Getting Back to the Basics of Selling in the Age of COVID-19

Fire Ants Swarming

Have you ever accidentally stepped on a fire ant nest? It isn’t pretty, and it redefines the meaning of the term “swarming”. It also reminds me of exactly what’s taking place right now. There are more self-proclaimed experts at working from home, selling remotely, podcasting, videoconferencing, and every manner of virtual communication crawling out of the ground than I ever imagined. I’m half-expecting an invite to a Zoom webinar tomorrow morning where an expert in Cherokee smoke signals to tell us how to virtually order Chick-Fil-A via Uber Eats with a blanket and a smoldering pile of spruce branches. Ay caramba…

How about we just roll the clock back to, say, 1995. Half a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Back then, there was this magical, mysterious device called a telephone which, believe it or not, actually allowed two human beings to talk to each other – which is precisely what people want and need for the next few weeks as they wrestle with their darkest, news media-fueled fears about death, recession, and bankruptcy. Admit it; you’ve had more meaningful conversations over the past couple of weeks than you’ve had since Labor Day. You’ve spoken to strangers while playing Hunger Games in the Costco toilet paper aisle, maybe even sharing a laugh or two. You’ve waved to that neighbor two doors down whose name you have no clue of. You’re finding out a few new and “interesting” things about whoever cohabitates with you while you’re both under house arrest. What’s the common denominator to all these events? Your mouth and your ears, the latter being something you may have fallen out of touch with.

I’m sure that at some point we’ve all seen Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – well, I say “I’m sure,” but given what’s being taught in common core these days, I guess there are no guarantees. People have been pushed down Maslow’s pyramid, to their basic physiological and safety needs. Until those needs are met, people are not nearly as focused on their psychological and self-fulfillment needs, which I believe is where people need to be in order to make business decisions. In other words, how you’ve been selling in the past, won’t work at this point in time – your messaging is largely falling on deaf ears. What we might consider doing is, over the next week or two, simply reaching out to people to see how they’re doing, without discussing products or services. You’ll be fulfilling their need for friendship, and empathizing with them will create a sense of belonging. People are, at their core, social animals, and social distancing runs counter to human nature. Now is the time to foster relationships, not sell products and services. And, by doing so, people are more apt to remember you when this crisis subsides.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

And, as hard as this might be to believe, some people are going to struggle with such a conversation. So, here’s a freebie script you might try:

“Hi. I’m Bob from ABC widgets. You know, normally I’d be calling to find out if what we had was something you needed, and I’d be asking if it was okay to follow up with you at a later time and maybe even set an appointment so we could meet each other. But you know what? These aren’t normal times. I’ve had more conversations with people who are genuinely frightened about the next couple of months than I can count. So instead of trying to sell something, I’m going to do exactly the opposite of what my sales manager is telling me to do – I just want to know if what you’re experiencing is the same thing everyone else is experiencing, and what your crystal ball is telling you is going to happen in the future.”

That should take you about 30 seconds. Then, shut up, listen, take notes, let the person on the other end of the phone guide the conversation, and respond in kind. Swap stories and be sure to tell the other person how you feel about things as you tell yours. Don’t bring up business – let them bring it up. Trust me, if the person wants to talk business, they’ll tell you. They’ll probably be dumbfounded, and they’ll remember you. They’ll say, “Is that really all you wanted?” And you’ll say, “Yep, that was it. I might call you again in a few days, though, once things have settled down a bit and we all get back to business. Would that be okay?” Odds are, they’ll say yes, and might even tell you when a good time to call back again might be. Honesty and authenticity will win you more deals than you ever thought possible.

So before sitting in on any one of the 1,400 webinars out there on completely retooling your game during this COVID-19 fiasco, which is guaranteed to be temporary by the way, getting all frustrated as you learn new software and squabble for that same sliver of Internet bandwidth every other person is vying for right now, how about you practice with the technology God gave you when you were born. If you’ve already got the wherewithal to add visuals to the mix so you can see each other (and most do these days, via Facetime or some other phone app), then by all means leverage it. But remember that all the gadgetry, opinions, tips, and tricks from all the “experts” in the world won’t help you a bit if you can’t talk to another person like a human being. And the best part? Honing your ability to connect with another person by voice will pay handsome dividends when the dust settles.

Be human and sell well.

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