April 3

Selling During COVID-19: Improvise, Adapt and Overcome


My husband Jim is a former Marine. And on more than one occasion, he has said that I remind him of his former drill sergeant. (But that is a story for another blog.) Marines are taught -- and drilled -- to overcome any obstacle. It’s a mindset that helps a Marine deal with the chaos of combat and physical, mental and spiritual hardships.

Many salespeople might feel that they are in the middle of a battle as they deal with change and chaos. The business environment seems to have changed overnight.

  • Field sellers are moving inside. Instead of walking into customers’ offices, they are walking into home offices, and learning new ways of connecting and selling.
  • Parent are juggling work and home schooling their children.
  • Sellers are finding too much demand for their products and services, and are dealing with upset customers and prospects.
  • Sellers are finding no demand for their products and services. They are staring at empty sales pipelines.

This is the time for sales managers to help their sales teams improvise, adapt and overcome.

But how do you take this Marine Corp mantra and embed it into your sales organization? Here are three tips to get you started.

Improvise. Its definition is to produce or make something from whatever is available. And right now, your sales team might be thinking: There is nothing available! 

At your next group sales meeting, I encourage you to invite people that normally do not attend it. They will provide a new perspective that your sales team may not even think of. Because, when faced with a challenge, your sales team might keep looking at that challenge with the same beliefs as always, asking the same questions. That doesn’t create new ways of thinking and doing. 

Invite your CFO, the warehouse manager, vendors, supplier and other sales leaders to your meeting. They will present different views and ask different questions, which creates new ways to improvise. Who would have thought distilleries and perfume plants could be used to make hand sanitizers?

Help your sales team improvise, and think of new ways to sell and service their clients.

Adapt. This suggestion might come as a surprise. Teach your sales team to stop resisting. Psychologist Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”

Like it or not, some members of your sales team are in denial, hoping and wishing the good ’ol days will return. They keep revisiting the past.

Adapting requires looking at the future.

Help your team adapt by asking questions such as: 

  • What can you do differently to succeed in this business environment?
  • How can you better serve your clients?
  • Who can you serve that isn’t even on your radar or target list?

Change the question and you change the answers, which helps salespeople adapt.

Overcome. Many hard-charging sales managers and salespeople will respond with, “Take the hill.” Now, that’s not bad advice, but I am going to suggest that you take the hill ONE STEP AT A TIME. Because charging up the hill may just overwhelm some of your sellers.

During your next one-on-one coaching session, work with your salesperson to identify the top three to five highest-payoff activities. There is a good chance that the activity plan defined at the beginning of the year is not the right activity plan for this time of the year. It’s a good time to review basic time-management principles. I see a lot of salespeople struggling with focus because they have so many distractions vying for their attention. Help your seller get highly focused and highly productive.

As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Improvise, adapt and overcome.

Good Selling!


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