Accessing Sales Intelligence when WFH

This is the write-up from the seventh in our series of virtual coffee breaks – designed to provide a caffeine-enriched forum for discussion amongst senior executives who might otherwise be going stir-crazy during this period of lockdown. 

The topic for this session was: “Isolated from central sales intelligence, how to access precisely targeted, real time, relevant data when working from home?” and our guest speaker was Mike Blackadder, the Chief Customer Officer of Artesian Solutions.

Artesian Solutions are the leaders in web-based market intelligence and sales surveillance software. They provide the data, real-time insight and context needed to find customers, create meaningful engagements, sell more and create long-lasting business relationships. 

Mike started the call by giving some examples of how this works in practice, before moving on to look at what has changed in these difficult times, when so many of us are asking how we can stay in contact with our customers and prospects. 

Using sales intelligence to understand the customer’s context

Good relationship people do their research before the meeting. It’s no longer appropriate to just turn up and ask how things are going. Customers expect you to know, especially now when we all have more time to do the legwork. 

Things are happening to companies all the time and are being reported. Brand launches, new products, mergers, acquisitions, etc. These things all leave footprints in the news or other sources of data, which are accessible to you via Artesian’s platform: 

  • Mike told the story of being on a train on his way to see a customer and getting an alert on his Artesian feed that the CEO had been fired. It was critical to know this, going into the meeting, because it was on everyone’s mind and Mike would have seemed very much out-of-the loop if he’d been unaware.
  • A particularly useful type of information is what Artesian call “growth triggers” – things like seeing when customers are opening a new office, or launching their product in the US, or stepping up recruiting. These are all good starting points for conversations with prospects and customers. 
  • Even a seemingly innocent item of news can be a sales trigger. For example, when BT were targeting Dyson, a company that generates a huge amount of new coverage, they were tracking not just the company itself, but also the ecosystem around them: key suppliers, competitors and even the local council office where Dyson was headquartered. They noticed there was a campaign to have Dyson moved, due to the amount of road traffic they generated. BT used this nugget as the hook for a tailored “working from home” offering. 

Each of these nuggets of intelligence represents a potential reason to engage with a customer, but this engagement must be sensitive to the customer’s current context. And, of course, this is even truer now than ever.

Using sales intelligence during the Covid-19 pandemic 

Mike asked everyone on the call to provide three words to describe the current state of mind of their customers in these challenging times. Several words were offered: fear, panic, distrust, innovation, concern, surviving, worried, uncertain, confused, positive, scared, busy, nervous, restarting, revised priorities, rebooting, frustrated, anxious, firefighting, keen to get going again. The common theme was anxiety. 

So, now is the time for building trust, rather than selling. It’s hard to persuade people to do anything when they don’t even know if they’re going to keep their job. The idea of putting revenue on the backburner may not feel right, especially now, but the simple truth is there’s never been a time when customers were more in need of reassurance. 

This reassurance must be sensitive to the customer’s context. We’re all getting generic messages from suppliers saying things like: “Dear Mike, these are strange times, but don’t worry, we are still here and will continue to provide our service.” At worst, these messages can come across as disingenuous. 

A much better message would be: “Dear Mike, I see in the news you are having to scale back your operations, as are your competitors. This is such a shame, coming on the back of your growth last year. It was great to hear you’re using some of your spare capacity to provide support to the NHS. For our part, we have put in place contingency plans to make sure we are able to continue to support you through this difficult period. Please do let me know if there is anything more we can do to help.”

This is much more in tune with the customer’s mindset and demonstrates you are paying attention and aware of what is going on in their world. 

