B2B Sales vs COVID-19: The Battle Thus Far

B2B Sales vs COVID-19

It’s been eight months since the global pandemic struck, changing our lives forever. While the impact of COVID was felt by businesses across the globe, the fact of the matter is that it affected some industries and verticals more than others. Telecommunication and social media companies like Zoom or Instagram have, in fact, gained demand, while any product that’s centred around the operations of small businesses has taken a big hit. 

The experiences of teams have been varied as well—while some adapted quickly to safeguard their organization’s sales, others had to brave themselves and struggle to nudge the revenue needle. In this retrospective review of people’s experiences over the past 8 months, we asked two questions to 20 experts:

  1. What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?
  2. What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

Here are their answers.

Matthew Roberts (Chili Piper)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

First and foremost, we made sure our prospecting/targeting was completely narrowed down. This cut out any industries that were negatively impacted by COVID – SaaS companies that worked with brick & mortar shops, restaurants, travel industry, etc. and instead made a list of surging companies to target more heavily (Zoom, Grubhub, etc.)

Next, we all took to learning – attending more webinars, reading more books, having more hands on sales training and put a large emphasis on using this time to learn.

Lastly, we experimented with our sales copy/call script. In unprecedented times such as today, there is no “playbook” on what works. After playing around with this, we realized that although we always want to be genuinely thoughtful and empathetic – people are still working. If we narrowed out the companies that had giant layoffs or were hit extremely hard, we didn’t need to spend a few sentences explaining how insane this COVID situation was – we still needed to let people know we can help with a problem they have. Seeing as we help with routing/connecting sales to leads, these companies that were now surging and being overwhelmed post COVID by inbound leads – it was extremely wonderful to truly be able to help. 

What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

Test, experiment, and continue learning. Right now is the perfect time to try something out that you have no idea how it’ll work – because what worked in the past is not working today. You can attend a million webinars and see what is working for other companies/industries – but right now the only thing that matters is what works for YOUR company – and you won’t know what that is until you experiment, test and learn from them.

Subhash Potturi (CEIPAL)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

  • We empathized with & supported our customers who got massively affected by the crisis by offering them some billing discounts or extending the due dates, inline with their business situation. This way we managed to control our churn and those customers have now become our most loyal partners.
  • We cut down our sales/acquisition targets by 50% so as to protect our sales teams from feeling demotivated or avoid burnouts due to lack of business activity during the crisis. This helped in creating enough success stories of reps achieving their targets in spite of the crisis & helped boost the sales team morale and mindset 
  • We used the opportunity to conduct multiple webinars & training sessions on the product and how our customers can leverage the features to help them tide their business through this crisis. We were encouraged by the huge response and will continue to do 1 webinar every week for our customers going forward.

What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

  • Do not let the crisis affect your confidence or your mindset. Focus on your input metrics (volume of outreach & quality of outreach etc.), be open to changing your process and you will figure out a way to ace the crisis sales.
  • Every crisis is an opportunity for a winning sales rep. The sales rep has to improvise/pivot their pitch according to the market needs and convince the customer how the crisis could be a blessing in disguise with respect to the implementation of your product/service.

Brian Carter (Brian Carter Group)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

  1. Market and sell more, not less, so that we get a read on how customer needs, budgets and timelines are changing.
  2. Pivot as needed. If we need to emphasize certain services over others or change offerings in any way to meet above stated customer changes, we do it!
  3. Keep existing customers happy and go the extra mile. It’s always been more expensive to get new customers than keep the ones you have. Even more true right now.

What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

  1. Make sure your leadership understands that demand and budgets are lower in general out there.
  2. Be patient. Sales cycles are longer, budgets are lower, and timelines are longer. Create relationships and nurture them. That’s why it’s so important to do even more sales and marketing right now- you are sowing seeds for the future.
  3. There are exceptions in industries that have boomed, like ecommerce, streaming video, and essentials. Are you selling to them?
  4. In the industries that are struggling, have you found ways to help them that fit their budgets?
  5. Make sure your marketing and lead gen teams have a content plan for nurturing leads. A combination of your follow-up plus valuable content for thought leadership is best.

Jess Gondolfo (Synup)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

We all went through this pandemic at a similar time. And I guess the big word, or at least the big topic back then, was “uncertainty”. Everyone that was posting content was focusing on the uncertainty of things, because the truth is, no one really knew when things were going to resume or how bad they were going to get. 

