Selling in a Global Crisis? Here’s My Approach (Template Included)

Is it wrong to “sell” in times of uncertainty or turbulence? What is the appropriate or preferred way of reaching out to a customer or prospect during a global crisis?

In the face of COVID-19, these types of questions are popping up all over social media. Maybe you’re second-guessing yourself without any provocation or experiencing “sales shaming” from someone on Linkedin.

I know I am.

I’ve been in sales my entire life. I have sold everything from magazine subscriptions as a schoolboy to mega-deals as an enterprise professional. Yet, I’ve never been more uncertain of when or how to reach out to a customer/prospect or exactly what words to use when I do. I find myself writing and rewriting emails or text messages 3, 4 and 5 times to make sure I don’t come across as insensitive or opportunistic.
Maybe this is happening for you too.

If you’re struggling with how to communicate with clients and prospects, keep reading. I’m going to share my thoughts on why this is such a struggle and how to approach sales in times of crisis. Then, I’m going to share my Client Communication Framework, which will help you confidently (and empathetically) reach out to prospects and clients.

Selling in Times of Crisis: Right or Wrong?

There is no clear-cut answer on what to do. Right or wrong is not that simple. For starters, we’ve never experienced anything like the COVID-19 global pandemic in our lifetime. We have no previous experience to fall back on.

It’s difficult making decisions when there is no precedent. So, how do you decide the best sales approach during this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty?

I would suggest that you have everything you need to make that decision right inside you. It’s called being deeply human.

Being Human: The Key to Communication During a Crisis

Everyone faces adversity and endures suffering at some point in their lifetime. Live long enough and you will undoubtedly face loss of some kind. No one gets a free pass on these life experiences.
I believe that is what’s happening right now with COVID-19.

We are all suffering from the fear of losing something. It might be as simple as the loss of freedom to roam around your neighborhood at your leisure. Some fear more losses in their stock portfolio. Many fear the loss of job security and a steady income. While others face maybe the greatest fear: loss of life, either their own or someone they love deeply.

What I might suggest before taking any sales action — whether that’s a sales call, a cold email, or a direct message in social media — is to first connect with the part inside you that makes us human.

Reach for love, compassion, empathy and fellowship. Let these emotions guide you at a time like this. Lead with your heart and your head will follow.

The Priority: Treating People Right

There is never the wrong time to do the right thing.
I believe there has never been a more important time for salespeople to do their jobs well. Many people become paralyzed in a crisis. That’s not intended to be a judgment. It’s a common reaction to a serious threat.

There are countless examples in nature where the best survival tactic is to become motionless, blend in with surroundings, or to slowly retreat. However, these same people who are heads-down depend on their company to grow and retain their customers in order to survive a downturn.

That’s where sales professionals come in.

Sales Is NOT an Option

Standing still is not an option. Among the best sales pros, it’s not even a consideration. If we don’t move with purpose, people lose their jobs and businesses go under.

More importantly, customers depend on you.

Our role as a sales professional is to connect things that would otherwise be disconnected without our personal involvement. If you believe as I do, that selling is to SERVE others, to SOLVE problems and provide SOLUTIONS, then I encourage you to keep going. Go with the right intent and highest level of integrity, but by all means, keep moving.

Once you’ve made the decision to keep selling, you’ll need a structured way to reach out that captures both the sensitivity of the situation and the purpose of action. With this in mind, I created a “client communication framework” in an effort to help structure your outreach.

Client Communication Framework

This is a sample email confirming a previously scheduled meeting. I’ve broken out each part of the email, along with sample text and my thoughts on how to handle that section.

Other Suggestions and Best Practices

Use an email tracking tool to become notified when a client opens your email. (We use OpenSense) –C. Donato

Copy the intended recipients’ executive assistant if they have one. –C. Donato

Move unnecessary folks copied on email threads to BCC and explicitly mention to everyone in the thread when you’re going to do this so everyone is on the same page. –M. Varghese

If prospecting a market segment being directly affected by crises (i.e. COVID-19), operate with transparency and authenticity by admitting you are prospecting in this tough environment coupled with your rationale. –M. Varghese

If prospecting a market segment being directly affected by crises (i.e. COVID-19), operate with transparency and authenticity by admitting you are prospecting in this tough environment coupled with your rationale. –M. Varghese

Always give the prospect an out, even to a pre-committed meeting specifically mentioning relevant reasons as to why. –M. Varghese

Keep initial outreach emails to 3-6 sentences max focusing on:

  1. Facts, not Fiction – stay away from words like “feel” and “think”. Leverage relevant statistics or facts, news, etc. from their business or industry.
  2. Human to Human – don’t bullshit a prospect and “wish them well” when you’re emailing them for the first time. They’re not your friend…yet. Imagine they’re barely going to read your email. It starts at the subject line.
  3. Catch, don’t overcommunicate – keep the hook/pitch short and sweet. Relay just enough information that they will be curious and will put forth the effort to respond. –M. Varghese

Always customize your LinkedIn connection requests – lead with transparency and purpose so the prospect knows what they’re getting into and what it will take on their end to lend you that valuable time. –M. Varghese

Do not be afraid to request to connect (again, customized) ahead of meetings or conference calls stating something along the lines of “I want to be best prepared and make it relevant for our pending meeting.” + close with something like “Even if our solution is not a fit, happy to support you from <city> on <x>.” –M. Varghese

Do not be afraid to text your prospect, but work your way into it softly either asking express permission or waiting a few days/after you call the office line. Everyone is communicating on their phone and all sales professionals should be aware that the person on the other end of the line is just another human being just like you. –M. Varghese

Wrapping Up

I have been using this framework for emails and phone conversations over the past two weeks with good success.

I’ve also created an ongoing list of best practices that I’m asking other sales professionals to contribute to. If’d find it helpful and would like to check it out, please reach out to me in LinkedIn, and I’ll send you the link.

If you can, build on it with other client scenarios so others will benefit, please contribute.

Stay safe and Happy Selling.
Chris Donato
CEO, esellas

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