300,000.  So again, why only 30,000?

There are 3 answers that deserve consideration.

Ego.  Far too many sales leaders believe that their gut instinct is more accurate than some assessment.  Given that the overall success rate for hiring salespeople is hit or miss with an emphasis on miss, they couldn’t be more wrong.  Of the candidates who were not recommended, but clients hired them despite OMG’s warning, 75% failed inside of 6 months.  Of the candidates who were recommended and eventually hired, 92% rose to the top half of the sales force within 12 months.

Knowledge.  Far too many HR leaders believe that their expertise is in hiring and either don’t need an assessment or they choose one they are familiar with, like DiSC, Caliper, Predictive Index or Myers-Briggs.   The reality is that only 14% of all HR professionals understand how assessments work.

Stupidity.  At some large companies, in-house counsel has banned the use of assessments.  While they often justify their own existence, this stupid practice occurs out of ignorance.  While attorneys are protecting their clients from law-suits alleging discriminatory hiring practices, only personality assessments have been successfully challenged in court.  Remember, OMG is not a personality assessment – it’s sales-specific, or in other words, a role-specific assessment which is perfectly legal to use, has never been challenged in court, and shows no adverse impact on protected minorities.

About author

Dave Kurlan is a best selling author, top rated speaker and earned the Bronze Medal for Top Sales & Marketing Thought Leader for 2015.  He was inducted into the Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame in 2012.  Dave is the founder and CEO of the Objective Management Group, Inc. (OMG), the leading developer of sales force evaluations and sales candidate assessments, headquartered in Westboro, Massachusetts. OMG was named the Top Sales Assessment Tool for 2011 – 2015.

Posted in Assessment, Hiring Salespeople

The Big Mistakes That Can Make Negotiations Fail

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By David Freedman

The-big-mistakes-that-can-make-negotiations-failA study from Huthwaite International, specialists in sales and negotiation, has revealed the five most common errors negotiators are making that can risk both parties walking away from the table dissatisfied, unhappy, and in some cases, without a deal at all. From failing to do substantial research, to becoming irritating and making too many counter proposals, David Freedman, Director of Sales at Huthwaite International, examines the bad habits negotiators need to drop in order to strike the ultimate deal.

Most people have a good understanding of what they need to do to bring in a good quality deal, however, in practice, buyers are making frequent errors that unwittingly see them lose profit. It’s simple, yet many of our negotiation habits actually work against us. This can be costly, especially where multi-million pound budgets, and staggeringly complex projects are commonplace. Here’s a rundown of the top mistakes negotiators make time and time again when striking a deal, as well as some advice around how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Prepare to fail, fail to prepare

This age-old saying is still very relevant. Most negotiators spend time preparing facts, figures and financial goals, but fail to plan how they will use this information when it comes to making a verbal agreement. You’re only as good as the preparation you put in. Consider carefully how you can utilise the information and research you’ve gathered to your advantage. Map out your negotiations – spend time considering how you will control the climate, shift the power into your favour, the role you’ll adopt and what you ultimately want to achieve from the meeting.

Avoid the poker face

Some negotiators avoid emotive language, feeling it isn’t appropriate to express their emotions when it comes to striking a deal. This can lead to ambiguity and a lack of clarity. Be clear. If you’re disappointed with an offer, say so. Likewise, if you’re pleased with how the negotiations are moving, don’t be afraid to express this. Sharing your feelings in these scenarios is powerful verbal behaviour as nobody can refute your feelings, and it can create a more cooperative environment to strike a deal that benefits your needs.

Avoid the counter proposal

Our research shows that successful negotiators only make half the number of counter proposals than most. However, many are still falling into this trap, even among the most experienced. Negotiating is about listening and understanding the needs of the other party, whilst maintaining a strong stance. By immediately counter offering it shows that you’re not listening to the other party – which is an immediate turn off, meaning they are less likely to be flexible when it comes to striking that all-important deal.

Don’t demonstrate irritating behaviours

There are a number of behaviours that work to immediately irritate the opposing party, from self-praising declarations, such as using the words ‘fair’, ‘reasonable’ and other presumptuous behaviour to telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’, indicating you may not have been before. Steer clear of this use of language, it can be damaging to the relationship you are building and may put your counter party on the defensive.