This was really how it was for Synup as well, in the beginning. Synup’s whole product is on helping brands manage their digital profiles to aid in customer acquisition for their local markets. So as soon as everything was closed, and the physical locations didn’t matter anymore, things were really concerning for us. The question we were asking ourselves was, “What are we going to do to change this to stay relevant?” 

The three things we did to try an make this happen was:

1. We shifted a lot of focus to our rebrand

“Where are our products going?”. “How are we going to rebuild our website?”. “How can we update our presence?”. These were all things that we could control in house. And because we weren’t as focused on the external lead gen, it gave us that time to be so much more strategic, take a step back, really look at the conversions on things. 

And believe it or not, we did convert a lot. Just by going back to old campaigns, seeing where we can improve on them, and taking the time on it was something that we were able to do and get results. 

2. We tried some experimental marketing

The other thing is we started doing was experimental marketing. We built a COVID campaign right at the beginning when everything was shutting down, which took a lot of effort from the team. The campaign was built around a tool we created that could really show people what grocery stores, restaurants, and hospitals were open near them, what were the number of cases in their state. 

We could provide them updated news, information around whether there were people who were doing testing centers where you could get more information, and we really just focused on getting that information out to people. We tried to just take more of an empathetic approach to the market. And we saw a great amount of success with it. Some people were even sharing it with different governors’ and mayors’ offices. It was a good branding step for us. 

3. Pivoting to other markets

The other thing that was interesting was that we realized we had so much strength in other market segments and verticals that we earlier wouldn’t necessarily put our heart and soul into focusing on. There were a lot of businesses affected deeply by COVID—the retail segment, restaurants, etc., for instance. But sectors like financial services actually converted at a very high rate for us even after COVID. And we saw really high numbers in our quarters. Because we were able to be really strategic, and think about what people are open to, and who is trying to reach their market. 

But then the other thing is we wondered what we were going to do since our product is based on physical locations, and since there were no physical locations owing to the lockdown and such things We decided to adapt our product to helping businesses up their digital experience game. 

Now, it wasn’t necessarily about you having driving directions to get to a restaurant, but it was how do you deliver a seamless experience for a customer via your digital profiles? How do you do direct to order? How do you give them updated information about what your hours are? 

If you guys are following proper procedures for COVID if you’re doing contactless delivery, and this is across the gamut, mortgages went up, fitness people were doing online classes, retailers, were doing a virtual consulting with clothes and stuff, and then doing online ordering all of this heavy campaigns through digital profiles and creating a seamless experience. 

So I think those are three areas of the marketing that we really honed in on that we were able to see a lot of success from, given the circumstances and what our product actually did.

And what is your advice for marketing and sales teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product or service in the current market scenario?

My suggestion as someone who also worked in sales, and you know, now hasn’t marketing? Ask yourself, “Why?” 

Why are you having that challenge? If your challenge is that this particular sector is not open for budgets, pivot your sector. If this is a content problem, if you don’t have the deliverables that you need to be successful, build a use case. Reach out to your organization, you know, these are things that as a salesperson, you have to be more proactive, and you have to speak up to get the resources you need. 

And if you are going to ask for resources that require someone else’s time and effort, then do a good job of explaining it. Tell them where you think you can get conversions or how many people could be in your pipeline that could use an extra piece of content, for instance. Those are all things that are at organizations’ fingertips that no one’s going to turn down if there’s a proven track for revenue. 

So, that would be my suggestion. COVID has changed a lot, but there are still a ton of people who are buying a ton of people who are trying to figure out how to make their organizations work. Be creative!

Deepak Anchala (Slintel)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

These were some of the things that Slintel did to safeguard/improve sales and revenue after COVID.

#1 Hiring

We didn’t hire aggressively and we instead decided to watch out for how the crisis was going to turn out. 

#2 Mobilizing Internal Resources

We mobilized internal resources to get the maximum out of the business. So, for example, if your employees were open to roles that we were looking to fill, we gave them the opportunity to get it done without going out hiring new resources. If they weren’t looking for that at the moment, then we also made sure that we didn’t push them to do things that they weren’t interested in, and instead focused on enabling them to perform better in whatever they were already working on.

#3 Customers

We paid a lot of attention to safeguarding or protecting our customer base as well. One of the things we did was pay a lot more attention to every single customer, no matter how big or small, and understand that they are going through the same crisis themselves. 

