We are now just over a month into the physically distanced world of COVID19. Having been ordered by public health officials to stay at least 6 feet apart has fundamentally changed the way society operates. Chances are, we are not going back to the old handshake and cocktail party ways of selling any time soon.
As stock markets around the world reeled, non-essential businesses closed and upwards of a million people lost their jobs in Canada alone (hopefully only temporarily), the entire world went on defence. We were told to stay home as much as possible, only go out for essential items and stop the spread so that health care workers could have a fighting chance at containing the virus. Government stepped in with billions of dollars in financial relief for laid off workers and shuttered businesses while essential businesses like grocery stores increased wages and went on a hiring binge to meet demand.
Now, one month in, the tide is slowly starting to turn. The rate of new infections is slowing, although not yet decreasing. More and more people are recovering and we’re starting to get the hang of this physical distancing thing. But there is a dark side too. Homo Sapiens is a social animal and with governments telling us to expect the reopening of the economy to be a long and drawn out process, people are getting restless. We aren’t there yet, a pick-up game of basketball, a round of golf or just rollerblading with your family in an abandoned parking lot will still get you a $750 (plus tax) fine. Opening a non-essential business could cost you $10,000 per day in fines and up to a year in jail.
This past week, during our weekly virtual team meeting one of the top salespeople in our organization used the term “Gentle Offence” to describe the way in which we will have to pivot our sales approach as a result of this pandemic. I don’t know if he coined the phrase or had heard it somewhere else, but I thought it was brilliant as it perfectly articulates he way I think sales needs to evolve in the new world.
The way I see it Gentle Offence is just the compassionate and emotionally intelligent approach that people are going to need to hear from salespeople as we all recover from the mentally draining, and emotionally traumatic events of this pandemic.
Gentle Offence consists of three key elements.
1 – Know Your Moment
Now is not the time for a hard sell. I would argue that there was never a good time for a hard sell but that’s just me. But this is definitely not the time.
One major car company has been really good at this so far, pivoting their advertising to focus on saying thank you to health care and essential service workers and not mentioning any of their vehicles at all. Some fast food restaurants have done the same. You do not want to be the brand that was tone deaf to the cultural moment and continued pitching your non-essential product while people suffer. Marie Antoinette did that, and it didn’t end well for her, don’t be like Marie Antoinette.
It is enough right now to express gratitude and offer support but do not pitch products. People have long memories when it comes to how you make them feel. In a sense we are in a collective state of worry and mourning, be a source of comfort and compassion not additional pressure to consume and perform, people will remember that and reward you for it later.
2 – Let The Client Lead
A good psychotherapist never tells a patient what to think, rather they help the patient interpret their thoughts and adjust their behaviours for a more consistent outcome. In the post COVID world salespeople are going to need to become a bit more like psychotherapists helping their clients interpret and express their needs and find ways to better fulfill them. If that means guiding potential clients away from your product or service, so be it, you can’t be all things for all people. The job of the salesperson is to fulfill a need, not manufacture one.
Advertising was invented to create dissatisfaction with the status quo and manufacture desire. This has led society in an unhealthy pursuit of materialism and created a world of interpersonal comparison termed “keeping up with the Joneses”. COVID19 has reminded us that the Joneses are just as vulnerable as the rest of us and what we want and what we need are two very different things.
Letting the client lead means helping the client flesh out their needs and desires and providing solutions to their problems. It takes patience, kindness, compassion and deep knowledge of the issues and potential solutions.
3 – Bring Your ‘A’ Game
If the new world is going to be all about compassion, empathy and sensitivity then closing the deal is going to require a lot more knowledge of both product and application. The salesperson is going to need to be better prepared than ever before, know more about their product and understand more about how it addresses the client’s specific need. It’s no longer going to be enough to pitch a product by focusing on features and benefits, you are going to have to paint a picture of life after the purchase that jives with the picture the client painted for you previously. And you are going to have to do it better than anyone else.
So, there you have it. I believe playing Gentle Offence is going to be the new way of selling post COVID19 and in many sectors it has already started. It’s about compassion, empathy, wisdom, and situational understanding. How do you think sales will change in the new world? Send me your interpretation in the comments below.