When infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci recently advocated the permanent end to shaking hands, you could almost hear the groans of executives around the country. The rapid decline in business development spurred by the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging enough. If we ban the handshake, how will we ever “seal the deal” again? 

Family sitting in their home office

Much attention has been paid to the pandemic’s effect on Main Street stores, but it’s also had a tremendous knock-on effect on the business-to-business sector. Even if much of day-to-day B2B activity can occur remotely, in-person interaction plays a vital role throughout the sales funnel. More than two-thirds of B2B marketers use in-person events to generate leads.

For many companies, seminars, conferences and trade shows together form the linchpin of their sales and marketing efforts. And it’s pretty hard to trust an executive to provide you with a business-critical good or service unless you can share a meal, look them in the eye and, yes, shake their hand.

But all of that is gone for now. Virtually every business will need to pivot dramatically, changing its focus, its messaging and the tools it uses if it wants to keep generating new business through the pandemic.

Be A Giver In Times Like These

With virtually everyone focused on their immediate needs, fewer people are eager to hear you promote your product or service.

“This is not a time to sell,” says Jonathan Fitzgarrald of Equinox Strategy Partners, a professional services marketing consultancy. “This is a time to reach out to people to make sure your network is OK.”

Business advisers like to say they will always be there for their clients, Fitzgarrald notes. “That’s easy to say during good times, because people rarely take you up on the offer. But you also need to be there for the thin times, which is right now. Now’s the time when business leaders need a trusted adviser to lend them an ear.”

Many brands have recognized that aggressive selling comes off as unseemly during a crisis. That’s why they’ve sent emails to customers or clients “to show they care.” But unless they’re backed up by action, these messages can seem like just another promotion. The best such messages have something to say about what the company is doing to help. And that might be:

  • Giving away or heavily discounting a product or service to front-line workers or to all customers
  • Taking measures to ensure the company can continue serving customers after the crisis is over
  • Helping workers (or other business partners) make it through the crisis, such as by continuing to pay employees when your doors are closed

Major brands have set the pace when it comes to these efforts, which maintain a hopeful tone even as they acknowledge the crisis.

Move Online And Move Fast

If your company has been slow to migrate its business development to online channels, it’s time to speed it up.

Reallocate your budget for in-person activities—travel, accommodations, sponsorships and more—to online activities. Update your website and improve your search engine optimization. Invest the time that’s needed to create and distribute compelling new content. People are hungry for meaningful information and advice during a time like this.

Maybe you can never replace the human touch online, but technology allows you to get closer than ever. Consider conversational marketing, which uses live chat, chatbots, integrations with popular apps and other tools to ensure that a company is ready to answer a prospect’s questions whenever they arise.

There’s also high-definition videoconferencing and “telepresence” to make virtual meetings more natural and productive.

Meanwhile, virtual conferences are growing in sophistication. Newer platforms use video, real-time interactivity and interfaces inspired by social media to try to replicate the spontaneity and serendipity of live events.

Whether it’s having a meaningful conversation, providing a taste of your product or service, or providing the product or service itself, the more you can deliver online today, the better. If you’re not reaching out to favored customers or prospects during this crisis, you can be sure your competitors are.

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This article is written by Richard Sine and originally published here

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