I know that this is a cliche, but we were truly more empathetic with our customers. Everybody says that, but that really became very important for us, because some of them were going through budgetary cuts, some of them were going through layoffs; some of them were probably just going through the same sort of uncertainty that we were. 

So we were a little flexible in terms of contract sizes, deal payment terms, and also helped them out with more resources to launch campaigns they wanted to run and stuff like that. 

If I were to just summarize, again, I would say:

  1. Be cognizant of your company’s spends and avoid unnecessary expenses.
  2. See if you can mobilize your employees to do a lot more and take care of other responsibilities internally.
  3. Empathize with your customers and make sure they trust your business. Remember, their success is your success.

There’s a saying in cricket, “Form is temporary, class is permanent”. Even in business, these pain points of customers are temporary. Market swings are temporary. But the more important thing is, can you retain the customer for life, right, even if they’re going through a bad phase right now? Can you empathize with them? Can you support them during this phase, so they come back strong? And then both of you build together? So yeah, that’s essentially what we focused on.

What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

I think number one focus should be on the right industries, since not everyone is buying at any given point in time. There are some sectors that are doing really well even now, like pharmaceuticals, healthcare, gaming, media, for instance. And there’s some sectors that are not doing so well, because of the crisis, right. 

So one is focus, right, prioritize resources in the right areas. Even within those sectors, there are always companies that are more likely to buy than others. Identify intense signals using any buyer intent platform out there. And then optimize marketing and sales spends and effort. You don’t want all your resources and all your dollars to be wasted on your entire target market. 

Think about whether you can identify these sectors and these companies within those sectors so you can spend a lot more effort on people that will actually buy. It comes to the Pareto principle; 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of efforts. I think companies that have understood this have grown really fast, even in the crisis. Companies that have taken time to do that or realize that is important are still struggling today.

Liz Heiman (Alice Heiman, LLC)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

At first, we thought we needed to pivot. Then we realized we just need to do what we always do 1) More consistently, 2) With more intention, and 3) With more compassion. 

Doing what we always do for us means asking good questions and helping our customers solve problems. Changing topics and offering discounts didn’t help us sell. We just needed to be patient while people got their feet back under them. We will need to continue to be patient, but keep doing what we do well; writing good content, communicating and helping. Companies and their sellers need to figure out what they do well that is useful in this economic landscape. If they can keep doing what they were doing with the same people, then great! If not they need to figure out how to pivot focusing on what they do well.

Everyone needs to be more consistent about doing the things that make the biggest difference.  When the economy is going gangbusters, it is much easier to sell. People are more forgiving of lapses and people want to buy in spite of the roadblocks.  It is not that way right now.  Sellers need to be diligent. Sellers need to follow the steps, ask the questions, follow-up, solve problems, be proactive. Most things will not sell themselves right now. We can take nothing for granted.

What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

Being reactive may work in a different economy, but not in this one, unless you sell Zoom or PPEs. We need to be thoughtful and intentional in our actions. We need to plan our calls, our approach to a sale and our relationships with key accounts. Make a plan and be intentional about following the steps to achieve yours goals. It is easy to get distracted right now.  Take time to take your actions or at least make lists. 

Compassion is critical. This situation is unsettling. For some it is scary, crazy-making, frustrating, lonely, depressing.  Have compassion for your team, your customers and yourself.   We need to listen with an open mind and open heart. We need to find ways to help, support and encourage.  And, we need to give ourselves and others a break.  We can’t back off completely, but we can’t work 24/7 and we can’t solve everything. We need to do what we can do well, then give ourselves and others the time they need to survive this.

Paige Arnof-Fenn (Mavens & Moguls)

What are the 3 biggest changes you’ve made since the beginning of the crisis to safeguard or even improve your company’s sales and revenue?

The biggest change for me, my team and my clients from the virus so far is the shutdown of all networking events, travel and conferences. Spring is typically a very busy time with many events, trade shows, business meetings on the road, etc. and for the past few months everyone is staying put and meeting virtually instead.  

I have had more Zoom and Skype  calls in the past 15 days  than the prior 6 months! Pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc. is a smart and productive way companies can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period.   

