During this period of economic slowdown caused by the spread of COVID-19, finding areas of opportunity for sales and refocusing your teams will be critical for your business. Your sales teams are likely sidelined from making in-person calls. Don’t wait until business returns to normal to help your sales team reengage the sales process effectively.
Here are four ways to make the most out of this unprecedented situation so that your team can come back stronger than ever:
1. Leverage your relationships, but don’t spend all of your time just reinforcing the relationship. Your sales team will gravitate toward setting up calls with the customers where they have the long-standing personal relationships. There will be a lot of talk about what each person did during the disruption, and the family situation. This is an important conversation to have, but you have a lot of ground to cover quickly with a lot of accounts who are trying to figure out how to restart their business.
Understanding your customer’s business position, what they need to buy now, what their backlog or upcoming projects looks like, are critical to meeting their immediate needs. Your sales teams need to cover a lot of ground quickly to get you the information you need to run the business, so reinforce the need to move now and do more than a personal sales call.
2. Sales planning and forecasting are critical. As a leadership team, understand the business positions of all your key accounts as quickly as possible. For many distributors, the standard sales meeting where everyone shares their task list, like they have done in the past, won’t be enough.
Understand your immediate business coming in and build short-term forecasts. If you have a backlog system (projects not released, orders to be released on a particular date) that you have relied on in the past to do forecasting, it will not be reliable coming out of the shutdown. A line-by-line review of what is in current backlog and conversations with the sales teams and customers will allow you to develop a more accurate forecast today.
3. Pricing is going to be challenging; help your team avoid panic pricing. Coming out of this with high uncertainty, it will be very difficult for your inside and outside sales team to not manually panic price. The pressure you put on the team to help you with sales planning and forecasting will probably just add to the panic. Ask your team to slow down and think through orders/quotes and have them reviewed before you send them to the customer. This will be critical to maintaining profitability.
4. Determine if “sales promotions” might be a fit. Developing an appropriate sales promotion with the proper tone that you can launch to customers might allow you to get more of the orders that are available. It is not easy to do appropriately, but if you can launch an overall promotion, or a series of smaller sales promotions, it might allow your teams to help you take share from the competition. You might want to develop a few quick-hit promos that deliver service rewards, e.g. “For every X purchase you will help us make an X donation to your local food bank.” Those types of quick-hit sales programs give you the time you need to develop more comprehensive sales promos.
I’ve been on distribution teams that had customer promotions launch within a few months of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2008 financial crisis. Both comprehensive customer reward programs helped us to keep sales at levels higher than the competition — and take share. These share gains positioned us to grow above market levels. We chose to invest when other people went into bunker mode. It wasn’t easy but it helped our business recover.
I reached out to a former partner whom I worked with on multiple sales promotion programs during my distribution career, Jim Micklos, SVP, business development, at Fusion Marketing, and asked for his counsel. He shared this quote: “There is going to be pent-up demand that distributors need to capture as soon as we leave self-isolation, etc. and move to the new normal. A well-designed customer incentive that is launched quickly will enable you to strengthen customer relationships and take market share.”
We are going to move to the new normal quickly and your sales planning process is going to be critical to helping you stabilize and thrive in this new environment.
We would love to get your feedback, so please feel free to comment below or reach out to me at [email protected].
John Gunderson is VP of Analytics & e-business at Modern Distribution Management. Prior to joining MDM in 2018, he was a senior distribution leader for 20 years, leading sales, category management, marketing, pricing, analytics and e-business with companies such as Crescent Electric Supply Company, HD Supply Power Solutions, HD Supply C&I White Cap, Anixter and EIS-INC a Genuine Parts company.