Don’t talk for talking’s sake

Perhaps the biggest and most important hurdle to overcome is to sit back and listen. Digest the information you’re receiving properly and take time to really understand the other parties position. This will provide you with an opportunity to explore the other parties underlying objectives. You can also use this to build incisive questions that may create doubt in their minds about their position – doubt leads to movement, and movement is what you’re trying to create as a negotiator.

About the Author

David is Huthwaite’s Director of Sales. He is a Fellow of both the Institute of Sales Management and of the Association of Professional Sales, sits on the Management Consultancies’ Association Council and is former Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations MarComs group. He speaks all over the world, from conferences and exhibitions including World of Learning, SAMA, APMP and many international business organisations. He has also been on the judging panels for the National Sales Awards and the National Business Awards.

Posted in Sales Insights, Sales Negotiation

How Sales Organizations Can Accelerate Their Revenue Growth

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By Miller Heiman Group | Sales Performance

young-investors-working-profit-dividend-revenue_74855-6143Consider these two statistics:

  • Less than a quarter of B2B buyers think sellers are a resource for solving their business problems or see differences among sellers, according to our2018 Buyer Preferences Study.
  • The vast majority (84%) of sales leaders weren’t convinced that the talent they have is enough to generate future success in our 2018 Sales Talent Study.

What do these statistics have in common? Both share a skeptical view of sales talent. And it’s no surprise that talent is a pain point for organizations, as only 23% of sales organizations claim that hiring is a strength.

In this period of recession, organizations have started to realize the depth of their problems: they can no longer hide behind inflated sales numbers that are the result of a burgeoning salesforce and prosperous economic times.

Organizations need to take a closer look at their sales system to ensure that it’s capable of rebounding in the future and resilient enough to withstand future challenges. They need to shape a holistic sales talent strategy covering the entire lifecycle of a salesperson that ensures they have the right people in the right jobs to help them achieve their goals. They need an integrated solution—specifically, Korn Ferry’s Accelerating Revenue Growth solution that combines hiring, assessment, training and coaching—to guide them through the sales talent development process.

The Phases of Sales Talent Development

Training is a key facet of improving a sales team’s performance, but it must be accompanied by a formal methodology and process that underpins a sales talent strategy. Successful sales teams begin with hiring and continue through performance assessment, coaching, training and reinforcement.

1. Hiring

When hiring, most sales organizations hire subjectively, looking for a certain level of industry expertise and traits such as “assertiveness.” Few organizations measure candidates against a hiring profile. Those that do often model their vision of a top performer after sellers with the highest quota attainment.

A data-based approach to hiring may reveal hidden truths. Top performers may excel because they’re benefitting from market trends or a mature sales territory. That’s why it’s critical to look deeper using both leading and lagging indicators to identify who your best sellers are. Moreover, a data-informed approach focuses on the competencies and skills necessary for success in a role. For example, a data-based hiring assessment may reveal that learning agility is the true differentiator for success in a sales role.

Leveraging decades of job analysis and research, Korn Ferry Success Profiles describe the behaviors, traits and drivers that deliver stellar sales performance for over 25 key sales roles, clarifying what “success” means for your organization. They create a benchmark that hiring managers can measure their talent against: talent that closely matches a Success Profile is up to 13 times more likely to be highly engaged at work.

2. Assessment

The top 20% of salespeople account for more than 50% of an organization’s revenues, according to our 2018 Sales Talent Study. But most organizations don’t know why their top performers succeed: only 24% of organizations in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study reported consistently assessing their top performers to understand the reasons for their success. Instead, they tend to equate success with making quota.

Organizations need to conduct performance assessments to understand why their top performers are successful so they can replicate key qualities in their hiring, coaching and development plans. Korn Ferry assessments gives sales organizations key insights into how their sales talent stacks up against Success Profiles, so sales managers can understand their sellers’ strengths and opportunities for training and growth.

3. Training

Sales organizations can use assessment results to build a learning journey tailored to each seller, addressing their individualized skill gaps and learning needs and focusing on the behaviors critical to sales success. Ongoing seller development increases not only the seller’s commitment to the changed behavior but to the organization as well.

But training is only as effective if it engages sellers. Platforms must be intuitive and easy to use. And learners today prefer to choose the learning experience that best suits them, whether in person or virtual. Most of all, they want a learning experience that is self-guided: one that they can approach on their own terms, when it’s convenient for them, and at their own pace.

