Q&A: Remote selling during the COVID-19 crisis

Q&A: Remote selling during the COVID-19 crisis

Everybody is wondering what to do during this crisis. We’re all going through a completely new experience, and we’re facing challenges that many of us have never faced before.

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That’s why I’m here to help answer your questions and give you some direction during this global pandemic.

I’ll admit, I don’t know everything. But my goal is to be here for you and provide some practical advice on how to manage this situation and come out on top.

I’ve received tons of questions from different people, and I’m going to answer those questions one-by-one.

So, let’s get started.

Want to jump ahead to a specific answer? Here's are all the questions discussed in the video:

Q: We sell to the food industry. People are still interested in our product, but I’m having trouble closing as many people. Any tips on walking that line of truly understanding and still wanting to close the deal?

Starts at 3:50 in the recording

A: Find the right balance.

Businesses that just try to be completely selfless are overestimating how much long-term appreciation this will bring and underestimating how big the risk is. You can’t help other businesses in the long term if you’re going to be out of business soon. First, take care of your own business: that way you can survive and continue to help others.

On the other hand, you also can’t survive while being 100% selfish. If you come across as selfish, especially during this crisis, that will leave a much more lasting impression on your customers.

Here’s how to find a balance:

  1. Listen to your prospects and understand what’s going on in their world right now. The better you understand them, the better you’ll be able to serve them. If you serve them well now, you’ll be able to continue closing deals.
  2. Find ways to either be helpful or give them confidence. Your prospects are facing a lot of negativity. So be the type of person that makes them feel better when they talk to you. Be calm and positive: people will remember that.

If you truly believe they should purchase your product after understanding their needs, you might need to come up with creative ways to close deals.

For example, maybe they can sign the contract, but payment starts when quarantines have stopped or their restaurant opens again. If restaurant owners have time right now but aren’t bringing in revenue, maybe this is the time for them to update and upgrade digitally, to start using software or different types of products, or to think through how they can save costs.

Teach them, onboard them, set them up, but don’t necessarily charge them right now. If they aren’t making money right now, they can’t pay you right now, there’s no way around that.

Q The biggest challenge we’re facing right now in regards to our prospective clients is that their training budgets are either significantly reduced or cut completely.

Starts at 10:32 in the recording

A: How do you close a deal with somebody that doesn’t have the budget right now? I’m not going to lie: it’s going to be tricky right now.

So, here’s what you can do instead: Build relationships.

Show them that now is the time to do market research. They can check out your product, they can test it, and decide (once they’re back to normal) if they want to use your product.

If you’re there to help them, this is a productive use of their time. Offer them a deal that doesn’t require them to pay right now and allows them to cancel at any time.

We all want this to end as soon as possible. But you can invest your time right now to build goodwill and create relationships. Then, when the world resumes, you have a hot prospect that’s already primed to purchase.

Q: What would you do sales-wise in Germany with a clientele in the construction sector, which is very analog?

Starts at 14:29 in the recording

A: It’s true, these companies are typically slower to adopt technology. But this crisis is actually elevating technology, and Europe especially is getting a big wake-up call. They’re realizing that maybe they need to use more technology to get through this crisis. Maybe even the construction sector will be more open to exploring technology options when business slows down soon, then when business resumes, they’ll be better equipped to step into the 21st century.

You need to talk to these companies and show them that checking out your product and getting to know you is a productive use of their time right now, even if they’re not in a position to buy.

Q: Can I reach out to close my deals for this quarter without seeming inconsiderate? I sell to healthcare operation workers who are up to their eyeballs in COVID-19 operations. Should I risk my reputation to sell now or wait until this blows over?

Starts at 16:47 in the recording

A: Here’s an example of someone that, from the outside, seems like they could benefit from this situation because they sell to a sector that’s working right now. But the sectors that are still working right now are all extremely busy, in this case with life-or-death situations.

If your buyer is currently on the frontlines of COVID-19 doing critical care right now, I’m not sure if you even have a choice to reach out and get a signature.

That said, now is the time to get closer to your customers and closer to your prospects. Now is the time to be talking to your customers and prospects more than you ever have. You need to stay close to them to hear what’s going on at the frontlines and see where you can help.

Here’s where you can start: Find a few customers that you have a good relationship with, and ask them what they would do in your place. What’s the right sales tone in this crisis situation? Do they think it’s the right time to reach out and get a signature on contracts that are ready to go through, or do they think you should leave people alone right now?

