By Kendra Olney Lee
I can picture a future where we return to restaurants, local shops and baseball games. I can’t see us returning to work in the exact same way we operated before the pandemic hit. More people will want to work from home and business owners will move to remote environments to save money. This is great news for anyone who wants to work in their pajamas. It’s less ideal for salespeople who traditionally used in-person meetings, drop-by cold calling and events to connect with prospects.
Adapt and evolve, now
Earlier this year, before widespread restrictions went into effect, we ran a poll asking salespeople which prospecting strategies they used and what was working. The graph below is a snapshot of how sales reps prospected before the pandemic upended life. It can help us pave a new path forward for post-pandemic prospecting.
Calling and emailing led the way at the time and are increasingly important as we practice social distancing. But, how you reach out needs to change to reflect the new reality. The pandemic has changed how we prospect, and I don’t see it going back. Digital strategies are critical for attracting prospects and setting appointments today and will continue to be important post-pandemic.
Use the 5 steps I outline in this article to capture your prospects’ attention, evolve your messaging and employ new methods to start compelling conversations. When in-person activities resume, mix the digital approaches into your traditional prospecting strategy to add variety and provide safe, convenient alternatives.
1. Change the Tone of Your Emails
Sending an email to a prospect was the top choice before COVID-19 and will continue to lead the way for the foreseeable future. But, you can’t send the same quick, straight-to-the-point messages you wrote pre-pandemic. You can’t copy-paste text from the messages you sent at the start of the pandemic either. Situations are changing overnight.
Have a good pulse on your target markets. Use check-in questions like: Where are you in the process? How’s your business changing? How are you and your staff?
Take a moment for empathy
We devoted one session of our Generating Leads in Uncertain Times Coffee with Kendra webinar series to email prospecting and how to write messages tailored to the current situation. Instead of cutting straight to the point, we told people to be empathetic. How you do this will depend on if you’re sending a prospecting or lead generation email.
- Prospecting: Connect about being stuck at home, homeschooling kids, missing restaurants, returning to the office, retail re-opening
- Lead Generation: Acknowledge the situation, recognize the challenge, offer a solution
2. Keep Calling
Many of your prospects probably didn’t have office lines or call-forwarding when they first started working from home. As people move to a permanent remote setup, this will change, but don’t expect it to be easier to reach them. This isn’t an “out” allowing you to only send emails or LinkedIn messages. Cold calling is here to stay, and I can tell you from my own experience, people are still willing to talk.
Yes, it’s harder to reach prospects by phone, but to do business, there has to be a way to reach them. Use the phone numbers you have and leave voicemails. Follow the Bloodhound Follow-Up Strategy for Uncertain Times that we shared in both the prospecting methods and webinar planning Coffee with Kendra events to mix voicemail and email. Eventually, people will respond. (More on this in step #5)
Be genuine and focus on your prospect
Empathy extends to calls too, in post-pandemic prospecting. After checking in about adjusting to work-from-home or if they have a pet they consider their new “coworker,” use a question like What changes are you making? to pivot the conversation to their business issues. Let the conversation flow from there.
Ask additional follow-up questions consultatively and conversationally to better understand their situation and qualify if the contact fits your ideal prospect. Hard-hitting, direct sales questioning will alienate many prospects, so be mindful of the tone you use.
Discuss relevant business issues you can help with, but don’t go in for the hard sell. Introduce your solution consultatively: We can help you there by … or One of the ways we can assist right now is …
Your prospect wants to know what’s in the call for them. Show you can help and suggest a follow-up meeting to further discuss your solution and how it will resolve their current challenges or needs.
3. Find Virtual Ways to Replace In-Person Events
In another poll, we asked our community about in-person and virtual events. Before social distancing went into effect, these are the activities business owners, marketers and salespeople used to connect with prospects.
Putting aside webinars for a moment, many people said they used in-person events like conferences and lunch & learns to connect with prospects. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to rely on the same mix after the pandemic ends. Long after states re-open, many people will be wary about joining large gatherings or being packed into tight spaces like crowded bars for networking happy hours. Plus, people will have spent months connecting at virtual conferences, and they’ll prefer the quick trip to their computer over connecting flights and hotel rooms.
