This is part of our Pivot Series, where Yahoo Finance tracks stories of small business survival tactics during the coronavirus crisis.
For many people during the coronavirus shutdown, working from home has meant lower productivity and slower business.
This was certainly the case for Johnny Lee, managing director and head of the sales team at a North Sydney firm that uses technology to help other businesses and their sales teams, after he woke up one morning to six projects that had been cancelled because of the pandemic.
Over a few glasses of wine that evening, he mulled over what he could do.
“The next morning, I got up and made 30 calls to sales leaders. And the next day I did the same,” he told Yahoo Finance. “That week, I personally spoke to over 150 sales people.”
“Volume plays a role. If you can speak to 10 times the people, there’s 10 times more opportunities.”
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The effort paid off: Lee said he recently had more proposal delivery requests than he’d ever received in a single one-month period.
Aside from the staggering increase in the volume of calls he was making, he said one thing was crucially different.
“We stopped selling, and focused on: how can we help [our clients] get through this short-term period?”
“It’s not asking things from people, it’s just letting them know they’re front of mind – especially as some of our clients run large, complex teams. We want them to know that we’re there if they need us, [and] not be to demanding something from them,” he said.
“More than ever, you should be thinking about what your clients are going through.”
With the new approach, Lee found himself liaising more regularly with leaders higher up in the corporate food chain.
“Normally, some of the very senior business leaders I might speak to once every quarter or six months were open to chatting just once a week – in some cases more than once a week,” he said.
Communication took the form of Zoom calls, quick phone calls and texts.
“What I found is we were decreasing the amount of time we were speaking to people, which allowed us to increase the volume and the amount of people we could speak to.”
During the pandemic, Lee said his approach had helped more than a dozen of his clients achieve more market share over their competitors.
And while not every business can be flourishing during a pandemic, the reason some aren’t is because they aren’t pivoting, the sales director said. “They haven’t actually reacted to how you can do business during this time.”
Zoom: How the business world is moving faster
A sales cycle involves several ‘touch points’, which might involve calls, emails and presentations. It’s through these steps that a relationship is formed. It may take three or four ‘touch points’ for a business leader to properly open up about the challenges a business faces.
Typically, this process might take up to four months. But in the world of online communication, and platforms like Zoom, this process can be cleared in a fortnight, Lee said.
Similarly, the last stage of closing a sales deal usually might involve lengthy lunches or dinners with clients.
But sending through the accompanying paperwork to formalise the sale often won’t be completed until the end of the week.
“You can send it through straight away. You can set up the next meeting whilst you’re on that meeting in Zoom,” he said.
And conducting meetings online, rather than in person, has also ironically allowed for more people to be present at the (virtual) table, Lee noted.
“If you have a complex product or offering with multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process, it can be challenging to get multiple people at a dinner, or lunch, or set an hour aside in the boardroom. But we’re finding it’s less challenging to get three or four people on a zoom call for 15 or 20 or 30 minutes.”
And where senior executives would typically be in and out of business travel, the grounding of most international and domestic flights – until recently – has seen everyone working from home, making senior leaders easier to catch.
“That travel is no longer there,” Lee said. “You actually have more time with these people because they have more time as well.”
Closing sales in the coronavirus era: what to do (and what not to do)
The first tip Lee would offer sales executives is to embrace the change that the pandemic has brought. “It’s not going anywhere quickly,” he said.
Secondly, you’ll have to use this time to find a new way to do the same thing – and yes, that might involve working harder. “Don't try and sell same way you were selling before.”
If you’re daunted by the extra work this might involve, don’t be. While you might be scheduling more calls, you’ll also get through them faster. “You’re doing this in the same amount of time. That’s what to remember,” he said.
Thirdly, go over what your main value proposition is to your client. “Make sure you really understand what's driving our clients and what's impacting them. If you understand those things, you can solve problems much faster.”
Your objective is to make your clients’ lives as easy as possible, Lee said.
By the same token, the worst mistake you can make is to simply do nothing. “Too many organisations have taken this period to take a break,” Lee observed. The coronavirus can’t be treated as some ‘pit stop’ or hiccup; things won’t go back to the way they were before.
“By doing nothing you’re not there for clients. If they don't see or hear you, they think you’re not there.”
Ensure that your offering to your clients effectively doesn’t change. This also means being proactive: don’t assume that what you knew about your clients six months ago still holds true for them today.
“We threw that into the air, and said: ‘we don’t know anything about our clients anymore. We need to start again and find out what they need.’ It’s led to some great conversations. I feel like we know our clients better today than we did four months ago.”
The final thing, Lee said, is to just get the basics right.
“Make sure you’ve got your technology charged. Make sure you have a backup. Make sure your background looks professional.”
So, during Zoom calls, it pays to look professional.
“I find it difficult to believe I can work at 100 per cent in tracksuit pants,” Lee said.
Across four months, Lee believes he only conducted one video call that wasn’t in a collared shirt.
“I wanted to give the impression that I'm here, I’m working even though the world is falling apart.”
But that also means using your common sense. It’s likely your clients have shifted to become more relaxed, and if that’s the case, it’s okay to match that, especially if it’s a more casual conversation such as when Friday drinks would normally happen.
“If you’re wearing a suit there, it’d look a bit silly.”
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