Artesian’s own response

Artesian themselves are taking their own medicine and asking what they can offer their clients, that won’t cost them too much to deliver, but will genuinely be useful during this crisis. To this end, they are doing four things:

  • Adding a Covid-19 filter to their news feeds, so users can just see the news items that mention their customer in conjunction with Covid-19. 
  • Providing a free daily business news feed around Covid-19, surfacing information about specific companies and sectors (as opposed to the blanket coverage dominating the major news outlets). 
  • Giving users the option to turn on Artesian’s risk module for free, for the duration of the pandemic. This is important because it’s estimated that up to 20% of businesses could go under in 2020. If one of these is in your supply chain, or your customers’, then you really want to know about it. 
  • Building “back to work” packs for furloughed users. About 20% of Artesian’s users are currently furloughed, typically from business development roles. As they start to think about returning to work, it will be extremely useful for them to know what has changed in their portfolios and what are the key things they need to act on. 

Empathy leads to good relationships

In summary, the key is to get into the mindset of the customer and understand their context and challenges. Connecting without understanding does lead to good relationships, it just positions you as a supplier. Empathy leads to rapport, rapport leads to trust, and trust is the foundation of good relationships. 

Discussion

With almost all the news media covering only one subject, Covid-19, it is a challenge to see beyond this and find out what else is going on, especially with your customers. Artesian’s platform really helps here. For example, one of the things it highlights is when a company has won an award (and many awards are continuing online at the moment).

Connecting without mentioning Covid-19 would be inappropriate right now, so it needs to be part of the conversation. Nonetheless, people are realising they’re in this for the long haul and they need to change the way they work. They still have strategies and plans, and although these are changing, they still need to be pursued. 

Many business development people are working from home, not currently making any prospecting calls, and struggling to work out the right way to go about this. They are wondering when it will be appropriate to restart and what will be the right approach to take.

Some of this depends on the type of relationship. The conversation after six months is very different to the initial contact. If you know someone reasonably well, it’s great to be able to say: “I saw in the news you did the great north run.” But this would seem a bit creepy on a first contact. 

The key is to build empathy and trust. The more you do your homework the more confidence you will have. If you understand the customer’s business and are up to date with what is going on in their world, you are able to engage much more naturally. For example, knowing your customer, a racecourse, has repurposed its kitchen to provide food for NHS workers.

Another challenge is knowing the best way to connect with customers and prospects, many of whom are also working from home. Ever since this lock-down started, the number of emails we’re all getting has increased dramatically, as has the number of unsolicited sales messages. One simple idea is just to pick up the phone and call people – there’s a good chance they’ll take the call, as it will be a welcome change from their emails.

A recent McKinsey report discusses the different phases companies are going through during this pandemic: Resolving the immediate impact; Recovering their business; and Reimagining how things will be different in the future. In this context, how do you tap into what companies are thinking about in terms of their future business models and change?

This is often about whether the insights you’re getting are trailing edge, after the event, or leading edge. News about a company’s long-term strategy is often lagging, for example in annual reports. But there are good sources that are more leading edge, for example: CEO interviews on YouTube or other social media, or interviews in trade publications. The things people are thinking and talking about are generally out there somewhere. 

There is a much bigger discussion to be had about changing business models, particularly for companies that previously relied on proximity to their customers. As companies begin to think about the process of restarting, as restrictions are lifted, their priorities are going to change – what was a priority in March may not be a priority in June – so it will be even more important to have intelligence about their current context and future situation.

The recovery process also needs to be pushed down through the supply chain and, of course, there is now a whole new dimension to be considered when it comes to contingency arrangements and security. 

Covid-19 is a catalyst for a lot of changes, some of which are positive. The question is how we can use this momentum to carry forward what we have learned. Some things we took for granted are no longer available; we need to focus on how we recover and improve those capabilities in the future: for example, call centres. 

As we put together our recovery plans (and back-to-work packs) we must take into account how fast things are moving and not pour them in concrete just yet. We may think of our current situation as the new normal, but this new normal will be redefined many more times over the coming months. 

Future Events:

If you have found this write-up interesting and would like to register for future Virtual Coffee Breaks or learn more about our other events, please visit www.clustre.net/category/events/

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