As a sales professional, you already know that customer engagement is imperative for long-term success and client value. Retaining and growing client accounts is cheaper and easier than replacing them. Strong customer engagement helps to maximize current revenue opportunities, and creates long-term value.
None of this changes during a crisis like COVID-19, but crises bring a unique opportunity to engage existing customers. Engaging customers enables your company to position itself for a strong rebound once this situation is in the rear-view mirror.
Here are 5 ways to engage with customers during this crisis.
#1 Understand the Impact
Research has long established that strong connections with customers begin with understanding their needs. Stay engaged with existing clients by understanding how COVID-19 has changed their business priorities, and learn what new needs and challenges they have.
You can start by using your sales and account data to understand how the crisis has impacted your customer’s finances. According to the Harvard Business Review, consumers tend to fall in four categories during a recession:
- Slam-on-the-brakes: These are the hardest hit, and reduce all types of spending. Companies in the travel and service industries likely fall under this category.
- Pained-but-patient: These customers economize, but less aggressively than the slam-on-the-brakes category. This includes the majority of customers.
- Comfortably well-off: This segment consumes at near-pre-crisis levels, but tends to be more selective about purchases. This may include companies who have grown during the crisis, such as cloud software and meeting hosts.
- Live-for-today: These consumers carry on as usual, but respond to the crisis by extending timetables for making major purchases.
Although HBR focuses on consumers in a recession, there are obvious parallels to business firms during COVID-19. When you combine your data insights with a conversation with your customer, you’ll be able to identify which segment they fall under and how their buying behavior may change in the coming months and years.
#2 Offer Exclusive Products and Offers
Take advantage of the COVID-19 situation by offering new pilots or meaningful ways of engaging with the customer. Customers are already financially stressed, so utilize the current situation to offer free guides, or test new offers for free, and after the pandemic, convert them to paid offers.
Here are some key questions to consider:
- Are there specific products and solutions that may help the customer?
Use existing sales intelligence and account data from your CRM to proactively identify white space opportunities that exist during the crisis. Uncover solutions they haven’t asked for and present solutions to business challenges they may not know exist.
- Has your company developed playbooks to address your customers’ needs during COVID-19?
Offering free playbooks is an easy way to open a new sales opportunity without being pushy. Compile what you learned about how the coronavirus is impacting your customers into a coronavirus playbook.
For example, Salesforce launched a website and playbook to support its users’ return to the workplace. Illustrate the different problems customers face with the crisis, showcase how they are responding to it, and give insights based on your own experience and expertise.
- Can you test certain offers you had on the back-burner?
Partner with customers to develop these offers. Propose to collaborate to brainstorm solutions to help them deal with their new priorities during COVID-19. Look for ways to generate goodwill by linking new business opportunities to clients’ initiatives.
For example, Paypal is responding to the crisis by waiving merchant chargeback fees, allowing merchants to defer repayment on business loans, and doubling the cash back reward for their Business Debit Mastercard. Look for a similar way to remind your customers you are there for them.
#3 Engage Your Clients Digitally
Just because you can’t have lunch or host an on-site meeting with them shouldn’t prevent you from interacting with your clients. Digital engagement has never been easier thanks to platforms like:
- Zoom Meetings
- Adobe Connect
- Google Hangouts
- Automated communications platforms like Zendesk, HubSpot, and NetSuite
They offer easy, low-cost ways to connect with customers one-on-one or as part of a hosted event. Hosting a webinar is a great way to help your customers feel like they’re part of a select group, while providing them valuable insights, information, and tools they can use now or down the road to support their operations.
Use your sales and account planning data to segment accounts, such as by industry, priorities, or their status in the sales pipeline. Invite each segment to a webinar dedicated to their specific concerns and buying behavior.
Webinars can include:
- Sharing information customers are looking for
- Leading discussions about how COVID-19 is impacting their operations
- Inviting attendees to ask questions and give feedback on your product roadmap.
Some companies use webinars to force their solutions down customers’ throats. Stand out by giving customers a way to learn something useful and interact with each other.
#4 Understand Your Clients’ Buying Center Changes
Despite government programs like the Employee retention credit, many organizations have a lot of staff turnover at this time. Keep updated with changes in the client’s organization and track them in your relationship maps.
A few types of people you can monitor include:
- Potential decision makers in an upcoming purchase, which could include six to 10 people for a complex B2B solution, according to Gartner
- Finance departments, who will monitor the budget for any purchase
- Gatekeepers, such as executive assistants
- Other decision influencers, such as end users of your solution
By monitoring any employee updates, you’ll align your sales process with your customer’s unique buying process.
#5 Stay Abreast with Competitor News
See what you can learn from competitors about how the coronavirus is affecting their organization. Success leaves clues, and so does failure. If you uncover what your competitor is up to during the crisis, you can clearly delineate your approach in future conversations.
Monitor updates in a few ways:
- Read your competitors’ blogs, press releases, and LinkedIn page updates
- “Secret shop” their premium content, downloading eBooks and white papers to understand their messaging and solution offers to compare with yours.
- Set up Google Alerts for each competitor to receive daily or weekly emails updating you whenever they are mentioned online
- Sign up to their email newsletter to learn what they’re communicating to their customers (use your personal email address)
- Ask your customers for any insights they may have on your competitors
Use any insights you gain to proactively communicate with your existing customers and develop campaigns around particularly high-profile or high-impact business challenges you can help them solve.
The current crisis environment is challenging for sales and finance teams. Many organizations in your pipeline are likely in a state of disruption. Your buyers will adjust their priorities, and you must adapt to leverage new opportunities. If you follow these five steps, you’ll engage your customers and position your company for long-term growth once the COVID-19 crisis is past.
Learn more about how ForecastEra can help you define your sales process and improve your forecasting and account planning capabilities. Contact us for a demo.