For many businesses, sales came to a grinding halt during the height of COVID.
And they haven’t completely bounced back, according to a recent survey by National Federation of Independent Business, a small business advocacy organization, which found that for about one in five employers, sales remain at 50%, or less than they were pre-COVID.
So those in the trenches selling need to work even harder to fill their sales pipeline, experts say.
"I’ve increased my number of outreaches three-to-four-fold," says Jeff Goldberg, president of Jeff Goldberg & Associates in Long Beach, a sales coaching and training firm and co-author of "Leverage Your Laziness."
That’s with existing customers and prospects across all touchpoints including social media, he says.
COVID "decimated many sales people’s pipelines," he notes, which means sales professionals have to work harder and smarter.
Goldberg, a corporate sales trainer, who traveled to companies on-site, had to pivot to virtual presentations when COVID hit and lay the groundwork to strengthen his own sales pipeline.
Among his efforts, he got certified as a virtual presenter through eSpeakers; became more active on LinkedIn, even hiring a LinkedIn coach; and works on putting together prerecorded online sales courses he can sell to the public.
He also branched out networking efforts beyond his regular group, American Business Associates (ABA), noting, "I accepted every invitation to attend or speak at other networking groups via Zoom."
Similarly, Adrian Miller, president of Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington and author of "The Blatant Truth: 50 Ways to Sales Success" increased outreach efforts since she couldn’t see people in-person.
She does a lot of networking through Zoom including in her own networking group, Adrian’s Network, and hosts informative webinars and produces multiple podcasts.
"I send people links to the podcasts if the information I think is relevant to their business," Miller says.
She also works daily to fill her sales pipeline making "between five and 10 phone calls a day to connect with existing relationships and attempt to open new relationships," she says.
For those she doesn’t reach live, she’ll leave voice mails. "I may get two call backs out of 10," she says.
Miller recommends businesses look at their existing customer base and "any low hanging fruit that might be interested in starting right now on what needs to be done for the New Year." Perhaps it’s a dormant account or one you had written a past proposal that was never acted on.
You can build a matrix of what customers have bought and what you may be able to add to that (i.e. product upgrades, new services, etc.), says John Sena, president of JAS Consulting Inc., a Port Washington-based management consultant focusing on sales.
When reaching out to new prospects, try to hone in on their need and your strengths, he says. The more specific you can get, the better.
He suggests sending prospects a letter in the mail telling them who you are and what kind of successes you’ve had in their specific industry with other clients.
It has to be personal and not a direct mail piece, he says. You can then follow up with a phone call.
You can also try reaching out to customers and prospects with goodwill or just see how they’re doing or offer something that may help them.
In May, Sandler Training of Hauppauge, a sales training and consulting firm, offered clients, networking contacts and people they knew a free eight-session Zoom program on basic sales training fundamentals, president Rich Isaac says.
"We originally figured we’d get 25 people, but we got about 90 people," he says, adding some of those turned into paid clients that wanted to continue training.
Sandler’s training had to pivot from in-person to 100% virtual, which he says has worked out as clients have saved on traveling time and expenses.
Sales people should focus on core basics like networking and giving and asking for referrals, he says.
Just keep in mind when asking for referrals, don’t generalize, but be very specific on your sweet spot client (i.e. manufacturing companies with $5 million to $10 million in sales), Isaac says.
Otherwise, "you put all the burden on that person to think of someone."
It may take time for sales to bounce back. Over half of small business owners (52%) anticipate it will take until sometime in 2021 for business conditions to improve to normal levels and 20% believe it will take until sometime in 2022.
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