By Sue Barrett

Have you noticed how easy it is to get spooked in times of crisis and uncertainty what with COVID-19, bushfires, floods, panic buying and climate crisis? Given what we see on social media and in the news you’d be forgiven for asking ‘Is it all over?’

Well NO, it is not. Far from it.

COVID-19 will pass eventually. Yes, it is having a dramatic impact on various industries and people, especially those involved in international travel, tourism, conferences/events, hospitality and of course, healthcare. This is affecting hundreds of thousands of people, especially casual workers, here in Australia in terms of their livelihoods. Which is why governments are delivering stimulus packages to help people get through the crisis. As communities, we need to pull together and do everything we can to reduce exposure and the spread of the disease.

It doesn’t mean that the vast majority of us have to stop doing business with each other. But we have a duty of care, to keep our businesses open and operating, to get money flowing through the economy, and to keep our teams and customers safe. In fact, this is precisely when we need to call upon our human creativity, ingenuity and community spirit to keep the wheels of commerce and industry as well as our communities rolling on for all our sakes.

Remember as the old saying goes necessity is the mother of invention.

So how can we keep selling and doing business during COVID-19?

The good news is many organisations are digitally equipped to keep on doing business.

This is what business owners and leaders need to be considering now:

Have a plan

  • Working from home is a great option, but it is not possible for all roles or businesses. How flexible can your work arrangements be? Do you have a contingency / continuity plan when several employees can’t come to work at all anymore?
  • How do you handle an actual staff shortage? What if you can’t get the resources you need to run your operations delivered? How can you keep the impact this might have on your business at bay? Make sure to plan for these scenarios, even if the likelihood of your business getting into such a situation still seems low. Identify what products and / or suppliers can turn into a bottleneck.
  • Educate and train your staff on how to handle any potential scenarios, how to communicate internally and with customers about the effects this might have.
  • Diversify! In the long run, this might be a healthy thing to do anyway. Too many businesses we encounter are stuck with a very limited number of key customers/types or suppliers. Whilst limiting the number of other businesses you interact and do business with makes life easier in general, it may prove dangerous in downswings.
  • Have a clear policy in place for employees that suspect to be or are sick.
  • Critically assess what risks for disease transmission your work environment has, and how you can reduce these risks.

Stay in contact with your clients and reassure them you’re there for them

  • Let your clients know that you are working on ways to keep things going i.e. managing supply, keeping them up-to-date, making it easier to get access to important information, etc.
  • Show them how they can keep buying from you i.e. online ordering, digital meetings, virtual presentations and pitches.
  • Be proactive about communicating what is possible and what isn’t during this time. Help your customers, staff and other stakeholders to get a realistic idea of what goes on. Build trust by being proactively transparent. As trust can fade and panic can spread faster than any virus, it is critical to nurture trust, reliability and consistency through any crisis.
  • Conduct your business online if possible. Often it is not technology that limits these options for businesses, but executives as well as staff that are falling back behind technological advances and trends. Yes, changing established procedures, supply chains and processes is annoying and bears risks, but not adapting, whether it’s because of a virus, or simply because markets change anyway, is far riskier on the long run.

Find the best way to have meetings, conferences, training and site inspections, and internal, sales and client meetings

  • You can still meet people in person, just be aware of hygiene factors – no handshakes, hugs or kissing – see how to greet people in person below.
  • Use Zoom, Skype, Teams, etc. to conduct (and record) client meetings – we have done this for some time now especially with existing clients – this saves so much time, fuel and effort. We can now all use it for new client meetings as well. With COVID-19 getting closer they switched to Zoom meetings and the results were amazing. They still did business but without all the time, hassle, money and health risks of travel.

Don’t panic, instead learn to adapt to the new reality and see opportunities

  • Clever investors, business leaders and salespeople look at downturns in markets as opportunities to find new ways, new solutions, new markets; they look at the evidence at hand, the trends that are emerging and see opportunity when many others see disaster. These people aren’t idealistic or oblivious. The truth is they are far more aware of all the challenges and issues at hand because they keep themselves fully informed of what’s happening, and then look for patterns and commercially viable opportunities. They understand that selling is the vehicle that allows opportunity to flourish and people, businesses, economies and societies to prosper.
  • New markets and new ways of operating can emerge during a crisis – discuss with your teams and colleagues what you ‘Can Do’. A positive outlook is better than allowing a general cloud of doom hanging over your teams; purposeful optimism needs to be carefully nurtured in such times.
  • During healthy economic periods, “holding your ground” most likely isn’t enough to keep an edge over your competition. In times of crisis, when others retreat (e.g. through reducing staff, hours or operations), or are anxious to make their moves holding your ground can actually give you an advantage. Try to stay level-headed and to assess pragmatically what can be done to hold your ground, or even progress into new opportunities without putting your business at risk.

Stay healthy, calm and patient

  • There is an abundance of information out there on how to keep the virus out of your office, from washing hands to cleaning surfaces and objects. However, knowing these things is one thing, applying them another. An enclosed office space can give people the impression they’re in a safe space, like they feel when they’re at home. This can lead to a paradox effect of neglect when it comes to basic rules of hygiene. Make sure to re-enforce such measures, and communicate them again and again. Use signage as reminders in key places like toilets, kitchens, meeting rooms and other common areas.
  • We need to accept that during this crisis we need to reduce the level of exposure to others, contain our social lives for a while. This does not only mean reducing travel or face to face meetings that can be avoided, but it also includes the pub visit on Friday after work.
  • Consider the mental health and social consequences of all this. Address those potential issues and offer information and support.

So keep the doors open and find ways to keep on selling and doing business.

There are more opportunities than you think.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, writer, business speaker and adviser, facilitator, sales coach, training provider and entrepreneur. Sue founded Barrett in 1995 to positively transform the culture, capability and continuous learning of leaders, teams and businesses by developing sales driven organisations that are equipped for the 21st Century.

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