Business During Covid: How to Sell When Nobody’s Buying

business during covid

Roughly a year since we first became aware of its existence, COVID-19 continues to play havoc with the global economy. It has left millions of small businesses either dead or struggling to survive. A recent US Chamber of Commerce survey of US small businesses found that only 41% of them remained fully open, with the rest either scaled down or closed altogether. 

business during covid

If your business during covid is still standing, then first of all, well done you! You’ve almost certainly survived the worst of it and now with vaccines being rolled out, optimism that we might just have this virus licked in 2021 is starting to grow. However, the fact still remains that this is going to be a tough year for all of us and making revenue in 2021 is going to be almost as hard as it was in 2020.

I’m currently consulting for a tech startup that makes technology for the travel industry. And it’s safe to say business during covid has suffered probably more than any other sector. So trying to sell tech solutions to a sector that is struggling to see any light at the end of a long, dark tunnel is extremely delicate! So just how can you sell your products or services when hardly anyone is buying? Here are my six tips for a successful business during covid…

Stay In Touch & Empathise

Making sales calls can be challenging at the best of times. But in the current climate, it requires a high degree of delicacy. You may be talking to people whose businesses are teetering on the edge of failure. And they may not appreciate someone calling them to try and separate them from what little money still remains in their bank account! So a velvet glove approach is most definitely required here. 

When sending sales emails or making calls, your initial approach should really be not to sell at all. This is all about just staying in touch, letting your prospects and customers know you’re still alive and thinking of them, and keeping your business top of mind for when things get better. Empathise with them, let them know you’re in the same boat as them. Share ideas and strategies for coping, and let them know you’ll be there when things get better. Simple acts of kindness such as the occasional supportive email, however transparent the motivation behind them may be, will go a long way to making your prospects think favourably of you. Whereas hitting them with the hard sell at the moment is a definite turn-off and highly counterproductive. 

Also think about those contacts who have traditionally been too busy to speak to you. It may be that they now have all the time in the world and will be free for a chat or a coffee. A friend of mine quit his job in December 2019 to start his own tourism recruitment company. Possibly the worst timed new business idea in the history of entrepreneurship! However he’s found that people who might normally be too busy to talk are now available. And he’s spent the last few months schmoozing key industry players in order to build up a database of hot prospects for when his industry sector recovers. 

Now Is the Time!

One advantage you DO have as a seller is that your prospects can no longer tell you they are too busy. Whether it be to discuss, purchase or implement your products or services! For example, many of the travel companies that are still solvent are using this unexpected downtime to overhaul their internal processes and implement those new technology solutions that they’ve traditionally been too busy to look at. 

A recent McKinsey report found that business during covid has accelerated the pace of digital transformation. Partly because it gives a competitive edge, but also because businesses now have time to do it. And those that are using this time to digitally transform themselves are outpacing the competition as a result. 

business during covid

So if your business offers services or solutions that require considerable time investment to implement, now is the perfect time to open discussions with those prospects that have previously expressed interest. You can even consider offering an “implement now, pay later” deal to get that contract signed. Which brings us onto…

Offer Discounts & Freebies

One thing we’ve seen a lot of during COVID is companies offering free or heavily discounted products and services. Obviously these companies aren’t all doing it purely out of sheer altruism and there is a solid business logic behind it. Here are several reasons why giving your products or services away for next to nothing makes perfect business sense at the moment:

  • You get contracts signed that would otherwise have to wait months or even years
  • Customers get to experience how great your business is and will be happy to pay for your services when the time comes
  • You can show positive revenue and cash flow
  • You benefit from the halo effect
  • Generate customer loyalty and evangelism

Here’s a good example. For a while now I’ve been wanting to do some photography skills courses on online education platform Udemy. But most of their courses come in at around $100-150 each. A price that puts me off and sends me off to watch free Youtube videos instead. However, during COVID, Udemy has slashed many of their course prices by up to 90%. Meaning a course that once cost $100 now costs $10. This means previously hesitant customers like me have signed up and been able to experience just how good their product is. And I’ve now done four courses on the platform and become a loyal customer and, as this paragraph shows, an evangelist!