We need to use this time productively, one way or another. Maybe that means leaving our prospects alone and instead focusing on prospecting. Maybe we update our scripts and emails, produce more content, optimize the business processes. But maybe this is still a good time to sell: it all depends on your audience.

Q: As a CEO, how do you make sure quotas are managed during this time while understanding that everyone is potentially taking a hit?

Starts at 21:14 in the recording

A: Right now is not the time to be inflexible around your original goals.

You can’t spend this time breathing down the necks of your salespeople. That’s not productive and will do more harm to your company. If you apply too much pressure to your sales team, two things will happen:

  • They’ll remember how you treated them during this difficult time, and they’ll hate you for it.
  • They’ll apply the same type of pressure to their prospects, who will also remember that treatment and hate you for it.

Here’s what you do instead:

First, adjust your goals every single week.

You can’t make goals for Q2 or for the year right now. Your team won’t be able to reach those goals. Set new goals depending on what’s going on with the world and your customers.

Maybe you’ll have to lower your quota now, and later in the year, you’ll work to make up for it. You can still push your team, but you can’t apply too much pressure because that will cause all kinds of problems.

Second, lead by example.

We haven’t applied more pressure, but people on my team can see that I’m working harder and stepping up my game. We’re stepping up our game in marketing, content, teaching, and just talking to our customers. When people see that I’m doing this, the rest of the company steps up their game as well.

If you put too much pressure on your people, you’ll do damage that you’ll never be able to recover from. But if you treat your people and your customers well during this time, they’ll remember that forever.

Q: Any recommendations for useful cold outreach sequences that might work better in our current environment? Phone calls just aren’t working because offices are shut down.

Starts at 25:28 in the recording

A: The way the world works right now, people are only interested in two types of content:

  • Things that distract them (like shows on Netflix or funny cat videos, not a space we as salespeople can really compete in)
  • Things that help them address their fears and their needs right now

For example, let’s say you send an email sequence about being productive at home. You can give them tips, and then include one that’s self-serving: Tell them that one way to be productive at home is to accomplish things they don’t normally have time for, like checking out new technology for their business. Then, offer to show them your technology now and if they want to buy later, you can talk.

Of course, the main goal is to be authentic. If you can’t pull this off authentically, it will never work.

Don’t send emails that are tone-deaf. You need to adjust your message to what’s going on in the world right now and what’s happening with your customers.

Q: How do we bridge a gap of having no face-to-face visits when our sales pitch is based around the customer experiencing the product? (The product cannot be demoed via video or other methods.)

Starts at 29:37 in the recording

A: You need to stay productive, even if you can’t demo your product in person. Here are some ideas:

  • Focus on filling the top of the funnel right now, instead of the middle and end.
  • Do more prospecting, build more lists
  • Build relationships with your ideal customers
  • Send surveys and ask them what their current challenges are
  • Tell them you’re developing VR software and ask for their opinion

When you talk to your prospects, the key is to sell the call as a way to be productive right now. Offer to get on a call to get to know each other better, and that way when this is all over and you can meet, you both have saved a lot of time.

Q: How aggressive should you be with special rates and discounts during this time based on urgency? Is it wrong to ask for the money right now?

Starts at 30:50 in the recording

A: It’s never wrong to ask for the money. You can get away with asking the most unreasonable questions if you do it with the right energy.

Today, in this unique circumstance, there are two essential truths:

  • Time is everything: Any deal you can close today is worth much more than a deal you might close next week.
  • Cash is king: Any cash you can get right now is worth 1000 times any money you think you could get paid over many months in small increments.

Right now, I recommend being aggressive with discounts.

If your prospects have the cash flow to make purchases right now, give them the incentive to buy now. Tell them that anyone who waits to purchase after this crisis will buy your product at the normal price, but anyone who purchases now is getting an insane discount. Of course, if they don’t have the money now, don’t sell to them.

Q: It’s been easier to reach out to people in the restaurant space because prospects are all working from home. Do you think we should give discounts as an incentive to sign up?

Starts at 33:29 in the recording

A: Absolutely, You need to be creative right now.

You can’t sit there and say, “Oh, we never do this.” Do you normally work during a global pandemic? Probably not. So you’re going to have to do things differently.

I’m not a fan of discounts. But these are different times. If want to get money, you need to give people a good reason to purchase right now.

