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Sales in the Time of Cholera (with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

This article, authored by our Senior Consultant Katie Roper, continues a special series titled “Creating Resiliency During the COVID-19 Crisis.” 

This series will feature articles, podcasts and additional resources from our Consultants Collective member consultants, advisors and coaches, whose experience and expertise includes risk and change management, Asia, China, offshoring, leading distributed global teams, managing crises and internal communications, deploying and managing online collaboration tools that enable people to work together virtually, developing new models, as well as expertise in innovation and design-thinking, work-life integration — and more — all of which uniquely positions Consultants Collective to serve its clients during this time. We hope this series is a valuable resource to you and your organization as you tackle the challenges presented by this global public health crisis. If we can provide additional help and support through our executive consulting, advisory and coaching services, please contact us.

Whether it’s Cholera or COVID-19, a scary disease becomes the main thing that everyone thinks about, and a great excuse to postpone decisions on everything from vacations to software purchases. Yet salespeople on commission still need to close business. Here are a few tips you can try:

  1. Take Advantage of Easier Contact. With air travel forbidden, conferences delayed, and working from home becoming common, it’s actually a pretty good time to reach people. They are at their desks and next to their phones – and if they are WFH, they often put their cell phone numbers on their voice messages. Use this time for cold calls, or to re-introduce yourself to prospects who have gone cold or been too busy to engage with you.
  2. Acknowledge the Situation. Whatever you do, don’t pretend things are business as usual. If your kids are home from school, apologize for background noise – your prospect may be in the same predicament.  Use humor to lighten the mood (if appropriate). State your goal: “I know it is hard to focus on anything other than the news, but you said last month that you’d be making a decision on XX – could we get your colleagues on a conference call to discuss?”
  3. Make it Easy to Say Yes. If your prospect has signature authority up to $25,000, create a package that she can sign off on herself, rather than having to get permission – and signatures – from a remote boss.  A three-month trial, or a special promotional offer, could add urgency and make it easier for her to say yes.
  4. Create a Virtual Conference Experience. If you were counting on a trade show booth for a new stream of leads, or a marquee speaking engagement to create thought leadership, use webinar tools to create the same opportunity virtually – maybe even at the same time that you were scheduled to speak IRL. The good news is that all the conference attendees had cleared their schedules to travel, so they are likely to have more availability than normal (see suggestion #1), and you can jump on a GoToMeeting webinar from anywhere.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the uncertainty for salespeople is staying positive and focused personally.  If your revenue goal is unobtainable given the current market conditions, set a different goal (Cold calls?  Phone conversations?  Database records cleaned up?) that you can work towards, attain, and pat yourself on the back. 

And for goodness sake, wash your hands.

Katie Roper

Katie Roper is a senior consultant for Consultants Collective as well as founder and principal at Catenary Consulting. A "catenary" is the curve you get on a suspension bridge, as the cable attached to each tower supports the roadway below. Catenary Consulting helps companies build bridges between themselves and prospects, clients, customers, and partners. Katie's background is in technology sales, working in everything from web-based SAAS platforms to telecommunications products to network security. She built Polycom's first direct sales team, defined's first B2B product offering, and transitioned Encover's sales model from one-time licensing to SAAS subscriptions. After a personal experience with her dad, Katie discovered the longevity economy and got involved in senior care. She spent nine years building into the second-largest online referral source for senior housing and in-home care companies, including negotiating deals, building a sales team, and establishing the company as an industry thought leader. She then became head of national partnerships for Home Care Assistance, a home care company. Katie now helps companies determine their optimal target prospects; the messaging that resonates; and how to reach them profitably. She'll then set up the people and systems to scale up sales. Significantly over-educated, Katie holds a BA from Harvard College and an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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