Sales may be few and far between today, but smart business owners can spend their downtime laying the foundation for "sales for tomorrow."
- Building relationships is at the heart of selling. Keeping in touch with clients – even though they might not be in a position to buy right now – can keep your bond with them strong and ready for whenever the recovery begins.
- Sending notes of gratitude and otherwise following up with clients is a job that too often gets shoved aside in the press of daily business.
- Take time now – while you have time – to say thank you.
During these troubled times, it might seem like you couldn't sell water to a land-locked fish.
Perhaps this is a good time to re-evaluate your definition of selling. Selling means more than making a sale. It means serving your clients, filling their needs and solving their problems.
Right now, that might not involve your company's products or services. And, yes, that hurts. It hurts your small business, your bottom line and your commissions. It may already be hurting your lifestyle.
Still, even if you're stuck at home and your clients' businesses are on hiatus, there's still work to do. Even if you can't make any sales today, you can lay the groundwork for the sales you'll make once things get back to normal. I call those "sales for tomorrow."
In the process, you might help your clients in ways that you never thought you could or even should. Here is how to make those sales for tomorrow, today.
Make a plan.
Whether you and your staff are teleworking from home or your company has temporarily shut down, chances are good that you have more free time than you did when you were working at the office all day, every day. Use that time to devise a strategy for making sure your clients will still be your clients once everybody gets back to work.
The best way to do that, of course, is to keep in touch with them, even when they're not in a position to buy.
For part one of your plan, make a list of your clients. Recall the last time you spent time just shooting the breeze with each one. Look up their phone numbers. Create a schedule for yourself to contact each one of them every couple of weeks.
Shoot them each a text asking to schedule a phone or video call. Once you have someone on the line, don't try to sell. Simply check-in.
We're all feeling a bit isolated these days, even if we're sheltering in place with our families. It's nice to have someone to talk shop with. It's nice to know that the people who do business with you are concerned about your welfare. It's nice to have someone outside of the family you see every day to talk to about how it's going.
For part two of your plan, come up with a strategy for keeping track of key details that your client might have shared with you. For example, if the conversation turns toward family, you might make a note that your client's oldest daughter will be graduating in May. Then, during another check-in call you make closer to graduation day, you can congratulate your client on her daughter's achievement. Using that little bit of information, you could even send a graduation card to the daughter, a gesture that will be perceived not only as thoughtful and kind, but as an indication that you really were listening and you were interested in the conversation.
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Software designed for keeping track of what you sold to whom can double as a sort of diary of your clients' relevant personal details – milestones like birthdays and anniversaries that you would like to celebrate with them by acknowledging them when they're coming up. That customer relationship management – or CRM – software also can help you keep track of when you last called each client, so as you make your plan, you can schedule your next call.
During those calls, listen for what your clients need, and realize that it probably won't have anything to do with what your company has to sell.
Right now, what they might need from you is a friendly ear, someone to empathize with, or a long chat about how much you're both missing the baseball season.
Take a genuine interest in what your clients say. Reciprocate by sharing your experience. It's friendly. It's kind. It's how to nurture a relationship that, frankly, is or should be more important than making a sale today.
Look for opportunities.
The better you get to know someone without the pressure of selling and buying – without the implicit understanding that you are interested in each other because money and services will change hands – the more you will understand that person's wants, needs, and problems. The better you understand that, the more valuable you will be to that client once the selling and buying resume.
Maybe the client will steer the conversation toward concerns at work. The client may take the opportunity to ask some questions about your products or services that he or she never had time to bring up with you during the rush of everyday business.
Take some notes. Get the answers to those questions. Follow up with information and suggestions for the client to consider at leisure. Don't push. Keep the conversation casual and personal. Then, when the two of you are ready to get back to business, you'll both be a step ahead for the next sale.
Of course, if your client wants to talk shop, go for it. People who are into their jobs, but who have little contact with their own clients and employees, might welcome the opportunity to bat around ideas, talk about the latest industry news, and get an update on who's doing what in your field.
If that's what the client needs or wants to talk about, you can be the one to fill that need.
Don't ask for the sale.
During routine times, every sales pro knows that the best way to close a sale is to ask for it. These aren't routine times.
Use this time to get to know your clients on a more personal level. Don't apply any pressure to buy or make decisions. Don't ask for the sale. Instead, ask what's up. Ask if you can call again. Ask about your client's family. Ask for recommendations for Netflix movies.
A "sale for tomorrow" call is not a regular sales call. It's a getting-to-know-you call. It's casual and personal. It's not about taking an order for your company. Again, if it's the client's wish to turn the conversation toward business, it's fine to go there. Just don't make it the reason for your call. In fact, if the client says he's ready to buy, by all means, make the sale.
Follow up with customers.
Best scenario: You turn your client into a real advocate for you, your products and your company. The customer who appreciates your attention during a crisis is likely to become an even more loyal customer of your company's once things settle down.
When everyone's back in place, remind your client about the friendly conversations in which he or she revealed a need that your company can certainly fill. But that's in the future. Right now, let your clients know how much you value them.
When's the last time you thanked clients for their loyalty? Of course, you thank them after every sale. But do you thank them simply for being your clients?
Now is the time.
Even clients you haven't been in touch with for years might appreciate an email or a text that simply says, "I'm just checking in. Thinking about how grateful I am for you. Hope all's well."
An expression of genuine gratitude can remind a long-ago client of a good experience with your company. And it can reinforce for a current client that doing business with someone who cares enough to reach out for no other reason than to check in and shoot the breeze is a pretty good way to do business.