Beer, Golf and Pandemics – The 2021 Salesperson
I will refer to them as “traditional thinkers” but you know who you are. Golf, beer, the occasional off color joke that people uncomfortably laugh at and then quickly change the subject.
The salespeople of the 80s and 90s and even up to 2020. With your expense reports and frequent flier miles, they know you at Barry’s Tavern and you even have your own mug to impress your clients. You get points at the local steak house because you take your customers there so often to “close the deal.” Well the last 24 months have not bode well for you my friends.
The built environment ecosystem went virtual – completely online for a short period of time, though it felt like forever. Four putt Fred couldn’t take his buddies to the Back 9 for an afternoon and he was paralyzed. Dunkin Donut Dave couldn’t show up with his Cleveland Brown stats and impress the subcontractors he sells to with his Fantasy scores from Sunday’s game. Paralysis. The sales industry in building materials (and many other things) was frozen in place.
What’s a fella to do? This is where it gets interesting. Nimble companies had to act fast, figure out where their customers were and try to reach them through the internet. Some did it quickly and some just looked at it open-mouthed and drooling, lamenting their altered state of ineptitude at the hands of fate.
Below is a brief history of sales during the pandemic, from our perspective, for the companies that were able to adapt quickly and didn’t sit around polishing their golf clubs in anticipation of a better day.
Follow up on existing projects. Email outreach to existing customers to find out if projects are active or on hold. Come on, you’re sitting at home, no new projects are coming in, follow up on what is there. (Effect: customers inundated with emails, annoying)
Virtual Product Presentations – Immediately try to flip in person meetings to virtual and try to get more virtual meetings. Zoom, Google Meet or Teams technology needs to be tight Don’t have some wonky camera or microphone issues.
Webinars. If these were interesting topics, kudos to you, lunch and learns are out, some are virtual, but a lot of professionals need their education credits, and this is a good way to get in front of people with a value add topic and then pivot to your brand or products. (Effect: after 12 months everyone was doing this and it loses value, so topics need to be even MORE interesting and relevant)
Basic Databases – some companies invested in platforms like Construct Connect (iSqFt, Insight) or Dodge to build out their target project list or see what their competition was doing. These are useful to mine for contacts and projects, but you have to have the data team and resources to comb through drawings, information and ensure that follow up is happening.
Now, the really innovative companies, which I would consider us to be, went even further during this time and did the following:
Leverage your people WTH – I can’t sell? These guys are sitting at home WANTING to do more, because travel and planning for travel and in person meetings was 60% of their time. Assign them other areas where they can create content. Got a design savvy saleslady… have her create Instagram posts. Good writers in the mix, have them write blog posts. DIY dude on the docket, have him build some things and shoot videos for media content.
Lost. Get Found. – Where are people looking for information? In our industry they quickly started looking at other platforms, which we wrote about here. Many of these offer free listings, and enhanced paid options. If you know that people are looking online, get online in as many places as you can. Profile your industry and get found.
Invest your in-person expenses online. It can be scary to think that you may never get to play with Four Putt Fred again, but think about the money you saved not paying $99 for the tomahawk steak at Ruth’s Chris and the greens fees! But don’t squirrel away what you would have squandered on your outdated sales techniques. Spend money in the right places like lead generation online, data platforms and resources to mine that information and create valuable reports that show you what the market is doing, where and how you stack up to your competition. Data is the new day drinking in sales during a pandemic. As the lead funnel dries up for in person meetings, data driven lead gen is necessary to help keep that funnel full.
Sales techniques were already changing and 2020 and 2021 sped up that process. Your ability to create value shifted from picking up the tab to picking up the Slack. It now matters how deep your technical knowledge is, not how deep your bench looks in your fantasy league. How quickly are you going to respond, not how quickly the bartender comes running over. Of course it is important to engage on a personal level, that will always be the case. We love our customers and are so excited to be back engaging with them, indulging their pescatarian and gluten free diets, hosting wine and cheese happy hours, while answering technical questions and pointing them to the many platforms where they can find our products, installation shots, sustainability documentation, BIM models and the other tools they need to operate more efficiently in an online world. Sorry Many Mimosa Missy, you’re fun, but you have to do more. The last two years made it so.