Q: Did you ever struggle to sell something in a specific industry for more than 1 ½ years? At what point would you say it’s a waste of time?

Starts at 34:20 in the recording

A: I had a business that was failing for 5 years but I kept going. But as far as selling, I’ve never been in a space where I was trying to get customers and couldn’t get any customers.

If you’ve tried to convince your customer base to purchase for more than 1 ½ years and you haven’t gotten any customers, I would hit the pause button and reevaluate whether you really want to be in that space or not.

Q: Customers always say that some features are missing.

Starts at 35:49 in the recording

Then you’re not solving a big enough problem, or you’re not solving the right problem for the right people. At that point, I would stop.

When we launched Close, a CRM, it didn't have any reporting. And people still bought it. Every day people complained that certain features were missing, but they still purchased because it had certain strong features that solved certain problems.

However, when people tell you that you need to build something else, that means you don’t have a good product-market fit.

Q: For business development teams that are used to boots-on-the-ground closings, what tips do you have as they migrate to video conferencing meetings and virtual handshakes?

Starts at 36:40 in the recording

A: It doesn’t matter if I talk to you in person or through a Zoom call, the same basic principles apply.

Here are my top 3 tips:

  1. Make sure to always stream video and audio.
    When the video is on, it makes the experience more human.  If your prospect doesn’t turn on their video, just ask, “Hey, I can’t see you right now, are you streaming video?” They’ll either turn it on, or they’ll give you a reason why they can’t.
  2. Be human, be authentic.
    Don’t be embarrassed when your kids or your significant other is there in the background, these things are happening to all of us now.
  3. If you need them to pay attention, tell them.
    Don’t assume that people are giving you their attention just because they’re on a video call. Tell them: “What I’m going to say now is the most important thing of this call.” Then pause, allow them to focus on you, and say what you need to.

Q: How do you stay tactful to the current world situation while still driving product value and closing deals? And how do buying behaviors change when the prospect’s team is fully remote?

Starts at 39:14 in the recording

A: As far as staying tactful, the energy you need to have is empathetic and realistic. Don’t pretend that COVID-19 isn’t happening, but you also can’t be all panicked and negative.

Be a normal human being, but still have confidence. Be serious about the situation, but don’t be deflated. Work, do things for your customers, empower people, be capable of creating value in the world and the economy.

If you collapse, that won't help anyone.

As far as buying behaviors, I assume they will change a bit. I think people are overwhelmed working from home, and they’ll have a harder time making a buying decision.

People will be more distracted at first, which means it’ll be harder to keep their attention. But when things settle down, it should go back to normal. We sell to remote teams all the time and they make the same decisions as in-house teams.

Q: How do we fill our time if we sell to schools and schools are closed?

Starts at 42:08 in the recording

A: It’s important to stay productive during these times, especially if you can’t sell to your prospects.

Here are some suggestions on how to continue to be productive:

  • Create prospecting lists
  • Clean up your prospect data
  • Create or improve your email sequences
  • Update your sales decks
  • Fix or build some features that your customers want
  • Take a sales course, get better at selling

Also, stay in touch with your prospects: Check in with teachers or school administrators and ask them how they are. A lot of them still have to come into work. They’re trying to manage the things that go on in the background at schools. It might be a good time to reach out to these people and be on their radar.

Whatever you do, you need to be creative in order to stay productive during this time.

Q: Any tips on how to create urgency and engagement during these times?

Starts at 44:05 in the recording

A: In times of crisis, always lead from the front.

Here are two ways to do that:

1. Don’t just order your sales team to do things, demonstrate it to them.

As a sales leader, you should:

  • Call prospects
  • Sell actively
  • Join your reps on their calls so you can understand what’s going on in their world

2. Continually test your assumptions before you adjust how you sell

The biggest mistake sales teams can make right now is to assume things and then base their decisions and actions on those assumptions without validating them. Don’t assume prospects are too busy or depressed to hear from you: find out for sure.

Call a couple of customers and ask them if they want to talk to you right now or not. Ask people if they’re making purchase decisions right now or not. Send some emails; are people responding and engaged?

As the world continues to change, you must continue to test how you reach out to people.

For example, let’s say this week people are telling you they don’t want to be bothered. Maybe next week their world will change completely, If you don’t re-check, you could be missing a huge opportunity.

