COVID Client Hide-and-Seek
At some point this past spring, the game began. The Centers for Disease Control counted to 10 and everyone scattered. Kids came home from school and went to their room. Visitors went back where they belong. City-dwellers became country folk. And customers left their offices.
It didn’t matter if you had your eyes closed or not (although eyes-closed is probably the best way to handle 2020), your clients have been hiding ever since while you diligently seek them out by every means possible. When you stopped by, the door was locked and the sign read, “We are socially distancing from salespeople. Good luck finding us. Neener-neener.” When you called, you got voicemail: “Hi. I’m here but I won’t return your call.” Email messages disappeared into the abyss.
Ever since coronavirus became a thing, you have been trying to connect with customers and prospects and, while you love a challenge you must admit, these folks are as good at dodging you as Bigfoot is at avoiding cameras.
Old Game With New Rules
This game is not new. Even before the pandemic, customers were difficult to get a hold of. Caller ID let them know who was calling, and voicemail gave them the ability to screen calls. Between these two technological avoidance techniques, they had built a pretty good defense system. Then COVID-19 hit, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any more difficult, it did.
Now, your phone call efforts feel the same as calling a radio station trying to win Springsteen tickets, but even being the lucky 25th caller doesn’t help. You feel as though you’re lined up for the new iPhone, but the Apple store has moved to an undisclosed location it isn’t sharing with anyone.
It’s as if you’ve bought something from IKEA, but the instructions are printed with invisible ink. Actually, scratch that last one. It’s impossible to make IKEA instructions any more difficult than they already are. But you get the point.
An article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dallas) said Big D was number one in America in terms of percentage of workers back at their office. But even they were only at 36%. Parking lots outside of office buildings, which once held 100 cars, now have only 25.
And tomorrow, there will be a different 25 as workers come to work every other day — a tag team system that ensures no more than 25 people get exposed in the event of a positive COVID test.
Back to the Basics
All of this leaves the humble sales rep frustrated. It’s as if the entire print-buying country has joined the Witness Protection Program. But we are a hardy bunch and quite used to overcoming obstacles. We are also used to returning to the fundamentals of sales as a way of solving any riddle life throws out way. For no matter the circumstance, trust the basics. What worked then (pre-COVID) will work now.
Once upon a time, there were only three ways to get in touch with someone: phone call, U.S. mail, and in-person visit. Along came the Internet and cellular technology, and options such as email and texting were added.
Cell phones gave us the chance to bypass gatekeepers entirely. But these communication mediums only work when the recipient is on the other end. Customers working remotely have eliminated face-to-face visits, masked or otherwise.
And sending a letter or postcard will only pile up at the door like Harry Potter’s invitation to attend Hogwarts. That leaves only a few options to contact customers, and one very important option to get them to contact us.
Some Outreach Options Remain
First, there’s the telephone. Despite the fact that people are working from home, this is still an option. Make the assumption calls are being rerouted to cell phones automatically and go about your normal communication attempts. Just remember, the key to success via this option lies in the quality of the message.
Boring “Are you the person who buys the print?” calls will not be returned. Your best chance is to have something of value to say, and that comes from understanding their business needs and how you can meet them. Leave a well-researched voicemail message and follow-up with calls that add value.
Second, email. Without question, customers and prospects are receiving electronic messages. Nothing has changed here, either, so continue with this communication medium.
But again, seek to send emails worth reading. That is, after typing something out, review it and ask, “Is this something I would respond to?”
The third vehicle is LinkedIn. If you put yourself in the client’s shoes, you can see why connection requests via LinkedIn are viewed with caution. Who wants to be deluged with people who will only pound away with a sales pitch? There are two side doors to try.
One is to try joining groups. Imagine being in a meeting and the woman at the other end of the table is making some really good points. That’s probably someone you’d want to meet, right? Participating in a LinkedIn group discussion acts the same way. Find the contact you believe is a decision-maker. Learn from their profile which groups he/she belongs to, and request admission. Then, get involved in the conversation.
Get Prospects to Contact You
And finally, there’s marketing. There is no better way to connect with a prospect who is in hiding than to get them to contact you. That is achieved through effectively building and supporting a brand, as well as telling success stories that scream, “Look at what we did for someone else. If you have this problem, too, we can solve it for you.”
Imagine creating a simple YouTube video that tells the tale of a solution you recently created. First, you go over the background and describe the situation. Next, you talk about your brilliant idea and even show samples.
The third step is to discuss the outcome. What was the result? Give numbers. Quote the happy client. Celebrate your victory. This can be done inexpensively (for example, a PowerPoint presentation with voiceover), or as a polished and slick production by an outside agency.
Once you have a few of these marketing videos completed, post them on LinkedIn (that’s the other side door, by the way) and watch the views add up. A continuing campaign of success stories establishes you and your company as a solutions-based problem-solver. In the land of me-too printers, this is your ultimate goal, and the path to profitability.
The fundamentals of sales are COVID-proof. A strong message is critical. Diligence is king. The solutions-based sale still rules. Put these elements together and make one very important assumption when it seems no one is on the other end. Believe the customer is listening. Make the positive assumption someone is paying attention and receiving your message. Act as if you are completely confident your sales efforts will pay off in time. This certainty resonates in your voice and will actually aid you in your success (the client can hear every emotion you are having).
One final thought: Your competition has given up. They do not read Printing Impressions. They are on their heels, on their knees, or in the fetal position wondering what to do next. Take advantage and stick to your sales fundamentals.
If you stick with it, success will come faster than you can holler, “Ollie-Ollie-in-come-free!” l