With the coronavirus crisis continuing to put commercial relationships under extraordinary strain, sales teams need to be at the top of their game to keep order books ticking over. John Downes, Construction Industry Specialist at sales enablement software developer sales-i, outlines the key imperatives for sales professionals fighting to protect customer relationships right now.
1: Be flexible and collaborative
As operators the length and breadth of the construction supply chain feel the fall-out from the Covid-19 crisis, there has never been a greater onus on working flexibly and collaboratively towards the common good. This is particularly important for SME traders, who rely on having a constant revenue stream to survive as well as larger distributors who typically live off slim margins and tight cashflow.
Of course, such a philosophy relies on all links in the chain playing their part. With such widespread pressure on construction supply chains, this means accepting that basic business provisions that were once a given, such as product availability, delivery times and dates, now need to be considered differently.
There are myriad examples of suppliers thinking out of the box and going the extra mile to work collaboratively, whether it’s delivering building materials direct to site or providing ad-hoc warehousing arrangements. Your business’ reputation let alone survival could rest on you emulating them.
2: Think common sense on costs and payments
With firms across the board experiencing deep uncertainties as to whether they will be paid for products and services already delivered, let alone potential future orders, a pragmatic approach to managing the numbers is essential.
That means considering practical measures like extending payment terms, granting payment ‘holidays’ and creating tailored payment plans to keep goods moving and customers on board.
What’s more, while in some industries, supply shortages are inevitably leading to justifiable price increases on high demand items (ONS data shows the online cost of cough and cold remedies rose by more than 10% in the week ending 29 March from the previous week) building product manufacturers and distributors should resist the temptation to artificially inflate prices at all costs, or risk being memorable for all the wrong reasons over the long term.
3: Ditch the hard sell but stay closer to customers
Being customer-centric and fostering contacts is a given for sales professionals in times of crisis, but the unique circumstances we find ourselves in today require a tailored approach. That typically means shunning the sell altogether in favour of strategies that nurture existing customer relationships with a view to staying front of mind when business conditions improve.
The most forward-thinking sales pros at this time are going as far as revisiting previous interactions with customers to analyse trends and draw insights. This is particularly applicable in larger sales operations where many staff have been furloughed and customer relationship management has been passed on ‘cold’ to a new salesperson.
Whatever the circumstances, knowing your numbers inside out is absolutely imperative at a time when every penny counts.
4: Dial up the data
With videoconferencing, webinars and remote working now a ubiquitous feature of the daily new normal, the crisis has already brought home the benefits of harnessing technology to do better business. When it comes to the construction sector, where product lines can run into the many hundreds, buyers are typically awash with sales data, yet all too frequently, don’t capture it effectively or cleanly enough to derive any meaningful insights.
With so many sales operations running at a slower pace or indeed mothballed altogether in the sector right now, this presents a golden opportunity for individuals to deep dive into their client’s data to gain actionable insights and anticipate likely future trends.
It is also worth remembering that furloughed staff can still legally undertake training at this time, presenting a further opportunity for individuals to brush up on existing sales enablement software and wider CRM solutions.
5: The million-dollar demand question
When exactly a bounce back in economic activity might occur is the burning question on everyone’s lips right now. But with such variation in the modus operandi of different specialisms within the sector, planning accordingly can seem near impossible.
Given many materials, fixtures and appliances used in both residential and commercial construction are either imported or contain parts and components from abroad, particularly China, considerations around availability and stocking will undoubtedly be a key concern — ranging from what to do with unsold items and how and where to store them, through to concerns around over and understocking and anticipating and fulfilling potentially deep fluctuations in customer demand.
As such, manufacturers and merchants should give extra consideration to their product mixes and how flexible they could become to work in a period of muted and unpredictable demand.
A once in a generation challenge
These are truly extraordinary times for the construction sector businesses but thankfully there are already some tentative bright spots emerging from the gloom. That said, with a global recession looming, there will be few quick fixes to opening up supply chains, reigniting demand and ultimately, stimulating wide scale confidence.
To play their part, construction sales teams throughout the supply chain are going to have to work smarter and more collaboratively than ever to ride out the worst excesses of this once in a generation crisis.