Korn Ferry training, powered by Miller Heiman Group, checks all of these boxes and is designed to evolve sellers’ skills in perspective selling, so they add more value for buyers through education and insight and differentiate themselves from the competition. Organizations can choose from the full range of Miller Heiman Group’s award-winning sales training courses, including Strategic Selling With Perspective, Conceptual Selling With Perspective, SPIN Selling Conversations, and more.

4. Coaching

Many sales organizations use the word “coaching” to describe any interaction that sales managers have with their sellers. But coaching is a formal process where sales managers focus on helping their sellers find opportunities for improvement. Coaching conversations are strategic and fall in five categories: leads and opportunities, skills and behaviors, funnels, accounts and territories. The keys to coaching are to have a consistent process and to train sales managers in specific coaching techniques, as our Sales Enablement Studies consistently show. But too few organizations (less than a quarter, according to our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study) excel at coaching; even fewer (12.6%) have a dynamic coaching process that is formally defined, taught, reinforced, adopted and tied directly to seller enablement activities. An ad hoc coaching approach hampers win rates.

5. Reinforcement

When sales managers tap into the results of their sellers’ assessments, they’re able to emphasize the skills likely to drive more sales and reinforce their sellers’ learning. Pairing assessments with coaching training from the Miller Heiman Group teaches sales managers how to become stronger mentors and develop their sellers’ strengths. And the organization as a whole embeds ongoing learning and continuous improvement into its sales culture, improving employee engagement and reducing seller attrition, leading to long-term sales and greater organizational profitability.

An Integrated Solution for Developing Talent

Are you confident that you’re among the few organizations that have the sales talent necessary to succeed in a world of constant transitions? If not, level up your sales force with Korn Ferry’s Accelerating Revenue Growth platform: no other provider has integrated assessments, development and coaching into a single platform designed to develop sales talent and improve organizational performance.

Posted in Assessment, Development, Learning, Sales Coaching, Sales Performance Measurement, Talent Management

3 Ways To Drive Sales Growth With Resources You Already Have

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By Michael Perla

businessman-touching-tip-bar-chart_1232-898“Our selling motions may never be the same after COVID-19.”

“Competitive intensity is only going to increase … we could fall behind.” 

“We will have to do more with less given hiring and spending freezes.”

Those are among a handful of common refrains I hear from sales leaders these days — many of whom are on the hook for driving revenue growth during one of the biggest economic declines in our country’s history.

As a senior director of business value services at Salesforce, I work with our largest enterprise customers — including Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and Philips — to help them develop a return on investment for key sales initiatives. So, when nearly everyone I talk to (and the surveys show) concern over revenue decline, I know that this is the year of doing more with less.

Sales leaders will need to zero in on where they and their teams can increase efficiency, manage risk, and most importantly drive revenue. They will need to ruthlessly prioritize, deploy effective tools for sellers, and train their sales reps on new skills required in the current selling environment.

The following are a few strategies I’ve seen my customers use to meet the challenge:

Focus on doing a few things well

Sales is all about telling the right person the right story at the right time. In a “do more with less” environment, sales teams must focus on the best markets, accounts, and decision makers to pursue.

This prioritization requires an intelligent, data-driven approach. One of my Fortune 500 customers was able to leverage predictive insights to determine which deals might get pushed into the next quarter. They then developed recovery plans to speed up deal closures and were able to capture millions of dollars in revenue in the current quarter.

Looking to prioritize? Consider taking the following actions:

1. Regrade and rescore your accounts based on current revenue and future potential

Plot each of your accounts on a 2×2 matrix from low to high, with future potential on the vertical axis and current revenue on the horizontal axis.

Comparison of future potential vs current revenue

2. Determine your highest priority accounts and any resource gaps

From the matrix above, your main focus should be on the top two quadrants: customers with high future potential and high revenue. For each of those quadrants, you want to determine if you have the right sales coverage and resourcing, which might include various channels and roles.

3. For high-priority accounts, develop strategic account plans to uncover new sales opportunities

The account plan doesn’t need to be a novel, but at a minimum should include an executive-level account overview, key sales goals and objectives, top opportunities for the year, and a relationship plan. From a plan execution standpoint, you should include the account team roles and responsibilities, a meeting cadence, and an overall action plan. At a minimum, sales leaders should review the plan on a monthly and quarterly basis.

