Massive change is upon us. Speculation about how governments and business will handle the COVID-19 crisis has given way to a new quarantine reality. The good old-fashioned handshake is out. Social distancing is in. As those of us in sales and customer-facing roles try to navigate the new work-from-home reality, we thought it would be a good time to offer some strategies for how to stay productive and keep momentum (and morale) as high as possible.
Certain industries and professions are particularly impacted by the COVID-19 social distance paradigm. Hospitality, food and beverage, personal care services, airlines and sales professionals from virtually every industry are facing forced restrictions on how they can conduct business — or whether they can conduct business at all.
The idea of a remote workforce isn’t new, but massive, mandatory, quarantine certainly is. Fortunately, newer technologies offer many solutions for keeping business relationships on track. But just like a successful sales plan, you need a COVID-19 plan to make the most of these trying times.
If we knew this crisis would be a short-term bump in the road for a week or two, it might be a good time to think about some unplanned R&R. Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to see when the crisis will end or when business as usual will return. What we do know, is that many corporate offices, as well as local agencies and independent firms are closing their doors today due to the outbreak.
Will we return to unfettered air travel, free- flowing mass transit, big conferences and
conventions, and friendly handshakes? Or will there be a permanent shift to a more
distanced way of doing business?
The reality is, the on-site workforce began shrinking long before anyone ever heard of the Coronavirus, COVID-19. At the same time, telecommuting and virtual meetings have been on a steady rise. Even health- care sectors have begun to introduce virtual exams, diagnostics and mail-order prescription fulfillment.
Global Workforce Analytics reported last week that the work-from-home trend has grown by 173 percent since 2005, with approximately five million people working from home before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Image source: Global Workplace Analytics, 2016
Considering the clear trend toward more e-business in general, doesn’t it seem logical to embrace the concept of e-sales?
Creating a COVID-19 Response Plan
Of course, many sales professionals have worked from their homes for many years, though they’ve done it with the freedom to conduct face-to-face meetings with customers and leads. They’ve worked the trade-room floors and hosted seminars and dinners to build their reputations and their pipelines.
Well, those days are over, or at least on hold. It’s time to create a plan that uses technology to reach customers, connect with leads and maintain a healthy pipeline. Here are some steps you can take to take advantage of the virtual business trend:
- Create a professional home office environment. The same emphasis your workplace gives to your chair, desk and office ergonomics should be given to your at-home work space. If your voice echoes on a call, or if irritating background noise makes it hard to hear what you’re saying, your customers aren’t going to want to talk with you remotely. If your chair gives you back pain, or the glare from a window makes it impossible to see your computer screen, you’re not going to be very productive.
- Get wired in. Make sure your computer is free from viruses and anything else that could slow it down. Test your internet speed, and take any recommended steps to optimize the speed. Invest in a high-quality headset and camera so you can conduct professional calls and web meetings without noisy at-home distractions like children playing, dogs barking or Amazon Prime ringing the doorbell.
Tip: Find out what resources your home office has available to optimize your at-home work space. Make sure you have the current version of any software you need to maintain top performance.
- Be proactive. Reach out by email and phone to your contacts and customers to let them know how you’re doing business in the new quarantine reality. Chances are, you’ve received emails from your bank, utility companies and other vendors explaining what they’re doing to monitor news from the Centers for Disease Control, keep business on track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Write something similar, with a personal touch that shows your contacts that you remain available to them and are very much “in business.” Use your phone to make personal contact, and stay top of mind even when you can’t remain in sight.
Tip: While you’re taking the time to explain what you’re doing to maintain business close to usual at this time, it’s a good idea to ask your contacts how you can help them do the same thing.
- Plan ahead. Plan regular calls with your team and/or clients, schedule online training
and education courses, and organize virtual events such as web presentations or lunch- break Q&A sessions. Don’t let anyone wonder where you are these days or if you’re still being productive. Make sure they know.
Tip: We all wish we had the time to catch up on our CE or required compliance requirements. Likewise, this could be the perfect time to engage in analyzing your sales and marketing strategies. You may finally have the time to take steps to eliminate those skill gaps or put forth a new strategy to move into a new market or expand your services with cross selling opportunities.
- Establish a routine. You already know that successful sales professionals are disciplined in their daily routines. It’s just as important now to maintain a routine. Think of ways to replace commute time with self-care or ongoing education, and face-to-face
meetings with teleconferences. Put your new routine on your calendar, and execute it faithfully.
- Value your health. Working from home does not mean chaining yourself to your desk. In these times more than ever, getting some fresh air, exercise and proper nutrition can help you stay healthy.
Tip: If you do catch a cold or the flu, resist any temptation to tell the world about it on your online social channels. Conveying a healthy state of mind and body reminds the world that you are just as productive from home as you are at the office. And of course, if you believe you may have symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor immediately.