Hero image of Brian McCauley, ProSales columnist

The Coronavirus crisis we are currently facing is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. The Spanish Flu of 1918 comes to mind, but in terms of changes to our society, what we’re dealing with today is unprecedented. So how do you sell to and service customers in this new environment?

We’re still relatively early in the cycle of the pandemic in the United States, but, from what I can tell, many distributors are staying busy with contractor orders. However, the way business is being conducted in branches today has changed and will remain that way for some time to come. A phrase that we hear often is “social distancing” and it’s the driving force behind changes that distributors are implementing in branches or lumberyards across the country. Whether it’s spreading out workstations, limiting the number of customers inside a location at a time, call-ahead orders, curbside loading, or staggering of the workforce to minimize contact and potential virus spread, it’s become our new normal.

Outside salespeople are working from home and, in most cases, minimizing or eliminating face-to-face sales calls altogether. So, the question becomes how do you maintain relationships and keep doing your job in this new environment? It’s a lot more work via phone, text, and email, and some are implementing FaceTime, Zoom, or other video calling apps from their cell phones.

A key word I keep coming back to is engagement. How are you engaging your customers? What are you doing to stay in front of them and on their mind? One idea might be to call every customer you have. (For many of you, that will be a large number of phone calls, but you probably have a little extra time on your hands these days.) You should prioritize the list to make sure you’re reaching out to your most important customers first. Each day, you could start with a list of customers to call and check on. Ask them a series of questions designed to show them that you care for their business and are interested in helping them, not just selling them a product. Ask questions, such as the following: How are you and your family doing? How are you working through the issues we’re dealing with? How can I support or help you? What do you need from my company?

The attitude we bring to this challenge is important. Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer has been working to spread a “positive attitude virus” through a series of daily Facebook Live videos. He suggests that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it, which suggests that we own our attitude. We know what’s happening, how will you react to and recover from it?

As time goes on and we get busy with our jobs, it’s easy to disconnect from the important people in our lives and the activites we enjoy. So, take advantage of the extra downtime to connect in a deeper way with family members—hug them tighter and spend more time with them. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time. And don’t forget about yourself: think about activies you used to enjoy but stopped doing, or consider trying a new activity or hobby. You could also use this time to complete an unfinished project or get yourself better organized so that you can come back strong when things open up again. And, of course, don’t forget to wash your hands and stay safe.