4. Leverage an integrated tool to track account progress and performance

The tool should include data and insights across marketing, sales, and service. For example, Salesforce allows you to track account-based marketing initiatives, pipeline metrics and growth, and any service challenges or opportunities.

Improve business systems and processes

In a 2019 study, 94% of business executives said it was internal complexity preventing growth, not lack of opportunities or competitive threats. Some of our customers have reduced costs by hundreds of millions of dollars by standardizing and simplifying their systems and processes.

To try the same, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Outline each system or tool that is involved in the sales process.
  2. Determine how much each tool is used during the sales process as a proxy for value. Generally, unused tools signal low value.
  3. Create a plan to sunset systems and tools that add little value to the seller or process.

One of our Global 500 customers inventoried the different tools and systems that its sellers used as part of a sales cycle and came up with more than 30! They found multiple quoting tools and calculators, along with different processes and software to analyze the pipeline and forecast. By eliminating the overlap, they were able to save money, reduce complexity, and improve the seller’s experience.

Quote from Michael Perla, "2020 is the year of doing more with less"

Manage business risk

Without surplus financial resources, risk increases. You lack the room for error to make a bad acquisition or launch a nice-to-have marketing campaign or product. The following are areas of risk to pay attention to:

  • Talent: In tumultuous times, your best sales managers and sellers may be at risk of leaving or poached by your competition. It’s important to evaluate your sales talent and execute any necessary retention strategies, such as multi-year retention bonuses or new professional development opportunities.
  • Customer: Looking at data, such as past buying behavior or service issues, can help you predict which customers are at risk of defecting or shifting their spend. For example, a customer who stops buying as frequently or as much as they once did may be at risk of defecting. They may also be contacting the service center more and have an increasing number of support cases.
  • Reputation: How a company reacts in challenging times will often be a defining moment in how they are perceived by a cross-section of stakeholders (e.g., prospective and current employees and customers). Short-term headcount reductions may ultimately prove unproductive and costly in the long term.

One of our large enterprise customers in the technology space minimized its risk by focusing on smaller acquisitions that contributed to immediate revenue growth and were a strong cultural fit. These smaller acquisitions allowed them to quickly welcome new customers, while maintaining their company’s customer-focused reputation and collaborative culture.

The next step

The ability to drive sales and growth in tough times is ultimately a return to basics. It means remaining single minded about the things that contribute to revenue. Companies that can adapt to a changing market and nimbly adjust strategies and processes will not only perform better during a downturn, but will set themselves up to thrive and grow when the market turns.

Posted in Learning, Sales Insights, Talent Management

Connecting With Customers in Times of Crisis

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By Fabricio Dore, Oliver Ehrlich, David Malfara, Kelly Ungerman

call-center_23-2148181825The COVID-19 global humanitarian and economic crisis has forced individuals and companies to rapidly change how they live and work. Many elements of business and life are being challenged; in some cases, the next normal may look very different as new ways of working are carried over into the future. Companies are doing their best to manage through this pandemic—from ensuring an effective crisis response to managing supply-chain disruptions, to safeguarding the well-being of their employees by adjusting daily working practices.

Customer experience takes on a new meaning against this backdrop. Executives are typically approaching customer experience by creating seamless, convenient and engaging customer journeys; however, the needs of customers at the moment have shifted dramatically towards more essential concerns. A recent McKinsey survey of US consumers found that 64 percent of respondents have felt depressed, anxious, or both over the past several weeks, and 39 percent stated that they would be unable to pay their bills after one month of unemployment.

Leading organizations are reorienting their customer-experience efforts to meet their customers’ primary needs, such as safety, security, and everyday convenience. These actions will inevitably speak louder than words in a world where companies are increasingly advertising a message of “we are here for you.” By consciously providing empathy and care during this crisis, companies can build a foundation of goodwill and long-lasting emotional connections with the communities they serve.

Seven actions to demonstrate empathy for customers

Over the past few months, companies have had to quickly adjust to COVID-19. The first step for many organizations was to stabilize operations and safeguard their own employees. From this position, companies can then find genuine, creative ways to show empathy and emotionally connect with their customers. Many have already begun to take seven actions related to individual safety, security and stability, convenience and ease of use, and emotional bonds and trust (exhibit).

