Future of the sales pitch in COVID times, and beyond

On 2nd of November, the popular fast-food chain Burger King made a surprising appeal to customers. In a short textual ad, the company urged its patrons to order from archrival McDonald’s too in these trying times, when businesses have been struggling. In a sector marred with a long history of cut-throat competition – remember the burger wars of the ‘70s and ‘80s – such a move is unheard of.

The pandemic, however, calls for bold measures. By endorsing a rival company to its customers in the middle of a pandemic, Burger King not just aced a subtle sales pitch for its own company but did it in the most empathetic way possible.

Burger King’s unusual messaging, in many ways validates the digital inflection point we are in, where B2B sales will fundamentally be different from before the pandemic. A case in point is virtual selling, which has quickly emerged as a more than viable alternative to face-to-face pitching.

According to a McKinsey report – The B2B Digital Inflection Point: How Sales Have Changed During COVID-19 – over 90% of the sales across 11 countries surveyed have “moved to a video conference/phone/web sales model, and more than half believe this is equally or more effective than sales models used before COVID-19.”

Subsequently, promotional email open rates have plummeted during the COVID-19 crisis, but similar emails that acknowledged the pandemic saw a 41% increase in open rates in March, according to Worldata. A hard-selling sales pitch, crammed with tone-deaf corporate-speak, and a straightjacket approach can eventually backfire, as customers need an empathetic touch to business deals today more than ever. The reality necessitates that sales functions across organizations increasingly align with what and how the customer thinks.

Leading with Empathy

It is safe to say that empathy is the big currency in sales, especially in a scenario where over 50% of B2B buyers are holding back on purchases because of the pandemic. The decision-makers are likely to respond to outreach in the current scenario only if our sales pitch provides a highly relevant value proposition.

How we project ourselves to our clients during this pandemic could impact how they see us for years to come. This need for a personalized connect is directly stemming from the customers, who in the face of unprecedented and unique challenges are demanding tailor-made solutions.

  • Listen to what your clients have to say. Tap into their conversations on social media channels, extrapolate patterns, and design solutions for a potential customer accordingly. Companies at this juncture, for instance, are more likely to gravitate towards solutions that offer long-term business resiliency and continuity.
  • In this context, it makes little sense to be grandiose about what your product and service offerings can do. Focus rather on how your product can make an impact in bridging specific business gaps in your clients’ operations.
  • To do this, leverage storytelling in your sales pitches. Be aware of the current challenges, empower your sales executives with different approaches in dealing with a problem, and build a narrative around these insights.

Tech giant Apple Inc. embodies customer-centricity seamlessly in its sales approach. Ever wondered why Apple products and applications are such a rage amongst people despite the premium pricing? Apple’s “Creativity Goes on” campaign that was released in the middle of the worldwide lockdown in June, highlighted how creative professionals are seamlessly leveraging their technologies to connect virtually and collaborate on projects. Even before the pandemic, Apple’s people-oriented ad series released a slew of targeted campaigns such as “Music every day” and “Photos every day,” that subtly plugged gadgets into the everyday routine of its customers.

There’s one thing common in Apple’s messaging in all its campaigns. The technology giant chooses not to endorse its products and services per se, but seeks to instill what they can do for you.

Making a sales pitch, therefore, is not merely about exchanging products/services for currency; at least, not anymore. It is rather all about knowing, understanding, and predicting the business needs of clients, be they existing or prospective.

The Tech Angle

Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help simplify the complex task of knowing your customer. Adopting a human-ware approach can significantly reduce the reaction time of sales executives by providing them with key customer insights. These insights in turn can be instrumental in impacting case-by-case practical changes in sales pitches, to improve the overall experience.

If used right, data analytics and AI can transform how sales teams interact with customers and also the patterns of customer acquisition in the near future. Of course, agile innovation is equally imperative for sales teams to base their pitches on. Integrating technology for decision-making can help in building an adaptive sales strategy by quickly identifying growth pockets; what are customers buying and at what prices; how are they buying; how are new markets emerging, and how others are reinventing.

Of all the potential business lessons to be learned from the current crisis, none may be greater than the importance of agility. By innovating rapidly, the sales community can not only overcome this crisis, but also pave the way for new and effective paradigms going forward, just like Burger King did.

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