COVID-19 killed your industry? Here's how a tour booking software keeps selling through the crisis
What can sales leaders do when the industry their business serves is practically shut down?
How do you lead a sales team through difficult times when the core of your business is in jeopardy of collapse?
How do you maintain a calm but productive atmosphere when your team is suddenly separated by physical distance?
These are all challenges that online tour booking software FareHarbor has taken head-on.
Not only have they continued to fight the pandemic from their homes: they fought for their business, their families, and their industry.
And they won.
We talked with Drew Barret, Head of Global Sales, and Ben Goffin, Head of NA Sales, and asked them to explain how FareHarbor has been able, not only to keep afloat, but to thrive during such difficult times.
This is their inspiring story.
Before and after: How COVID-19 changed everything for FareHarbor
Some industries have been hit harder than others during this crisis.
One such industry is travel and tourism.
According to some estimates, the global travel industry could see a 35% decrease in revenue this year, with a predicted 75.2 million jobs lost.
The tourism industry is suffering. So it stands to reason that the businesses that sell to that industry are suffering as well.
This spirited company is made up of people who are passionate about travel and enjoy helping tour operators run their businesses with ease and efficiency.
They work with over 10,000 travel activity and tour businesses, giving them the tools needed to grow their bookings and better serve their customers.
Before: How FareHarbor worked sales before the pandemic
The sales team at FareHarbor loved to pound the phones.
While the sales cycle for their business was somewhat longer than others, it was solidly based on the relationships they built over time. Calling the same prospect many, many times was the best way to get them on a demo of FareHarbor’s software.
Their sales philosophy was that, at some point, their product would make sense for their prospects. It’s free to try, so it was really all about timing. Any touchpoint was good, and there was no such thing as a burned lead. The winners were the ones that outlasted everyone else.
The company is spread across the globe, but its regional sales teams were located in offices in different countries. These tight-knit groups worked together, feeding off each other’s energy.
The sales floors at FareHarbor’s offices were always buzzing with activity. Coaching happened in real-time as management walked the floor. Excited voices and upbeat conversations were the soundtrack of the sales floor as everyone listened to and learned from each other.
The atmosphere was practically electric.
The commission structure also fostered high-energy sales and healthy competition. The reps at FareHarbor are driven by a commission heavy model. That meant their income was mainly based on the revenue they brought in: a natural-built motivator.
But then, without warning, everything changed.
After: What has changed for FareHarbor during COVID-19
Pounding the phones is no longer an option.
Tour operators are either shut down or barely active.
No one wants to hear a direct sales pitch on a cold call.
And the sales team at FareHarbor was affected in much more personal ways.
Their offices were shut down, the sales floors being abandoned for the safety of confinement at home. The electric buzz of an active sales team was replaced with a general hubbub of home life: children playing, the TV on, the washing machine on an infinite spin cycle.
How would FareHarbor adapt to these changes?
Sales leaders took action quickly. But in an effort to reunite their socially-distanced team, they made mistakes they’ve had to correct over the past few months.
Mistakes FareHarbor made (and corrected) along the way
As soon as things started to take a turn for the worse, FareHarbor’s sales leaders came in hot.
Team activities were scheduled practically non-stop. This involved calling games, training initiatives, and strictly scheduled working hours with the entire team.
But they soon learned this wasn’t the way to move forward.
The team was at a serious risk of burnout. With the pressures of their personal life combined with an overwhelming amount of pressure to keep that upbeat attitude at work, the teams ended up suffering.
So, FareHarbor’s sales leaders once again pivoted to adapt to the situation, this time starting with their attitude.
To avoid burnout, management realized they needed to avoid the cycle of panic and recovery. Simply reacting to each new change wasn’t enough. So, they decided to treat this situation as something permanent.
They scheduled activities to keep their reps engaged while giving them enough spare time to take care of their own tasks.
FareHarbor’s sales coaching also took a turn to help reps adapt. Instead of focusing on growing sales, they helped reps keep a realistic viewpoint of the situation.
These changes helped the team adapt to life under COVID-19 and revive that spirit they once felt on the sales floor.
So, what specific steps has FareHarbor taken to adapt their sales strategy to the pandemic?
How are they leading their sales teams through this time of crisis? And how can you follow their inspiring example?
