In this blog Helen looks at the importance of prioritising the cultivation of meaningful business connections over selling during the COVID-19 crisis.

Author: Helen Tolino

The current situation has, understandably, caused many brands to put the brakes on much of their sales and marketing activity. Budgets are under pressure and marketing teams have a crisis of confidence. How should they proceed when their customers’ priorities and sensitivities have changed so dramatically?

Our domestic universes have shrunk to our immediate families and communities, our working lives are diminished by digital-only communication. Life may be on hold, but what matters in this situation are relationships. We seek comfort and guidance from people we trust to understand how we’re feeling, offer emotional and practical support and help us see positives and opportunities.

In the B2B world, relationship building is always a priority. We work hard to establish credibility, share insight and develop trust, nurturing a ‘relationship’ between the prospect and the brand even before any face-to-face engagement takes place.

Many elements of B2B marketing are strongly relationship orientated, from trade exhibitions and conferences to open houses, roadshows, seminars, workshops and hands-on customer support programmes. Through these mechanisms we make human connections, ask questions, understand real-world challenges, share knowledge, solve problems, build rapport and empathy.

Of course, at some point there is a commercial objective, to sell a product or service. But a B2B sales cycle is often long and complex. It relies on full and extended consultation for a deep understanding of the customer’s business in order to make the right recommendation and provide a robust and sustainable solution.

Right now, for most brands, overt product-led selling seems inappropriate, insensitive, crass even. We all know that some business owners are grappling with existential problems, or at best managing significant operational challenges. Now may not be the time for assertive product promotion, unless of course the product offers a clear solution to the problem in hand.

But it is a time to nurture relationships and to share generously. We can listen to customers to understand their challenges and maybe offer gentle guidance or practical advice. We can share valuable market insight and information that may help prospects and customers in the short-term. We can encourage a longer-term perspective, perhaps by using our expertise to suggest how a business could pivot towards a different model or process to be more efficient or enhance its value proposition. We can offer ideas that deliver value without cost. If nothing else we can console, support and motivate.

Listening does not always come easy to organisations or their sales and marketing teams. Many companies spend too much of their time in ‘broadcast mode’, pushing out information and messages on a mission to gather leads. Likewise, many sales professionals operate with a pre-defined ‘talk track’ designed to communicate what they have to sell. In the words of John Wayne, they’re “short on ears and long on mouth”.

Switching into listening mode is hard, but it’s imperative. Now more than ever, businesses must prioritise cultivating meaningful connections over selling, confident that solid relationships will reap their own reward in the future. Not only in terms of sales, but with things that are far more valuable – long-term brand loyalty, affinity and advocacy.

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