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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Building future sales with humanity amid pandemic

James McDonald holding some of his art turned

James McDonald holding some of his art turned into coloring pages... Credit: Mikaela McDonald

The art of making a sale during a pandemic isn’t so much about the sale itself.

While that sounds counterintuitive, it’s more about building and firming up relationships, which may pay off now or later in better times, experts say.

“Sales is a balancing act in the best of times between being assertive and not too pushy,” says Jeff Goldberg, president of Long Beach-based Jeff Goldberg & Associates, a sales training, coaching and outsourced sales management firm.

Now even more so.

Companies shouldn’t halt sales efforts, but rather “be empathetic” with prospects and customers, Goldberg says. Call them to see how they’re doing and if there’s any assistance you can provide, not necessarily with the intention of financial reward, says Goldberg, who has done just that in recent weeks with numerous clients and prospects.

     Don’t “undervalue the significance of just reaching out,” he says.

    Robert Fishman, partner/co-owner at Sandler Training of Hauppauge, a sales training and consulting firm, agrees, suggesting companies should “seek to give first…and spend more time creating rapport.”

    Also, consider how you can build even more value into the relationship and exceed current expectations, he says.

    For Sandler, that’s meant having “huddles” with clients more frequently via phone or video, giving them “more value than they paid for,” Fishman says. Pre-coronavirus, Sandler would do on-site training sessions weekly or monthly.

    The firm’s also tried to give back by hosting complimentary webinars (normally fee-based), including one on "Thriving in Uncertain Times" to provide some free advice to the community.

    Goldberg similarly has shared free LinkedIn videos on different selling topics and offered a free coaching session to those viewers.

    Goodwill acts are smart, says Jack Mandel, an East Norwich-based marketing consultant and a retail and marketing professor at Nassau Community College in Garden City.

    “It will take a lot more of thinking in terms of your customer and not of you,” he says.

    James McDonald understands this. He is the owner/designer of Rockville Centre-based The Lost Dog Art & Frame Co., which designs custom prints sold wholesale, direct to consumers via a storefront (temporarily closed due to coronavirus restrictions) and a website.

 As an act of goodwill he’s made many of his designs accessible as coloring pages free on the kids section of his website, ilostmydog.com/collections/kids.

    “Amazon’s not doing this,” he says. “We’re a small business, and it reminds people we’re here in the community and doing this can make a difference directly here.”  

He’s also given PDFs of his designs to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital for the children in the  ER to color, promoting the free designs through social media.

    Digital and social media can be powerful vehicles, especially now considering “social media and internet usage is higher than ever,” says John McHugh, president of Brainstorm Studio, a digital marketing agency in Melville.

    That provides opportunities for businesses to still stay top of mind, he says. Now isn’t the time to stop prospecting, he adds, but instead of “selling,” you have to first be human and offer to help.

His agency’s reaching out to clients/prospects offering a 15-minute consultation on such areas as how to pivot from traditional marketing strategies to a more digital approach.

It’s OK to let your customers know you’re still thinking of them, says Mandel, noting he was impressed to get a letter from his dentist saying "we’re here for you" and including the dentist’s home number.

    Beyond that, if you’re still trying to provide goods/services to clients but aren’t operating full speed, it’s critical to be honest and  transparent.

     “Everyone is struggling right now, so it’s relatable and expected if you are too,” says Zachary Johnson, an associate marketing professor at Adelphi University in Garden City. “Brands are often compared to people, so in this difficult time it is OK to show your human side — empathy isn’t a bad word.”

    It’s important that businesses convey the right message to consumers, he says, adding that one bad message now can have a detrimental effect.

    “Psychology shows that people are more apt to remember traumatic times in their lives, so consumers are likely to hold long-standing grudges toward brands that are exploitive, dishonest or unethical during the pandemic,” Johnson says.

Fast Fact

In a survey of 1,500+ Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business participants looking at the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses, 75% of respondents said their business has been impacted by fewer sales.

Source: Goldman Sachs

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