6 ways FareHarbor has adapted to survive the COVID-19 crisis
As a company that serves the tourism industry, FareHarbor had to make some drastic changes to its sales strategy and management tactics to continue selling productively.
These are some of the methods they used to survive:
1. Adapting the sales process
Times have changed, and the approach used by sales reps during this time must change as well.
To combat feelings of negativity on the virtual sales floor, FareHabor’s sales leaders needed to build a new sales process that would fit their customer’s current needs.
Here’s how their methods have changed:
- Instead of the blunt force approach, the sales team now leads with the offer of advice or suggestions on how to keep their prospects’ businesses open.
- Using custom lead statuses in Close, the sales team identifies which prospects were open and willing to talk in the past. Then, they prioritize those accounts.
- Reps have been referencing warm points of contact to engage colder contacts at a certain account.
- Sales leaders are coaching reps to break the cycle of calling and asking for a demo by instead approaching prospects with valuable new resources.
These adaptations to the sales process have helped FareHarbor maintain healthy relationships with their prospects and build a solid foundation for sales.
2. Building resources
As mentioned, FareHarbor’s reps are looking to provide value for their prospects before selling. For that reason, the sales teams and managers have been working around the clock to provide valuable content and resources for their prospects.
The goal: Help their prospects stay in business through this crisis.
Since FareHarbor sells its software to tour operators all over the world, the resources they offer need to provide value to tourism businesses in different regions.
That’s why territory managers at FareHarbor have taken the lead in building relevant resources for their territories. This includes creating webinars on how to stay in business, building tools that help businesses in that area, and offering support that’s specific to the tourism industry where they are.
For example, FareHarbor’s UK sales team created a 6-video series on how to stay in business.
Having these resources at hand gives the sales reps confidence that they are offering value and practical help to prospects during this time.
3. Re-training reps to sell during a crisis
One of the biggest hurdles the team at FareHarbor has faced is that, during a crisis, it feels wrong to sell to people.
“No matter how you tell the team that they are helping prospects, this idea is always in the back of their mind,” admits Drew Barret, Head of Global Sales at FareHarbor.
The fear of how prospects will react is real, and it was affecting the team.
Recognizing this, FareHarbor decided to change the environment their salespeople are working in.
“We coach our reps and help them see that they don’t know how someone will react until they reach out,” explains Drew. “They can’t assume that the contact will react negatively.”
Reps have to make sure their utmost priority is caring about their customers’ success and finding practical ways to help them in this time of crisis.
Thus, training has been adapted to reach these goals.
Since many of the salespeople at FareHarbor are veterans with years of experience, they don’t need new training on how to use sales systems and processes. However, they can use specific types of training to add extra value to their prospects and pitch.
For example, two salespeople took a Google Analytics course to understand how this tool could be used with FareHarbor’s platform to get more value for customers. Then, they took that training and created a new pitch which they presented internally to their managers and peers. This allowed them to get feedback on their presentation skills while they provided valuable pitch ideas to the rest of the team.
Another key part of FareHarbor’s re-training for crisis sales has included this sage advice: Be yourself.
Prospects can feel when a rep isn’t being authentic. That’s why FareHarbor’s reps have been encouraged to keep selling as themselves.
If a rep has a more empathetic approach normally, they’re encouraged to keep it. But if they tend to be more aggressive, they need to keep that as well.
Selling authentically is the only way to sell successfully.
4. Virtual peer learning
After confinement orders went into effect across the world, the sales team at FareHarbor realized that it’s all too easy to get discouraged when you’re on your own.
There was no energetic buzz of the sales floor, no peer conversations to listen to and learn from, no real-time coaching from management.
How could this be effectively replaced?
After testing different virtual interoffice learning methods, these are the ones that FareHarbor has found most effective:
Virtual morning meetings
At the beginning of the crisis, no one wanted to be the first person told to get lost.
But, how could reps know if the responses they were getting were normal when they were on their own?
FareHarbor implemented information-sharing meetings every morning. These meetings last 10 to 15 minutes and have been a great way to get pumped before the day of calling starts.
In these meetings, an AE will share a call they had the day before, whether positive or negative. They discuss what worked and what didn’t, and the whole team learns from this one interaction.
These virtual team meetings help the team in two specific ways:
- It makes negative experiences easier to bear because the reps don’t feel like they’re dealing with it alone.
- It allows everyone to learn from and celebrate the positive experiences.