There are many ways you can get customers over the line using freebies or discounts. Here are a few ideas to help your business during covid:

  • Free trials
  • First few months free – ie subscribe now, pay later
  • Freemium – give away a basic version of your product and encourage customers to upgrade
  • Free consultations – prove to prospects that you understand their business and can help them
  • Heavy discounts rising to full price when the pandemic is over
  • Free content – videos, PDFs, white papers, ebooks etc

The freebie/discount strategy is not for everyone. But it is a great way to get customers to sign up without huge expenditure on their part. And most importantly, it is great for your company’s reputation. 

Sell Recovery

With COVID vaccines being rolled out, optimism that 2021 will see a recovery from the impact of the pandemic is growing. And those businesses that are still standing are planning for recovery. So one of your sales messages should concern how your services or products can help your customers plan for post-pandemic recovery.

Are they ready to start handling new leads again? Are they going to be as busy as – or busier than – before? Will their old marketing methods or technology solutions still work? Is their pricing model still feasible? Do their goals and targets need revising? Do their target markets and customers still exist? 

Asking your customers these questions and suggest you have the answers and the strategies to deal with them. Not only will it boost your business during covid, but also help in the long term. It helps position you as a business that can help them hit the ground running when the economy reopens. And will help you win more contracts as – hopefully – the moment of recovery approaches!

Sell Staying Power

One question I regularly get asked by prospects at the moment is, is your company financially stable? Who are your investors? Who are your clients? What are your plans for 2021 and beyond? What they’re really asking is, if I sign up for your product, will you still be around in six months’ time? 

The pandemic has seen thousands of businesses of all kinds disappear. It is leaving customers with subscriptions to services that no longer exist. Technology solutions that are no longer hosted or supported, or service agreements that will simply not be honoured. Likewise, many people have ordered physical products, or things like holidays, from companies that have collapsed before being able to deliver. Business during covid has put us in an unstable environment. Buyers want reassurance that you’re not going to take their money and then disappear. 

So when you’re sending sales pitches or making calls, be prepared to sell your business’s longevity and staying power. Tell your company’s story. Build a webpage showing your founder team, your investors, your employees, your physical offices. Outline your product development and investment plans for 2021 and beyond. Tell them who else is using your service, particularly customers who have signed up in the last few weeks/months. Generally, make them 100% confident that your business will ride this crisis out and still be around for years to come.

Be Social

Finally, and this kind of takes us back to the first point, staying in touch with your target market is more important than ever during for business during covid. People may not be buying from you right now, but that’s no reason to go quiet and let them forget all about you! You need to keep the conversation going even when business is nonexistent. Make sure that when your prospects are ready to spend, you’ll be the first name they think of. 

That’s where social media comes in. Your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds should be as, if not more, active than they were pre-pandemic. Let customers know you’re still alive and open for business. Create pent-up demand (travel companies are doing a LOT of this right now!) Share content to help customers cope in the current climate. Even when that content may not be strictly related to your business. Use your social channels to offer the empathy, recovery tips, confidence and freebies/discounts we mentioned above. Position yourselves as thought leaders and influencers in your sector.

Here’s a great example from a travel industry consultancy based in Malaysia, Pear Anderson. Early on in the pandemic, they realised that 2020 and beyond would be pretty tough in terms of consultancy gigs. So they launched a weekly COVID-19 impact report for the travel industry in Southeast Asia. The result has been thousands of new followers, phenomenal brand building, huge amounts of media coverage in and beyond Asia, and increased levels of confidence and trust in their expertise as consultants. 

business during covid

It’s safe to say that this business is now very much top of mind within the regional travel industry. It is well positioned to thrive once the sector recovers. All thanks to a weekly report and lots of accompanying social media activity!

Business During Covid – The Takeaways

So whereas sales may once have been all about persuasion and closing, business during covid has changed the game. And now the buzzwords are empathy, confidence, authority, recovery, kindness. This requires a different approach to talking to prospects, particularly those who are in sectors struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

But there is no reason to stay quiet and stop talking to your target customers. On the contrary, you should be as if not more vocal than usual. Communicating the message that you’re here for them and that you can ride this crisis out together. So give your business during covid sales patter a rethink. And make sure that, when all this is over and business returns to something close to normal, your customers will be queuing round the block to buy from you!