Challenging times are forcing all of us to refresh our approaches to selling strategies and techniques. Can a virtual sales meeting come close to inspiring and motivating like an in-person gathering? Does it make sense to launch a new product when many foodservice operations have limited traffic? The list of questions facing the food system is endless. As we attempt to navigate choppy seas ahead, it pays to consider how selling itself has changed within the food system—and how it never will.

1. Know Thy Customer.

Always great advice. And now more than ever, it pays to do your homework. Does your customer bristle at the thought of tweeting or checking Instagram? It could impact that decision on whether to launch a product right now. How comfortable are they with video conferencing technologies? The success of that virtual sales presentation might hinge on making it as hassle-free as possible.

In addition to tapping your own insights into customer behavior, you’ll also want to find a partner who can help you navigate the wealth of customer demographic and trend data that’s out there (and, yes, that’s in our wheelhouse—thanks for asking).

2. Know Thy Customer’s New Normal.

You’ll also want to consider how supply chains and other key drivers have fundamentally shifted due to the pandemic. What crops are most impacted? Have processing facilities had to shutter due to worker absences? Are KPIs considered important yesterday still relevant today?

Mindsets may have shifted as well. The customer who skimmed subject lines and wanted to get right to the point before the crisis may now want to talk about youth soccer games or weekend plans—or vice versa. The key is knowing who you’re selling to today.

3. Ask Yourself the Tough Questions.

This unceremonious stoppage has provided a rare opportunity to question what might have otherwise gone unasked.

  • Does your existing go-to-market positioning still deliver the impression you want during these times? Don’t be caught appearing tone-deaf to new customer realities.
  • Is your brand voice making it through every communication channel clearly?
  • Are all still relevant or should the ones created for face-to-face selling be redesigned?
  • Do these tools accurately reflect what your customers and prospects need now?
  • Is the supporting content as current as it could be?

4. (Virtual) Face to (Virtual) Face Selling.

Handshakes are so yesterday. Selling in this environment is more about creating an eye-catching (but never distracting) Zoom background or sponsoring a summit on BrightTALK.

During that online sales presentation, don’t settle for just sharing a PowerPoint®, either. Why not demonstrate products in action by including a simple video or using a GoPro? Virtual whiteboards work great for consulting sessions and larger presentations. You might even consider an online survey to engage those bigger groups.

Now is also the time to put the social back in social media. Replace that steady stream of product placements with content that’s more engaging—it could be as simple as asking a question—or just plain fun, such as pics of your new “offices.” We’re all about the virtual coffee meetup, screen-to-screen lunch and Zoom happy hours. They can be as effective for customer interactions as they have been for internal teambuilding.

5. Making the Most of an Unanticipated Situation.

Ever wanted to bring in a special speaker? Those who only did in-person events before may be more willing to do shorter online sessions with a smaller group, saving on travel and meeting expenses. Consider pulling together a cross-functional panel of experts and make them available for Q&A on the topics of most interest within the food industry and agriculture. It may also be a great time for a senior leader or other expert within your organization to meet with clients and prospects virtually—or to introduce them to more of your team.

6. Everything Old School Is New Again.

Whether we ever shake another hand, we still need to express meaningful appreciation to customers—and this is where some old-school tactics can come into play. Sending a handwritten note right now makes a lot of sense. No lunch appointments? Consider having lunch delivered to them and their family.

7. Be Ready, Willing and Open for Business.

Not everyone is these days. Let customers know your schedule, using out-of-office alerts to communicate any shifts. One of our clients showed she was still at-the-ready by adding an “office” photo of herself to her email signature line. And to show you’re still engaged with your team, use LinkedIn or Facebook to give shoutouts to new coworkers or to share other company happenings.

Those who succeed in this (or any) environment will be the ones who pivot as needed—wherever and whenever needed. Together, we can do this.

For questions or additional detail, contact our CEO, Mark Gale: mark.g@charlestonorwig.com

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