Peer learning on team sales calls
Grouping a small sales team together on a call, each rep takes turns calling a prospect while the rest of the team stays on mute.
This allows the team to listen to the salesperson’s conversation, giving them insight into how they pitch, share information, and handle objections.
In this scenario, two sales reps meet over Google Hangouts. Just like the previous method, each sales rep takes a turn calling a prospect, and the two are able to learn from each other and pick up new methods of pitching and conversing with prospects.
Group Zoom calls
Of course, nothing can replace the active buzz of a busy sales floor, but FareHarbor has found a way to replicate that feeling while selling remotely.
The entire sales team meets together on a Zoom call, with mics off. Everyone is calling at the same time. One of the managers is MC'ing in the chat, sharing highlights: demos, closes, call numbers. This helps replicate the electric atmosphere they left at the office months ago.
By sharing calls, salespeople are able to hear what their team is saying, recognize what works, and ultimately refine their pitch to continue selling during the crisis.
5. Adjusted goals and commission models
Sales are down around the world in many different industries, and while that’s a major cause of stress in sales right now, it’s something most businesses need to accept and adapt to.
Already, FareHarbor’s sales goals were less based on traditional sales metrics like revenue, and more based on sales KPIs that demonstrate how productive reps are.
“Of course, the typical output is unlikely right now,” says Drew, “but we’ve created more of a mandatory minimum.”
This method gives both the team and their sales managers something clear to shoot for.
Another method they’ve used is to create goals around varied outreach metrics in specific lead categories. “We’ve found this to be more helpful than lowering our sales metrics goals,” adds Ben Goffin.
FareHarbor’s sales leaders also saw the need to change their commission structure.
Since the original compensation was commission-heavy, the initial shock of the crisis situation could have easily demotivated their sales teams.
With the necessary adjustments made, a new way of thinking began to emerge among the sales reps.
Drew Barret explains:
People started thinking, ‘What can I be doing right now to help me succeed over the next year when things start getting busy again? How can I advance my long-term career at FareHarbor?’ This attitude has developed where reps are focusing on long-term deals that will hopefully pay out larger commissions in the future.
6. Continued learning, internally and externally
Of course, no one knows your business better than you do. Typically, sales leaders should have a basic understanding of what their prospects need and an idea of how to proceed.
But, continued learning from outside sources helps develop those ideas into structured plans and processes.
“Typically, the AE may have an idea of what to do,” says Drew. “But we use the articles and content from Close to put a framework around that idea. Using this content gives them confidence it’s a good idea, along with a way to verbalize how they want to implement the idea.”
At the end of the day, doing the work and talking to prospects will tell you what moves the needle and what doesn’t. But FareHarbor’s sales leaders have found that the information provided by Close lends credence to a manager or director’s advice.
“Steli gave a talk in our Amsterdam office,” explains Drew. “That reinforced what the sales managers were telling the team. That outside authority was the best way to reinforce our internal strategy.”
All of these strategies helped FareHarbor to succeed through the crisis. However, building good techniques and adaptive strategies wasn’t something that started with the pandemic.
In fact, a major part of FareHarbor’s success through this crisis is the culture they had already established.
How the culture at FareHarbor has helped them adapt dynamically to the situation
“You don’t just create a culture in a crisis,” says Drew. “It started well before.”
FareHarbor has built a sales mechanism that is both organic and dynamic, with reps and AEs taking responsibility and developing ideas.
This started by building the right team.
Among the sales teams, there is an owner mentality. In fact, prospects often ask their AE, ‘Are you the owner of FareHarbor? Are you Lawrence?’
The AEs’ typical response says it all: “I’m not Lawrence, but we all consider ourselves the owner of FareHarbor.”
Developing and watching for this attitude is what has helped the sales leaders at FareHarbor build a team of great AEs. They hand-pick the people who feel passionate about and take ownership of their work, rather than just treating this as a job.
Because of this ownership mentality, the sales team doesn’t need to be micromanaged. In fact, the team is never fed sales scripts.
Instead, there is a give-and-take method for building better sales processes:
- Sales leaders give their team the goals
- AEs tell them what’s working and what isn’t
This strategy works for FareHarbor because they trust in their reps’ ability to develop ideas, pitch well, and verbalize what went well and what didn’t. This leads to a constant, non-formal process of ideation, feedback, iteration, and communication across the different sales teams.