Start by hosting a webinar
According to our poll, 78% of respondents had attended a webinar in the past year, but most hadn’t hosted or planned one. This is a missed opportunity! Like in-person events, you can use webinars to demonstrate your expertise and connect with your target market.
When you select a topic, think about your target market and their pain points. To get prospects to attend, choose a topic that will resonate. Focus on one that addresses the issues they’re grappling with right now and provide real, actionable recommendations with solutions you have that support them. Have you noticed how you lean toward attending prescriptive, helpful webinars? So do your prospects. Everyone is looking for recommendations around how to navigate the post-pandemic business world. Offer suggestions in your webinar.
We have two resources to help you get started:
- Watch: the replay of How to Plan a Webinar that Attracts Prospects
- Download: our free 60-point webinar success checklist
4. Get Creative
Farms and zoos around the country created a new line of business during the pandemic. Organizations can have a goat, donkey, or alligator “attend” their Zoom calls. It’s fun, interesting, and outside of how we typically think of zoos and farms. The pandemic shattered traditional playbooks and opened the door to innovation.
Don’t think about what you lost – focus on what you’ve gained
No, you can’t stop by an office with coffee and doughnuts, but you can have virtual coffee and doughnuts with a prospect. Here’s how: Grab a gift card to Uber Eats or a local restaurant delivering breakfast. Send it with an ecard showing a photo of coffee and donuts. Add a fun meeting request, like: “Take a break on me! Let’s have a virtual breakfast at 10.”
Once you stop thinking about what you’ve lost, you’ll come up with creative ways to prospect. To help you get started, we have a guide with 60 social-distancing-friendly ideas. Download it here and choose 3 to try right now.
Prospects have always responded to creativity. This pandemic gives you a hall pass to be as creative as you want – within professional reason. Use it to stand out. As we move into post-pandemic prospecting, social distancing will continue to be important. Plan to use creative remote-prospecting strategies indefinitely. Your prospects will enjoy it, and you’ll reach more of them.
5. Make More Attempts to Reach Prospects
In “normal” times, it takes more than 9 touches to reach a prospect, but less than half the respondents to our prospecting poll said they make 7+ attempts. Most give up after 4–6 attempts.
Now is not the time to get discouraged when a prospect doesn’t respond to your first, sixth or ninth attempt! Now is the time to make even more attempts! You have fewer ways to connect and it is harder to reach people by phone, but you need to be persistent. Gentle, yes. Compassionate, definitely. Friendly, yup. But still persistent.
Track the number of attempts you’re making and switch between phone calls, emails and LinkedIn messaging. Send a calendar invitation when you request a meeting. The more professionally creative you are in your prospecting (see step #4), the greater the percentage of people who will accept.
A multitouch prospecting plan, what we call our Bloodhound Follow-up Strategy, is a way for you to vary your messaging and outreach methods, including calendar invitations and LinkedIn messaging. Watch the replay of our webinar, Update Your Prospecting Methods for Uncertain Times, to learn how to use the Bloodhound Follow-up Strategy today. I spell out exactly how many attempts to make, with what frequency and when to press pause on your efforts, helping you avoid the prospecting rabbit hole.
Pivoting Now is an Immediate and Long-Term Solution
You can proactively prepare for life after the pandemic without predicting exactly what will happen. We know we need a strong digital-prospecting foundation to reach those who will continue to work from home. Virtual events will be necessary as large gathering bans stay in effect and people look for safe, convenient alternatives to in-person events. Pivoting today will help you get new leads, start conversations and close more sales now and in the new, increasingly digital, post-pandemic prospecting world.
Get ahead of your competition. Use our library of resources to weather lead generation in the pandemic and emerge ready for success in a post-COVID selling world. Here’s the link. Visit it now and choose the resources that will help you immediately.
If you’d like coaching to implement these 5 steps or have us implement them for you, schedule a meeting with me today or call us at +1-303-741-6636 and let’s discuss your vision and how we can help.