Business development · 5 May 2020

How to sell during COVID-19

sell-during-covid-19

Catherine Erdly, founder of Future Retail Consulting offers small businesses advice on how they can sell their products and services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lockdown may have been going on for weeks now, but many are still struggling to find their way with the new normal when it comes to business. On top of juggling home-schooling, worries over elderly parents and disruption of typical routines, many are trying to find the words to still talk about their businesses and continue to sell.

If you are wondering if or how to keep selling during this time, this article will give you some pointers on where to start.

Meet your customer where they are now

It was very clear, after lockdown was announced, that some businesses had kept sending out their pre-scheduled content, without amending anything. Talking to your customers as if nothing has changed is at best tone-deaf and at worst upsetting. Your messaging needs to reference the situation that your customer finds themselves in.

Does that mean that you have to become a 24 hour coronavirus update service? Absolutely not. You do not have to focus exclusively on the current situation. But you do need to acknowledge it – even just a few words here or there will help your customer feel heard and understood.

If you use humour in your business messages, feel free to use it now – although be aware that people are most sensitive, understandably, so if you think something is questionable, don’t post it! Humour can be very subjective and now is not the time to be unintentionally offensive. If you typically post uplifting messages, continue to do so. Now is not the time to be changing the tone of voice of your business. Now is the time to be using your voice as a business to talk to your customer and support them.

The most important conversation that goes on during selling is the one going on inside your customer’s head. Tapping in to that, even just a little, is a powerful way to stay connected to your customers.

Think about why they would buy

Part of meeting your customer where they are now is also about thinking about why they would even buy from you at this time. People are buying for three main reasons – to protect themselves and their families, to connect with loved ones and the outside world, and to distract – either themselves or children!

If you look at your business and what you offer, can you create messages that will resonate with your customer around one of these key motivators? Can you offer gifting options to allow them to send gifts to their loved ones? Can you highlight the products in your range that are perfect to support home learning? How about demonstrating journaling techniques in your notebooks?

Look at your product range and think about why people might buy them at this time. The unique advantage of this situation is that we are all going through lockdown at the same time, so it won’t take much for you to be able to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, because you are probably already in them!

Instead of thinking about selling, think about serving. How can your products help your customer at this time? What if selling was as simple as figuring out how your customer can use your products to connect, protect or distract and letting them know? If you are just sharing the benefits, this is the easiest way to sell without feeling pushy or distasteful.

Consider your messaging – connect and give value, don’t just sell

How many of your posts/messages to your customers even need to be sales-based? Best practice, at all times, not just during a crisis, is to rotate your messages between three types of posts.

Connect posts should make up around 40% of your messages and are anything that promotes a connection between you and your customers. Sharing your stories, asking opinions, even showing behind the scenes of your business – these are all connect-type posts. Value – 40% of your messages should give some kind of value – whether that’s a tip about how to use your product or care for it or even a motivational message – these are all examples of giving value.

Selling posts – only 20-25%, or every 4-5 posts should have a direct sales message – whether that’s “buy now” or “visit the site to buy”.

So if you are not feeling sure about how to talk to your customers, why not focus on the connection and value as a place to start? As I mentioned previously, connection is probably easier now than ever because we have so many shared experiences, possibly more than ever before!

Connect and value posts should be the bulk of your messages anyway, and they allow you to stay visible, keep close to your ideal customer and still stay at the front of their mind.

If you’re still not sure what to say, why not spend 15 minutes brainstorming ideas of how you could connect or add value, as well as what your sales messages could be? It is always easier to come up with ideas in one sitting rather than staring blankly at your
screen when it’s time to put up a post.

You don’t have to create a hugely involved schedule, but if you at least note down some ideas that are appropriate for the current situation, you will find it much easier to keep connecting with your customer.

In summary – meet your customer where they are right now, think about what they are going through now and how your products can help, and above all, keep connecting. If you operate in this way, selling won’t feel difficult or unpleasant.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Catherine Erdly has over 19 years experience working with product businesses of all sizes from high street names (such as Paperchase, Laura Ashley and Coast), all the way down to brand new businesses with just a handful of customers.

High Streets Initiative