Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are in uncharted waters right now. As business leaders, this is time to consider what you and your sales teams can do for customers by being there for them.
Here are five simple and effective ways your SME can lead with compassion:
Many customers may focus on staying afloat right now, so it’s not the right time to come in with a hard sell. When it comes to customer interactions, trust, empathy, and flexibility are the three values our SME sales team now leads with. Trade sales calls for personal check-ins. Ask how your clients are doing, and what you can do to help. That could mean verifying supply chains are intact. Or, it could mean listening for a few minutes as they talk about everything they’re facing.
If a customer has an urgent business need that translates to a sale, that’s great. Use it as an opportunity to guide with value and align with customers’ needs and interests. Our sales team speaks to our customers about balancing the current circumstances with taking a closer look at future risk mitigation and technology strategies. But closing deals shouldn’t be the ultimate priority when your customers may well have more grave concerns on their minds. Helping them navigate through tough times is a great way to build and strengthen long term relationships.
This follows the shift from selling to helping. There’s a fine line between acknowledging a situation and constantly reminding people of it. The more skillfully you can walk that line, the better.
Right now, experts advise small businesses to spread optimism, using their online presence, mainly because the current news cycle isn’t necessarily calming people down. Extend that philosophy of optimism to your daily conversations with customers and colleagues. Share what you can that’s positive — whether that’s how organizations are helping the situation, how you’re personally supporting fellow small businesses, or even personal highlights from your day. This is a time for all of us to support each other. Part of that is working to keep positive so we can move forward and get through tough times.
Getting back to basics is more important than ever right now. So, too, is letting your customers set the tone. Make your team accessible and proactive to be there for clients. Different customers will have different needs right now, so be flexible, and ready to help or support them however you can.
It could be what your clients need right now is help navigating small business loan applications. Or, they might need help sourcing supplies for another part of their operations. Maybe you can point them to online training resources and share best practices, or help them develop new business ideas. This, in turn, can expand your sales playbook to use your broader expertise to help however you can. Take some cues from how communications leaders approach crisis management, and be proactive in offering up resources and inspiration to customers.
Helping others can be a powerful form of self-care, but be sure to take care of yourself, and your team, too. Your customers are facing sudden uncertainty in the wake of shutdowns and revenue declines. The people on your sales teams feel this same uncertainty.
Internally, we remain focused on communication, transparency, and controlling what we can. We're working to improve as individuals and as a team. Creative concepts from “In Times Like These” messaging from leadership to virtual happy hours to company-wide mindfulness activities are all great ways to keep your team grounded and communicating as circumstances continue to change.
Consider these points as you think about how to lead and care for the people you work with every day:
Flexibility — the ability to bend without breaking — can go a long way with customers right now. What can you do to make things easier for them without jeopardiszing your operations?
We’ve adopted a two-step process to build more flexibility into our playbook right now:
Step one is pretty universal: talk with your reps and empower them to just listen. Help them help their clients by gaining an understanding of their financial situation. Gather real-time data on what your customers are facing right now. Then look at what organiszation-wide steps you can take to support them.
Being flexible with payment plans, and other ways of helping your customers manage their expenses, can go a long way right now. And, of course, you can offer to brainstorm price strategies with clients to help give their businesses a needed boost. The more ways we can find to stabilisze and prop each other’s businesses up, the better we’ll all come out in the long run.
Want more information on how to navigate your changing business during these times? For more business and leadership inspiration, check out our entire Leading Through Change series or watch ‘Selling in the New Normal’ to see how to get your sales function operating effectively and with compassion.