Every major crisis is both astonishing and somewhat paralysing - that includes the coronavirus pandemic. Some mobilise quickly and enter survival mode. Others find their talent in crisis management. In the opinion of some, managing a sales team and overseeing client relations at this exceptional time isn’t much different from the good practices that should be applied on a daily basis. Either way, the crisis is a test for the management team - the company’s position after the pandemic is over will depend on the attitude of its leadership.
The pandemic resulted in various restrictions (including on movement and assembly), including limited operations for some companies and the closure of some retail outlets - in other words, changes that turned the known business world upside down.
The pandemic has caused considerable market turmoil. It’s worth remembering that each company has felt the effects differently - for some industries, it’s a boon, a time of development, increased demand, and growing revenues. However, for many others it’s a shock and a threat - to revenues, profits, and often to their very existence. This has caused a lot of tension and a lot of concern about how the market will look post-COVID-19. Of course, sales managers have to deal with these challenges. While there are many things that affect a company’s bottom line, these days people look to the sales staff, the market, and clients with a mix of anxiety and hope.
The different faces of client relations
It’s worth briefly going over what we mean by client relations. The history of professional sales, to some extent, comes down to a shift from opportunistic and transactional behaviours towards relationship-driven sales aimed at ensuring the client has a positive experience. All in the hope that a long-term relationship will develop into a relatively predictable, sustained revenue stream.
There are at least a few definitions of client relationships out there. The popular understanding emphasises the importance of interpersonal relationships and is based on the simple principles of social influence, such as affection, sympathy, reciprocity, similarity, and belonging. In short, the salesperson believes that having a good personal relationship with the buyer will have an impact on them. The business and managerial approach to client relations usually defines it as a mutually beneficial exchange between organisations which requires a strategy and a set of processes and procedures supporting the management of these processes. It’s worth remembering that not every organisation needs or applies a client relationship, client experience or client success management philosophy, or the strategy and processes related with their automation. However, in companies where sales revenues are managed in a long-term, methodical way, client relationships are at the centre of attention during a crisis.
To win the favour of the decision-makers responsible for purchasing decisions, companies often try to make them ‘comfortable.’ This often means creating opportunities for their pleasure and entertainment - an outdoor barbecue, watching a football match from a VIP box, or attending a conference in a luxury hotel, often in an exotic country. I mention this because no matter how controversial these practices are, they do happen, and the pandemic has limited or stopped many of them.
In the current situation, a sales team leader should primarily be responsible for four areas: business, team, relations with the client and himself. You will need a cool head and productive relationship with other departments.
Regardless of how we define relationships - whether colloquially or in business terms - they are widely recognised as a component of success, both personal and organisational. Successful client relationships consist of both ‘hard’ issues - product quality, sales conditions, timely deliveries, client service - as well as a ‘human’ approach to everyday and difficult situations. These difficult situations include, for example, return policies and complaints, timely payments, and debt collection.
How can you, as a manager of a sales team or the leader of an entire sales organisation, help your company get through the pandemic with the least possible losses? Simply put, you should manage as you usually do, only better. Have a sense of urgency, be flexible, and adapt your actions to the changing situation. In the new crisis realities, communication and managing emotions - your clients’, your team’s, and your own - deserve special attention.