Why this culture of harmonious chaos works so well in a crisis
FareHarbor has built sales teams that are a combination of passion for the product they’re selling and adaptability to new strategies and changes.
With no formalized sales process, things can be a bit chaotic under normal circumstances. But this harmonious chaos has produced a team that is resilient and dynamic in a time of crisis.
This culture has allowed FareHarbor to shift their strategies organically, adapting in real-time to the changes that COVID-19 has presented to them.
Lessons you can apply to lead your sales team through the COVID-19 crisis
After learning how FareHarbor has adapted to these changes, what lessons can you apply to your own business during this pandemic?
Here are 5 ways you can imitate the successful strategies that are helping FareHarbor thrive even during COVID-19.
Schedule activities that help sales teams adapt to working remotely without burning out
Sales is generally a social activity, and moving from an office to working from home isn’t easy for many sales teams. Add to that the new stressors from the pandemic, and it’s easy to see why many sales teams are on the edge of burning out.
That’s why you as a sales leader need to take steps to communicate effectively with your team and raise their spirits during this time.
Take the time to schedule work activities that bring your sales team together virtually (even though they’re apart physically). Organize calling games, have a virtual happy hour, or set up daily update meetings where the team can commiserate on losses and celebrate wins.
Don't overschedule your reps: allow them to take care of both their professional and personal needs.
Help reps help each other
FareHarbor’s experience taught us that leaning on their peers for support during this time will make your team more adaptable and better prepared to keep selling during this time.
As a sales leader, it’s your responsibility to encourage this peer learning. Set up sessions, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group, where sales reps can listen to each other’s pitches and learn from what works and what doesn’t.
Build processes for creating and sharing resources rather than making sales
As we all know, many businesses aren’t in the mood to receive a sales pitch right now. So, learn from how FareHarbor worked to create relevant, valuable content for their prospects and customers.
Think about this:
- What special knowledge does my sales team have about their prospects?
- What kind of content do our prospects need right now?
- What information could help our prospects stay in business and survive this crisis?
Sales and marketing teams can work together to build resources that are valuable to prospects. This kind of ownership in the content will also motivate your sales team to share these resources with the prospects they talk to.
Adapt your goals and commissions
Your goals for Q1 and Q2 of this year are now out-of-date. It’s time to create new ones.
But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon all hope of reaching your goals. By taking the time to analyze the situation and set realistic sales goals for your team, you’ll motivate them to push harder and reach those goals instead of seeing them as an insurmountable obstacle.
Also, take the time to analyze your current commission structure. Does it make sense given the current circumstances? How can you adapt your commission structure to motivate sales reps to continue working?
For example, instead of sales-based commissions, could you set incentives based on how many times reps complete a certain sales task? Using custom leaderboards in Close, you can help motivate your sales reps to complete specific tasks and sell more, even during a crisis.
Develop a culture that thrives on dynamic changes
Now is not the time to micromanage your salespeople. If there’s anything we’ve learned from FareHarbor, it’s that trusting your reps to make the right choices and develop their own ideas will help them be more adaptable to changes like COVID-19.
So, work to develop a culture of trust and adaptability. Let your reps tell you what’s working and what isn’t, instead of mandating processes and scripts that haven’t been proven to work in the field. If you’re going to use sales scripts, make sure to discuss them with your team and be willing to make changes based on their suggestions.
Go mining for great ideas and insights with your team, and you’ll develop processes and scripts that everyone can benefit from and help develop a culture that works well with dynamic change.
How FareHarbor’s example can help you lead your team through this crisis
With so many major changes in the way we work and live, both businesses and the people who run them have been affected.
So, what can you do as a sales leader?
Follow the example of FareHarbor: Keep going.
As a sales leader, you set the tone for your team. So, what kind of tone are you setting?
If you give up, your team will give up as well. But if you work to create a positive atmosphere and build your team up during this time, you’ll motivate them to keep pushing as well.
Despite the downturn for their industry, FareHarbor is still working hard to build lasting relationships with their prospects and maintain that positive culture on the virtual sales floor.
They’re still killing it. So, you can too.
We can't keep selling the way we used to sell pre-COVID. That's why we've curated the best advice on navigating through this crisis in our latest book. With over 500 pages of content, you'll learn everything you need to effectively lead, manage, and communicate with your team.