Exhibit

1. Minimize risk by reducing physical interaction

Society’s first responsibility during a pandemic of this scale is eliminating opportunities to spread the virus, especially among the most at-risk populations. Companies have been minimizing the risk of contagion when fulfilling essential tasks, particularly when they involve vulnerable groups.

Grocery retailers have responded by taking extra precautions, such as extending opening hours for the elderly and healthcare workers as well as free home-delivery for customers more than 65 years old. Many are limiting the number of people who can be inside the store at once and putting physical-distance stickers on the floor to aid compliance. E-commerce and online food-delivery companies around the world are offering new contactless delivery options to eliminate direct physical contact between customers and delivery drivers. Companies offering services that require customers to be in close proximity, such as airlines, are taking measures to reduce risk and ensure the health and safety of both their customers and employees. Of course, this approach requires more stringent standards for cleaning as well as new work processes, such as suspending drink refills or recycling to avoid touching passenger-handled items.

2. Actively contribute to safety by innovating the product portfolio

Companies should ask themselves two critical questions: Do we have a product the world needs right now? Or can we rapidly adapt our product portfolio to provide goods that are urgently needed? In pursuing this approach, companies can use their strengths to provide essential products, even if those goods are outside of their current product offering. For example, some distilleries are using their ethanol supplies to provide materials for hand sanitizers through partnerships with refineries.

Companies are also stepping up to meet the demand for more medical equipment and personal protective equipment. Apparel manufacturers are responding to a drop in sales by producing thousands of urgently needed face masks instead. Some automotive companies are shifting production to manufacture ventilators, for example, General Motors is partnering with a US-based medical device company to produce respiratory care products.

Companies beyond manufacturing are still able to innovate their product portfolio to contribute to safety initiatives. Rideshare companies are looking to use their network of drivers to transport medicine and basic goods, rather than passengers. This effort could provide lifesaving drugs to individuals who are not able to go out to purchase them because of the quarantine or other conditions.

In all of these cases, company leaders have demonstrated their commitment to customers and society. At the same time, they are creating alternatives so they can continue providing meaningful work for their employees despite substantial demand reductions in their core business.

3. Provide pragmatic help to customers in financial distress

Once customers have secured their personal safety, their next concern is often financial. As companies are forced to decrease operations for an uncertain time period, individuals and millions of small business owners face massive income and liquidity issues.

Providing flexible solutions when dealing with financial challenges is now both a responsibility and a huge trust driver for companies. Financial institutions are not penalizing customers who cannot meet payment obligations for March. Telcos are not terminating service or enforcing late-payment fees for customers experiencing hardship for an extra 60 days. And energy companies are not shutting off power for nonpayment; in some cases, they are even reconnecting customers whose service had been turned off prior to the crisis.

In addition, companies are seeking to alleviate unexpected sources of financial stress as events unfold. Travel companies, including most major airlines, are waiving cancellation fees. Families who formerly relied on school lunches to feed their children can benefit from efforts such as those introduced by Burger King, which provides two free kids meals to Americans who make any purchase through the Burger King app.

4. Bring joy and support the emotional needs of customers ‘trapped at home’

Many people are forced to stay at home, and experience all the concerns that come along with having to do so. Companies are acting to make homelife more enjoyable and to also ensure the well-being of their customers.

Families have to entertain their children at home for weeks to come, making access to online content a truly fundamental need. Telcos are providing free unlimited data for the next 60 days to all mobile customers with data plans. Entertainment companies have released content ahead of schedule: the Walt Disney Company, for example, released the family-friendly blockbuster Frozen 2 on its streaming platform, Disney+, three months earlier than planned. New York’s Metropolitan Opera offered free digital shows to entertain virtual audiences, while Google Arts & Culture has paired with museums around the world to curate virtual tours.

Other companies are checking in with their customers to help relieve stress. Meditation and mindfulness providers, such as the Headspace app, will be providing free subscriptions to healthcare professionals and unlocking free content for consumers. Multiple organizations have launched online services that include food delivery and recipes, shared rides, online courses, and traditional financial services.

5. Actively shift customers to online channels

With so many directives around the world to remain at home, companies that previously relied on physical operations have had to direct customers to online offerings.

