Businesses are increasingly anxious about customer demand and optimism, as the coronavirus crisis abates.
Authored by: Ankush Khosla
The world is predictably concerned and waiting for a vaccine to wriggle out of the current COVID-19 crisis, to be able to contain it and eventually eradicate it. Yet, there is another concern that is hovering over business fortunes of Corporates globally. The pandemic has pressed a reset button for brands, shunning all foundations of customer loyalty, trust and confidence, which are being put to test. Businesses are increasingly anxious about customer demand and optimism, as the crisis abates.
During these unprecedented times, the problem has been compounded by the disruption in household income and job losses. This global crisis is as much about lifting the spirits and regaining customer confidence, as it is about their safety. It has left leadership with an even greater sense of fear than experienced in the 2008 recession. Managing all this in the new era will be a lot dependent on how willing are the CEOs, Leadership and the Executive teams, to move away from their comfort zone into the ‘unknown’ normal.
Organisations that are agile in taking the right steps to protect their revenue streams while being ready to uncover avenues for growth, shall sustain the shock. This means more pressure on the sales organisation. Maintaining sales performance in the new normal will need a new mindset and in my opinion, the sales organisation will have to keep these steps into consideration.
Reassess the customer:
Let’s accept there is a lack of complete visibility of how COVID is impacting the customer, which means that the brands will have to reassess the customer needs and interests. Customers often have more pressing matters than buying things. With changing incomes, focus and budget insecurities, customer loyalty and trust have been put to test. For the brands to successfully lead, it is imperative that the customer interest is of prime focus in building a business strategy for the brand. Customer experience with empathy will be the differentiator. Compassionate brands will gain customer confidence, trust and loyalty in the long run. Brands should put together an outreach program to consistently and continually reach the customers with a smart mix of ATL campaigns, gamification, social media engagement and others.
Renew revenue streams: On the one hand, sales is facing anxiety about the top line and bottom line, on the other, these times have brought new revenue streams too. In these times the sales organisations should build an agile business model to retain, recapture and expand the revenue streams rather than sticking to a single, unchanging plan. In order to do so, businesses should take a deeper understanding of customer response to the long lockdown and new acquired insecurities to build a renewed go-to-market strategy with product innovations, more digital partnerships, newer geographies, newly discovered customer segments, selling through social distancing and more. It is during these times that the sales team will have to go beyond the obvious and explore the un-walked pastures.
Virtual selling: The increasing preference for contact-less online transactions has emerged as a major trend and is gaining preference in consumer purchases as well. There was already a shift towards online models in after-sales with an increase in online booking of appointments, doorstep pickup/delivery and online payments. Several brands have by now recognised this trend and launched a complete online buying experience, starting from initial inquiries and customisation of features, to booking, financing and delivering virtually. Contactless doesn’t mean disconnect, while there will always be a section of customers that continue to prefer the traditional route of buying a product, the increasing acceptance of online shopping may ultimately reduce the dependence on showroom/outlet type of buying. The need is for the companies to utilise the surplus wherewithal to focus on delivering superior customer experience by ensuring a frictionless path to purchase in a virtual world in order to benefit from this trend.
Keep the sales team focussed: Selling has never been easy, it has always been a mix-bag of rejections and acceptance. The sales teams are faced with more than one challenge—pressure to sell, ensuring safety for them and family; probably for some it is to unlearn the selling tactics as their key tool of face-to-face selling has been taken away by the virtual selling. Keeping the team motivated in these times is critical to achieve the business objectives and get the revenue going. Training is always essential and even more today, as the sales is coping with the new remote/virtual selling skills and being empathetic towards the customers—‘It’s not just a sales pitch’.
Businesses have to liberally use AI and Data analytics to provide the sales function with new customer insights. While the previous approach of meeting, dining and interacting physically with a customer will take a while to return, new ways of working in the new normal with new customer expectations is actually a change that was impending action and now will be accelerated. Now that consumer priorities are shifting, brands which can be agile enough to quickly cater to these new unmet needs will stay on. Sales people can drive this change with a realistic view of customer demand and supply, perceptions, attitudes, and spending changes as they evolve.
Several companies have already adopted, and others are continuously working to define the best models of working in their industry. The NBFCs, for example, are doing their bit to manage stress levels by looking for additional sources to access the creditworthiness of customers along with the current ones in place. NBFCs are even doing the first level of screening of customers through various Income Proofs, mandatory physical KYC, followed by home visits. Products portfolios too are being reconstructed and diversified to improve the bottom line.
Essentially, every aspect of the sales organisation will quicken down the path of digital value and innovation. Sales managers will learn to coach and manage work and teams remotely by leveraging technology to make sales recruiting, training, and other programs more effective and efficient.
One would need to wait and watch how these small and big changes can rejuvenate the fortunes of many dormant businesses who are quick to act and determined to stay afloat.
—Ankush Khosla is Chief Sales Officer, Home Credit India. The views expressed are personal
First Published: IST