So first and foremost, I am trying to help small businesses to be flexible and open minded so we can keep working together during the crisis and create more flexible capacity going forward over the next year as the economy reopens. If small groups on the team want to talk through specific issues (managing anxiety, kids, parents, etc.) virtual coffee meetings online have been helpful too. A few colleagues have even met online after work for virtual happy hour/beer/cocktails as well when they had  more time to chat.  It is starting to feel like the new normal by leveraging technology to build and maintain my relationships.  Finding routines and things we can control helps I think.  

This is also a great time to build your brand through online marketing and social media. Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but you do not have to let it run your life! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths. 

For example, Content Marketing and Thought Leadership are great ways to build your  brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients/customers. Activities like writing articles, hosting webinars, podcasts and building your following on social media all contribute to increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. 

Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of like-minded organizations reaching the same target audience as you.  Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up.  When your articles become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts.

Don’t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose, just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you.  It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through.  Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first.

Start small and build as you go. For me I started with small publications then moved up the food chain to reach bigger audiences. People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too.  It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are.  If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority.  For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most.  

Influencer marketing has been affected by the pandemic but there is still more confidence in trusted content, friends and influencers than advertising — the world has been moving this way for years with people seeking their friends’ and influencers’ opinions and advice online on what to wear/buy, where to go, and what to do more than a paid ad or fancily packaged content.  Customers are savvy today, they are happy to buy what they want and need but they do not like to be sold things.    Curated content and ideas from a trusted source beat paid content every time.    Partnering and building relationships with the right influencers with content that is co-created helps brands scale and grow faster and amplify and boost their message.

In the wake of coronavirus, mainstream news outlets and fact checkers are struggling to compete with the reach of influencers, celebrities and politicians with large social media followings who are proving to be key distributors of disinformation relating to coronavirus. The stakes are just a lot higher now because people are getting sick and dying, this is not  just about Kim Kardashian West building her base or Kylie Jenner launching a new lip kit anymore.  So yes everyone is more mindful now I think. I predict the future of influencer marketing will be about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less active online not more for a while. I think the most trusted influencers will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world.  

Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times.  The current crisis has provided a stage for influential leaders to rise to the occasion.  As far as messaging goes, between the pandemic and the possible recession, influencers have an opportunity to further connect with anxious consumers and focus on the true relevance of the products or services they promote on social media.   Influencers have to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future.  We need to communicate in a way that combines information and need, synthesizing feeling and facts.  I feel we have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communications had the power to help society in the way that it does right now.  Words are part of the healing process and we can see which influencers are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind, but also the heart and soul.  There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness.  It is inappropriate now for content to appear tone deaf in any way to this crisis.  Do not ask to be paid, be too salesy, imply solidarity, hope they are doing well, etc.   it seems cheesy and worse opportunistic.  

What is your advice for Marketing and Sales Teams out there that are finding it difficult to sell their product/service in the current market scenario?

Everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show your humanity and compassion.  To be more relevant now you must try to understand not just what or how to purchase a product, experience or service but also be able to inspire audiences by identifying the underlying motivation given the new reality we are all facing.  These ideas do not require big budgets but they are productive ways to get through this together.  The key to becoming more persuasive I think is when  you can answer why they do what they do and connect with people on an emotional level.  Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another.  We have seen that technology does not have to be isolating; it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too!   Whether you are an influencer in B2B or B2C every business is P2P and connecting on a personal level is what matters most.   Successful people understand their product or service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business.  People connect with brands they know, like and trust and customer loyalty can change but if they have a great experience and relationship with your brand you can keep them by staying in communication. The most effective sales teams understand their role. 

What about you?

Let us know what you and your team did to protect your company’s revenue and sales targets over the past 8 months, and we’ll feature you on our post! Fill out this form or answer the two questions in the comments section to participate. Happy Selling!

Harsha Annadurai

Harsha Annadurai

Harsha Annadurai handles Content and Product Marketing at Slintel. He has over three years of experience working in B2B SaaS Marketing and believes that failing fast, adapting quickly, and finding linearly scalable strategies is the key to a company’s success. He’s an obsessive music, gastronomy, and sneakers enthusiast.

1 comment

  • I was a roofing salesman 3 years ago with the intention of working every hail season back in the states. I’ve also spent the last 3 years with my wife in Bali . So, by the time Corona hit, I had learned a few tools that allowed me to work remotely. Although with so many saturated markets and a so many people trying to survive, It can be difficult. I liked what you said, “Everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show your humanity and compassion”. Good stuff my friend and thanks for the post. If you know anyone hiring remote workers eager to learn, please let me know.