Selling in this Time of Crisis by Jonathan Ratcliff

Health & Wellbeing

If you had a member of staff who was returning to work after a period of illness and inactivity, you would probably be ensuring that they were Fit to return to work before allowing them to do so. The same needs to be taken into consideration with Salespeople as they return to work after Self Isolation.

Are they mentally and physically fit?

The best Salespeople are resilient and positive minded with great energy levels. It is a mistake to assume these attributes will all be in place just because your customers are ready to do business. So how are you going to assess this?

We have all taken a battering as our old world disappears and a new one appears through the mist, with what it holds for our businesses, not yet clear. We are going to need to have open minded explorers in our Sales teams who will need maps, compasses and a clear sense of direction.

Tip: Use an internal Mentoring system to check staff resilience or someone who knows them well who can take them through some tests to see if they are up for the task ahead.


It won’t just be the Sales Function that will be adapting to change. Many companies will have been hit hard by Covid 19. Does your Business Strategy need to reflect this, and will a new Sales Strategy be required as a consequence?

If there is a fundamental change to your organization’s modus operandi, then all employees need to understand their place in the new order.

In lockdown for instance, many of the traditional routes to market were closed off. I was impressed to see companies like Brakes (a Food Service Operator) take destiny into their own hands and open up new routes to market and go direct to the public who are desperate for home delivery slots, with Brakes Food Shop.

However, the repercussions of these new survival techniques will not have gone unnoticed. How will their traditional customers react? Salespeople will need to play an important role in explaining these developments and soothing any ruffled feathers as well as bringing those services to the widest relevant audience where there is a demand.</p>

Tip: Re-state your Sales Strategy even if it has not changed so that everyone in the organization understands your future Sales Direction. Every member of staff can be on the lookout for new customers if they know what to look for.


One thing you can say about a crisis is that it forces us to develop survival strategies as Brakes have demonstrated. It forces business to adapt in order to survive with new products and services rushed through in days rather than in months traditionally. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

These new products need to find new audiences but Sales need to fully understand them if they are going to sell them with confidence. They also need supporting materials that are relevant for their buyers and the means of demonstrating them without being face to face. In the rush to develop survival services, make sure that your own Salespeople are fully up to speed with them.

Tip: Use one of your regular online Sales meetings to go through the NPD, the likely objections, the best questions that will identify the need from your Prospects.

New Tools. New Technology.

Zoom users worldwide have increased from 200 to 300 million in the last month. Last December they only had 10 million active users. This has happened despite recent security issues. There are few Business professionals who have not used Zoom, MS Teams or any one of the other visual communication tools in recent weeks.

However, that doesn’t mean to say that we are any good at using these tools. They have only recently been added to our toolbox. How are your Salespeople going to use these tools in the right way to get the right results?

If they are working from home, do they have a professional background that reflects your corporate values or is it showing unsavory personal clutter which detracts from the conversation?

Tip: Encourage them to record these discussions (with the other party’s permission) so that they and their managers can learn from what they are doing.

Brothers in Arms

Sales & Marketing should work together like a well-oiled machine

  • raising awareness,
  • convincing the right prospects on suitability
  • prequalifying those prospects

Which then leads into the more expensive human contact elements of

  • Further qualification and suitability matching
  • Identification of needs through Consultative selling approach
  • Presentation, negotiation, close and follow up

For many of my clients and the businesses I have been in touch with though, they have furloughed staff in this area or significantly downsized their investment. This means that the pipeline will have a significant kink in it further down the line.

At the time of writing, it certainly seems as though Business is looking to get restarted as soon as is safely possible to do so. The time for planning for the new post lockdown will soon be at an end. If you don’t know what the new world is likely to mean for your Sales team, then you need to find out swiftly.

Tip: Get the joint Sales & Marketing teams to Brainstorm what the impact (positive and negative) is going to be on your markets, your Customers and your processes as soon as possible. What action will you need to take as a consequence?

New Market Understanding

Something that all Salespeople should be doing NOW is to reach out to all those existing customers with the relationships that they have forged to get an understanding of how the Pandemic has impacted on their business. The sooner you can understand the impact, the better.

Tip: Make sure that this Market Intelligence is Fed back into your SMT.

The Keys to Understanding the Opportunity

You could describe the effective Sales process is as follows: The Identification of opportunities through effective questioning, listening, understanding and matching.

Good Salespeople ask great questions which uncover opportunities and then they listen intently to the answers with a view to understand. If they are in the right place at the right time, they will be able to match those opportunities with what they can supply.

The great news is that there will be countless new opportunities coming out of Covid 19. The companies who capitalize on these opportunities will be asking the right questions NOW of your customers.

Tip: Get your Sales teams to develop their Top 10 killer Questions to ask your customers and prospects to identify the new opportunities post lockdown.

Strategic Partners

With your Strategic Partners, you should have multiple points of contact across all functions, so it is not just the responsibility of the Account handler to find the answers. Finance, production, HR and Operations should all be talking to their contacts to understand the impact of Covid 19 on your vital partners.

Who to Target?

The old adage of “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” has never been more relevant. In this time of crisis, it has to be the first rule that all Account Handlers ensure that the existing customer are delighted with your service not just happy.

Winning new business from new clients is a costly and time-consuming business. I am not saying don’t do it, but I am saying that your first priority should be to ‘ring fence’ your existing customers, cross sell to them wherever possible and, if they are delighted, ask them for a referral. This is the most effective way of winning profitable new business quickly and yet few of the Salespeople I accompany ever have it on their agenda.

Tip: Train your Sales team in how to generate referral engines from delighted customers. They should be able to identify your Advocates especially if you have acted with compassion going into the crisis.

What about New Customers?

There is good news and Bad news here.

The Bad news is that, Trust is likely to have been eroded or, to put this another way, in times of crisis we tend to stick with what we know. As the crisis starts to come to an end however, there is likely to be a ‘Brave New World’ where some of the market adaption techniques will lead to new relationships being formed. You will need to uncover these new opportunities. Quickly.

The Good news is that at the moment, it is proving to be relatively easy to get hold of Decision makers. Think about it. Many of the Gatekeepers are working from home so access should be easier. If you are skilled in using Zoom (and their ilk) to interact with prospects and make professional presentations, then this could be an opportune time to introduce your company.

Tip: Use the fact-finding calls outlined above to gather Market Intelligence about prospects who may now need your services. Get their names, job titles and direct line if possible.

And Finally. A Word about your Tone.

If there is one thing ALL Salespeople need to remember when contacting any customer currently it is to be Sensitive – a trait normally in short supply in our profession.

But think about it; if they blunder in talking to old contacts without thinking about the impact that this Pandemic may have had on the people they are talking to, it could do significant damage to your relationship.

In Summary

Cherish what you have got. Be human. Be Caring. Be part of the Solution.
Jonathan Ratcliff JMR Sales & Consultancy Ltd.

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