What’s the blueprint for an effective sales strategy in a pandemic-changed business landscape?

While there’s no easy answer, solution-driven products, services and marketing that reflect a laser-sharp grasp of customers’ shifting purchasing motivations are critical to driving B2B and B2C sales today, experts told Jeanette Mulvey, executive director of content for CO— during the fourth episode of CO— Blueprint, a video series dedicated to providing small businesses with the ideas and strategies they need to reopen their businesses successfully.

Here are five takeaways from the conversation.

Strike the right tone at the right time to engage customers

Before businesses can even contemplate a redefined sales strategy, they must first assess their customers’ pandemic-informed purchasing power. “What state of reopening are they in? Depending on industry and size, everyone is at a different stage in adjusting [their] reopening,” said Shannon Smoot,vice president of small business sales for Salesforce.

Indeed, it’s not about doing business in the new normal, but “the next normal,” she said. And while it might sound simple, understanding precisely where customers are in their reopening journey is key to striking the right tone at the right time, she said.

Tap technology to better understand — and serve — customers’ changing needs

Amid the crisis, Salesforce’s clients, which span industries from media to manufacturing and more, are turning to the tech firm’s customer relationship management (CRM) tools to tackle some of their most pressing challenges, like the shift to remote work and customer outreach, Smoot said.

That’s precisely what boat-towing service Sea Tow had to do. When the pandemic hit, sales from membership renewals shriveled at the company, which is a kind of “AAA for boaters,” said Kristen Frohnhoefer, president.

Sea Tow then pivoted, moving to a cloud-based mobile call center, as it tapped CRM tools to capture real-time customer sentiment on boating amid the crisis — data that was then fed to its call center staff. “We utilized CRM and marketing cloud tools to survey how customers were feeling,” which allowed Sea Tow to better communicate with members on topics that mattered to them, and in turn, serve their needs and desires, she said. The strategy worked: Membership sales have rebounded and then some, Frohnhoefersaid.

Be part of the conversation on what people need right now.

Kristen Frohnhoefer, president, Sea Tow

Explore promotional perks that set you apart from competitors

The pandemic hit office-equipment dealer Southwest Office Systems hard, as lockdowns shuttered the offices the printer company served.

Unable to provide its core, in-person service, the high-touch business came up with “creative tools to generate and close business,” and differentiate itself from competitors, said Vince Puente, president of sales and marketing for Southwest, which bills itself as the largest minority-owned, independent office equipment dealer in the Southwest. These included new incentives like 36-month leasing programs, free printers for clients’ home offices and gift cards to local restaurants “to thank them for doing business with us,” he said. “You’ve got to touch the client,” he said.

The multilayered purchasing incentives don’t generate profit per se, but instead accomplish something equally important now: They engage both clients and the Southwest team, and help to “stay alive,” Puente said.

Stop selling and start solving

For Sea Tow, an infographic on safe and socially distanced boating practices designed to be strictly informational turned out to be its most successful sales message to date, informing the lesson: Don’t sell. Instead, solve. “Our most important sales message was not actually a sales message,” Frohnhoefer said.Yet it was the best performing social post in the history of the company. “It went viral,” she said. “Be part of the conversation on what people need right now.”

Three fool-proof tips for small businesses right now

The small business community would be wise to follow these three tips as they navigate the next normal, said Salesforce’s Smoot. Be “hyperaware” of your customers’ changing needs; lead with your mission and values; and make sure every interaction provides added value to your customer — from a podcast that might help a client rethink its business model to sharing a connection, she said. “Show empathy,” Smoot said. “This is not the time to have an agenda.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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