By Harrell Kerkhoff, Maintenance Sales News Editor
No matter the business, no matter the industry, 2020 has been a trying year for most company owners, employees and clients. The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on the year, and many questions remain about 2021. Despite current hardships being felt by many people and companies involved in the jan/san industry, the good news is, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the blow, while also preparing for the post-COVID-19 world.
In a recent presentation, sales expert Jim Pancero, of Jim Pancero Inc. (www.pancero.com), discussed two realities to selling today — no matter the industry.
First, it’s going to take some time before the effects of COVID-19 finally wear off; and secondly, selling and buying today are currently going through a strong cultural shift. He recommended that business owners work hard at stabilizing their companies over the long haul, and to identify ways to stay in business through the next 12 months.
“In the early days (of the pandemic), many people were saying, ‘By fall, things will be back to normal,’” Pancero said. “Well, that’s not the current concensus. The question now asked is, ‘Will life ever get back to normal?’ My response is, ‘yes.’ If you visit history, the global 1918 flu pandemic (which lasted into 1920) was followed by the Roaring Twenties — a period of great economic prosperity.
“After the current pandemic finally subsides, there is a good chance life will come back strong. However, the question remains, ‘What do we do in the meantime?’ The reality is, this pandemic is going to continue for awhile.”
Pancero noted as well certain cultural changes that have taken place, related to overall business, since the pandemic’s onset. For one, more business people are using advanced technology to communicate.
“As a sales person, if I were to say one year ago, ‘Let’s set up a Zoom call,’ you probably would have thought, ‘Is he too cheap to get on an airplane and see me?’” Pancero said. “Today, everybody has been pushed and forced into understanding, and becoming comfortable, with Zoom or other forms of online communication.”
Pancero said such changes in communication are here to stay, even after the pandemic.
“Every time there has been a change in technology, as it pertains to the selling process, that change never reverts back to the old ways. A lot of people are calling the recent change, ‘Virtual Selling,’” Pancero said. “The big question is, how are you, as a business owner or sales manager, embracing change and new technology? It’s important to adjust and adapt.”
WHAT NOW? — 3 QUICK IDEAS
Despite life’s coronavirus-related challenges, there is hope. To make that point, Pancero quoted his friend W Mitchell (www.wmitchell.com), who was severely burned in a motorcycle accident and paralyzed in a plane crash. Despite such major setbacks that would have stopped many people, Mitchell has become a successful keynote speaker, author and business person. His well-known quote is: “It’s not what happens to you ... it’s what you do about it.”
“Life is really tough right now for many of us. If you run a company, however, my question is, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Pancero asked. “I have three suggestions.”
■ No. 1 — Get stable for the long haul: “A reality check is in order. This (pandemic) isn’t going to be corrected overnight. Therefore, what is your financial plan to survive over the next 12 months?” he said. “Have a plan in place for stability.”
■ No. 2 — It’s time to sell your way out of this: “How many economic recessions have you been through? I started my business in 1982 during a recession, and I think there have been six or seven recessions since then (the early 1980s). It seems that every six to eight years the economy slows. The question is, ‘What do you do about it?’” Pancero said. “For most people running a company, the first thing they do when the economy starts to slow down is to kill their costs. That is fine. The problem is, they usually don’t do anything else. Instead, they hibernate. The better option is to sell your way out of the problem. It’s important to be proactive.
“If you employ one or more people to sell, he/she should be calling on current and potential clients all of the time, and having conversations. However, if you do not have a salesperson, right now I believe you should at least be spending 30 percent of your time calling on customers, having conversations and selling.”
Calling on people during hard times is often an evolving process, he added. Questions that can be asked, in chronological order, include:
• Are you OK? How can I help?;
• How can I help complete outstanding orders and contracts?;
• What do we (the caller’s company) need to look like to be competitive moving forward?;
• What kind of products/services will you need when things turn around and open up?; and,
• Business is starting to open up, can I tell you how we can safely handle your business?
Pancero explained that each customer and industry may be going through a different phase of recovery. However, for business owners and sales managers, it’s important to understand what type of questions are best to ask during unprecedented times.
“Above all else, it’s important to develop a strong dialogue with people,” he said.
■ No. 3 — Conduct customer research: For those company owners/salespeople who have qualms about contacting specific customers during today’s uncertainties, a good way to reach such people is through “customer research,” according to Pancero.
“One of the best outreach programs is to call on customers and prospects and say, ‘I’m doing research to better understand what my company needs to do to be more competitive and helpful,’” Pancero said.
Five research questions can follow. They are:
• What are the greatest changes your buyers want and expect from you, and your company?
“By starting off with asking current or potential clients a question about what their own customers want, you will likely see where their mental state is at the moment, and what steps they see must be taken to satisfy customers,” Pancero said. “If they are going to have to do more for customers, they may express added sympathy for your efforts as well.”
• What changes have you made as a company, and what are you doing differently, to better support customers during the pandemic?
Pancero said he would caution salespeople from being “too pushy” during the current economic climate brought on by the pandemic. It’s better to stick to research-related questions.
• What is it going to take for any of us to gain a competitive edge in this new marketplace?
According to Pancero, the idea behind that type of question is to get a better feel for the differentiating factors that will allow future business activities to succeed.
• Before the virus — what do you most wish we (the caller’s company) would have done differently while selling to, and supporting, you?
“That is asked to see if there are certains things you, and your company, can improve on once the pandemic subsides,” Pancero said.
• Moving forward, what can we do in the future to become a better partner for you, and a better supporter of your business?
“The main idea to asking such research questions is to build dialogue with current, and potential, customers,” Pancero said. “Notice that with those questions, there is no pitching of products or specials. You are just trying to understand and listen — finding out what people want for the future.”
Pancero stressed the importance of listening during the selling process.
“There is an old saying, ‘You have two ears and one mouth, use them in the appropriate percentages,’” he said. “Another good quote is, ‘People are not going to care about what you have to say until they know you care about them.’”
One of the best ways to lower resistance during a sales process is to demonstrate essential listening skills, Pancero added. It’s also important to allow current and potential customers to have the last word during a conversation — something that is hard for some salespeople to do, but shows proper respect.
He also noted companies that deliver a sense of “cleanliness” and “safety” when it comes to their products and services can gain a competitive edge in today’s COVID-19 environment. It’s therefore important to convey that message to the public, such as posting a video on a company website showing how to properly use sanitizers and disinfectants.
“Your goal should be that of providing the lowest risk possible (to coronavirus exposure), while still fulfilling a customer’s expectations and requirements,” Pancero said. “(The focus on cleanliness and safety) is a hot button in today’s selling process, and needs to be incorporated in what you say, and do, as a company.”
He added that focus opens the conversation about “value versus price,” along with “critical differentiators” a company can provide for the benefit of a client.