As an example, since many gyms have been directed to close all physical facilities, they are now offering hundreds of free online home workout courses to all members. Companies offering virtual capabilities, as with Cisco’s Webex, are assisting schools and universities as they transition to remote learning by offering free tools for teachers, parents, and students to support the development of online-learning plans. Italian banks are encouraging the use of digital channels while providing tutorials for online banking. Medical providers are providing care through digital services, such as telemedicine, with health insurers supporting the initiative by offering zero copays.

Companies without online services can find ways to establish and scale online offerings with substantial demand from customers as their needs increasingly turn digital. This shift to online and digital channels has the potential to dramatically increase online traffic post-recovery.

6. Stay reachable and treat customers with care in personal interactions

With physical channels such as bank branches and nongrocery retail stores closed, many customers are turning to other channels for questions and requests that require personal attention and care.

Service companies in telcos and banking are currently experiencing increased inbound call volumes in their contact centers while at the same time having to shift their customer-service centers to remote-working arrangements. For example, a leading European telco equipped 10,000 call-center agents with laptops and tool infrastructure within a week, enabling them to take calls from their homes. Companies that provide customers with additional guidance and support can maintain communication and engagement. Other companies have enhanced options for seeking information digitally; Erdos Group launched a WeChat program in China to offer virtual product consultations. Airlines facing traveler cancellations or trip changes are urging customers whose travel is not within 72 hours to address their needs through the company’s website.

While most companies must address reachability, some companies, such as those in the medical industry, face callers who have significantly different types of questions than they did prior to the pandemic. Another key priority is proactively responding to this shift by training call-center agents to effectively manage these new questions. Cigna has established a 24/7 customer-resource center specifically to help customers with claims related to the novel coronavirus. Companies should reevaluate how to prepare their agents to address these emerging needs.

7. Demonstrate care for the community through company values

Companies can stay true to their vision while showing that they genuinely care about their customers. Actions taken during crises can help build trust and reinforce brand values (see sidebar, “Forming a purpose-driven bond with customers”).

One of the most talked-about company initiatives in Germany came from McDonald’s and ALDI. The two companies initiated a staff sharing plan so that interested McDonald’s workers from temporarily closed branches can redeploy at ALDI stores to ensure that the retailer can meet the currently increased customer demand. Supporting local communities while linking these efforts back to company values is exemplified by companies delivering free, fresh meals to medical workers in the cities they serve. Similarly, sustainable-footwear company Allbirds is giving free shoes to healthcare workers, and pharmacies and drugstores are also gearing up to donate space in their parking lots for medical testing.

The Alibaba Foundation has donated medical supplies to 14 countries in Asia and the United States and will also be publishing a digital handbook to share learnings from the COVID-19 experience in China. Tableau Software has developed a free data resource hub using case data compiled by leading educational and government research organizations to help stakeholders see and understand coronavirus data in near-real time. LinkedIn, through employee referrals, is providing free access to its premium features for a designated period of time to help employees at small businesses cope with the economic downturn.

Public service announcements and other on-brand communication can be used to send messages of unity: for example, Coca-Cola’s marketing has been reminding customers that “staying apart is the best way to stay united.”

All these efforts show a clear care for customers and an obligation to serve on the part of companies, bringing local or international communities together with new knowledge and resources. Every action taken by a company should reinforce what customers already know—that companies care and are willing to invest in helping their community.

Forging lasting connections with customers

During times of crisis, leading companies are pivoting from marketing to helping and from fulfilling customer desires to meeting customer needs. Socially conscious organizations across sectors and geographies are finding ways to get involved and support their customers and communities.

The current COVID-19 outbreak is a global crisis and an opportunity for leaders to support their customers and communities. Leading in a caring, empathetic manner during these difficult times has the potential to create real connections that will outlive the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. And large companies should consider it a duty to serve the communities in which they do business.

About the author(s)

Fabricio Dore is an associate partner in McKinsey’s São Paulo office, Oliver Ehrlich is a partner in the Dusseldorf office, David Malfara is a specialist in the Miami office, and Kelly Ungerman is a senior partner in the Dallas office.

The authors wish to thank Tiffany Chan and Alex Levin for their contributions to this article.

Posted in Customer Relationships, Customer Service, Customer Success

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