For manufacturers, many day-to-day aspects of business operations haven't changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, when special machinery is required for production, you can't simply move a plant to an apartment building or another site. But some manufacturing personnel have shown that they're able to easily work from remote locations — including their homes — without missing a beat.
One group of workers that's especially well-suited for remote working arrangements is your sales team. In fact, before the pandemic, they probably performed part of the daily grind at a remote location. Now a home office may have turned into a full-time workplace for the foreseeable future. Here are five suggestions to help maximize the benefits of remote selling options.
Despite recent technological advances that have affected marketing and sales, it's still easier and more cost-efficient to sell to an existing customer than it is to find a new one. Rededicate your efforts to selling to existing customers who are familiar with your products while you systematically try to attract new customers into the fold.
Keep existing customers in the loop through regular meetings to discuss the latest developments. You can rely on tools such as social media platforms, mobile apps and interactive demonstrations to get the word out. Research your database to find past customers that are ripe for renewals or likely to investigate new or improved products.
It also helps to create client profiles so you can target rollouts and concerted marketing efforts to existing customers. They should be high on your "hit list."
Undoubtedly, your firm has been forced to cancel certain events, such as trade shows and incentive programs, due to the pandemic. Going forward, others may be in doubt or have already been postponed. You may need to get creative to fill in the gaps.
Usually, this will require you to implement web-based events that can be easily directed to a wide audience using current technology. This includes use of webinars and videos that can demonstrate the products you're able to provide and the latest innovations in your product line. These types of events can maintain customer demand for your products.
In effect, the sales team will be producing commercials for public consumption. Therefore, it's critical for the finished version to appear professional and be specific to the target audience.
For many people, there's no substitute for the in-person experience of walking around a plant. But, depending on the rules in your state or your company, in-person tours may be temporarily suspended.
Under current conditions, consider creative ways to demonstrate your products, including interactive and "walk-around" videos featuring staff members. Your firm might take complex mechanical components and create 3D models that customers can access from their desktop computers or mobile devices.
Some manufacturers have been able to create robust, immersive interactions through virtual or augmented reality. Many of these firms were already moving into this mode before the pandemic. But it's not too late to adapt and help your firm gain a competitive advantage that will last beyond the pandemic.
Previously, negotiating a contract with a customer often involved back-and-forth discussions. In many cases, it was common to travel to the customer's location to secure the deal with a handshake and a signed contract. With many companies cutting back on nonessential travel, the sales process has been streamlined — significantly reducing the cost and time associated with closing deals.
Due to social distancing requirements, many firms are bringing their website into the selling process. Although customers can't physically visit your plant or warehouse, an interactive website can offer a virtual alternative. A live chat feature and videos can effectively facilitate "sales calls," keeping prospective customers engaged and helping to close deals remotely.
What's more, the website can even set up follow-up calls from an automated system, even if you're not around when the prospect logs into the site. It's like having a virtual assistant!
Remote selling is inextricably linked to the technological advances of the 21st century. But understand that technology has its limits and restrictions. For instance, it may be harder for salespeople to pick up on body language or other social cues during virtual meetings.
To help bridge the gap, remember the importance of relationship building. Focus on what you can do to help customers rather than merely directing them to make online purchases. Employ a "human touch" to go along with digital connections. Take time to make existing and prospective customers feel comfortable with you and your firm. Don't overload their senses with excessive high-tech demonstrations and tours. Get to know them on a personal level, send thank-you notes, and call them personally when you have a cross-selling opportunity, a billing issue — or just to check in.
The pandemic didn't necessarily cause the movement to remote selling, but it has certainly sped up the implementation process. Manufacturers should work with their professional advisors to learn from the past, apply those lessons to the present and prepare for the future.
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