COVID-19 has disrupted standard business practices in countless ways. For those fortunate enough and able to work remotely, adjusting brings its own challenges. From coordinating schedules with loved ones to arranging child care, pet care and the ever-important self-care, “business as usual” has radically changed.
The challenges of quarantine deepen in sales, where lead-generation from cold calls and emails is essential. Is it OK to reach out right now? Will my prospects be open to it? How do I start?
The short answer is yes, it is OK to reach out. In fact, many businesses are attempting to forecast the months and years ahead to navigate a successful path through the crisis. If your product or service in any way makes that easier for recovery and rebuilding, now is an ideal time to connect.
The longer answer is yes, but… It is OK to reach out to prospects, but it should be done in a respectful, empathetic way. Our six steps will help you build to success while avoiding common (and painful) mistakes.
Respect the moment. Whatever your personal views are on COVID-19 and the response to it, ground yourself in this reality: people are anxious and uncertain. No one is immune from its impact. Use this common ground as your starting point to build through empathy.
1. Research and prioritize opportunities. If you work across multiple industries, try to refine your target list. Who is currently overwhelmed, “shut down,” or less receptive? For example, small business owners may be caught up applying for stimulus loans; their focus is survival.
2. Use the trends you’re seeing to make a list of problems or barriers your prospects might face. Then, jot solutions for how you can help. Finally, prioritize, starting with those who have urgent needs and could benefit most from your services.
3. Write your script with empathy. Don’t underestimate the simple power of being human. Ask genuine questions. Share your thoughts about the current challenges. Use an easy one-two template to craft an observation and follow it with a probing question: “We see many clients struggling with digital and remote work practices; how has the transition been for your team?”
Remember, empathy is not a trick. It isn’t a formula or psychological lens to mass produce. So avoid copying and pasting. The more you can customize your outreach with personal notes, the more likely it is to be read and receive a response. If you need proof, think about the countless branded emails you’ve received, perhaps from an airline you flew on five years ago, saying “We’re in this together.” Did it really feel like it as you read the subject line? Probably not.
4. Add value. From empathy and understanding, make sure you deliver on their needs. Value comes in two forms. First, end your empathetic script with a clear, direct call-to-action (CTA). Dictate exactly what you want them to do and why. The clearer you can be, the more value they will get from your pitch.
Second, give them something that serves their current needs if you can. Offer insights from proprietary research. If you have a helpful webinar, give them free access. Even if you have nothing bespoke, consider sharing links to relevant articles. They will remember your support.
5. Practice. If crafting an email, ask a colleague to review and provide feedback. If scripting a cold call, practice it with someone. Experimentation will help you refine. You may catch a phrase that sounds phony when spoken aloud, even though it looked great on paper. Or maybe your attempted empathy crosses a boundary of privacy. Extra opinions will help you hone your pitch to be genuine, empathetic, and probing.
6. Reconnect, too. If you prioritized your target list, it’s likely that older prospects landed somewhere near the bottom. But this is a great time to reconnect with leads who previously asked you to reach back out at a later time. Without making the hard sell, you can check in with them and let them know you are thinking of their well-being.
With these six principles, it is more than appropriate to use these uncertain times to continue reaching out, building new relationships, and strengthening old ones. Connect with your current clients to check-in and learn from their experiences, and in all cases add value where you can. Sales is not a zero-sum game. Now, more than ever, we are truly in it together.
Christian Bielski is manager of sales and marketing at Shapiro Negotiations Institute.