Or, maybe this week’s email open rates are down because everyone is transitioning to remote work and they’re too busy to open emails. But next week, once people have settled into being at home and have nothing to do, email open rates might skyrocket.

Since the start of this crisis, we’ve still received new customers every single day, even people who are prepaying for an entire year. Don’t assume that nobody is buying right now, because they are.

Q: Do you have advice for sales guys regarding investment opportunities?

Starts at 47:49 in the recording

A: No. I don’t have any investment advice for anybody, especially during a global pandemic. I know some people who have done well investing, but the ones I know aren’t doing anything right now. I’m certainly not an expert, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving you guys advice on this.

Q: Why does the human approach work so well during these times? I’ve never had more positive responses by just checking in to see how the situation is and how we can help.

Starts at 48:31 in the recording

A: The human approach works well because most companies are not acting very human-like. They’re corporate and mechanical, so when you’re human and authentic, it stands out.

In a time of crisis, maybe that stands out even more. People are overwhelmed with so much negative news that when they see something good, it stands out!

Q: How do you make remote sales meetings efficient? Also, how do we bring the human touch to a live sales meeting?

Starts at 49:24 in the recording

A: On being efficient, here are my 2 top tips:

1. Come prepared

When we do sales meetings at Close, here’s what we have prepared in advance:

  • A clear agenda
  • A clean pipeline
  • A list of deals and topics that need to be discussed
  • Decisions we need to make

Don’t go into a meeting without a clear agenda. Come well prepared.

2. Use less time than you think you need

Here at Close, a long meeting is 30 minutes, a short one is 15. Don’t feel compelled to fill the hour.

Here are 2 ways to add a human touch to your meetings:

  • Always stream audio and video
  • Have everyone give a personal update before you start

In my direct-report meetings, everybody starts by giving a personal update on their situation right now. Before jumping into the corporate agenda, we share a piece of our lives as human beings. This is always useful, but especially during a crisis.

Q: How can you be supportive and not pushy when you sell?

Starts at 51:30 in the recording

A: Salespeople are way too afraid right now.

Just be honest, transparent, and direct with people. Tell them you want to hear from them and you want to understand their situation so you can help them. If they can give you money and you can give them a ton of value during this time, that’s good for both of you.

But be authentic: if it’s not a good time for these people to give you money, don’t ask for it! You can find a better time down the road.

Just be a real human being.

Q: Should we cancel our real offices? Remote work is going so well!

Starts at 52:31 in the recording

A: I wouldn’t make this decision right now if I were you. We made the change to remote 6 years ago, and it was the right decision for us. But it’s not for everybody.

Don’t make this decision now just because it’s cool or just because there’s a pandemic. Just wait a little bit before you make that decision.

Q: What are the common problems businesses encounter when transitioning to remote work?

Starts at 53:11 in the recording

A: The biggest problem for companies transitioning to remote work is becoming excellent at communication.

Having clear, transparent communication is essential, but it’s not always easy.

Also, since the majority of remote communication is asynchronous, a lot of it is in writing. That means everyone needs to become excellent at written communication.

Learning to be excellent communicators often requires a change in company culture, and that sometimes presents a struggle for newly remote companies. But it is absolutely essential, especially now.

Q: How do I position our platform as helpful and necessary to brands rather than sounding sleazy or overly sales-y during a time when our customers are feeling the heat on their own businesses?

Starts at 54:09 in the recording

A: There are two different ways to do this:

1. Talk to a customer and ask them what they think

The type of advice you can get from customers can be extremely helpful in positioning your platform in a way that appeals to your audience.

Tell your customer that you really think your product could help other businesses in the same sphere, but that you don't want to call them up because you don’t want to upset them. Then, ask them what they think, what they would do in your shoes? See what they think.

2. Try out different versions of your pitch and see what works

Your goal as a business isn’t to always please every single person you talk with. People are going to get angry, especially during a crisis. Some people are always angry, even when there’s no crisis! Your goal as a business should be to create as much value in the world as possible.

So, try your adapted pitch with a sample group, and if they don’t react well, you can adjust. But don’t be overly worried about upsetting people.

Have more specific questions about startup sales during the COVID-19 crisis? Submit your questions and I’ll do my best to give you clear, practical advice on how to continue selling through this pandemic.

COVID-19 is changing the way we sell. If you've recently transitioned to work remotely and need guidance, check out our free Remote Sales Survival Guide. It includes tips, advice, and resources on how to work, sell, and thrive remotely!