COVID-19 has many businesses and marketers rethinking strategies and working hard to adapt and survive the disruption. Sometimes in the midst of chaos, like in a hurricane, the eye of the storm provides solace and space to catch a breath. With quarantines and ordered shut-downs, it’s a great time to dive deeper into who your customers are. The more you understand their challenges and what makes them happy, the better positioned your company will be to create effective communications and marketing programs.
When planning marketing research, the best approach is to design your research with the end in mind, as we discussed last week. However, just as important are the types of research, qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative research focuses on listening and learning from your customers. And what better time to listen and learn than in today’s environment.
Your customers are likely grappling with seclusion, quarantine, lean staffing or layoffs, fear and frustrations. The best way to get insightful research is through rapport and empathy. Right now, marketers and sales departments are focusing on crisis communications and sidelining sales calls. Rather than having your staff sit idle, let them continue to be relevant by reaching out to clients, checking in and just listening.
In business to business organizations, and increasingly business-to-consumer, client relationships make or break your company. Like the stock market, your strategy should be in the long term. Client relationship management is just that, listening, understanding and being there for your customers in good times and bad. Refocusing your salesforce to take an active role as exploratory researchers can help strengthen the relationships with your clients and help your salesforce stay focused on an actionable objective.
There are seven tips, applying qualitative research techniques for your salesforce embrace:
- Listen and look for verbal and non-verbal clues. Whether doing a video-call, listening on the phone or visiting in-person, watching and listening for subtle clues from the tone of voice, body language, shortness of answer; these clues can provide valuable feedback.
- Listen more than talk. In any relationship development, the key is listening and letting the listener know that they are being heard. This isn’t the time to talk about products or services. This is the time to be a sounding board. A non-partisan, unbiased outlet to underscore that you are available for your clients.
- Don’t approach as a sales call. The reps must approach as a human call. No alternative mode, other than just checking in. What isn’t “said” will convey a lot in terms of relationship building.
- There is no definitive agenda. These initial calls are directional, in that staff can listen for cues and uncover any themes or areas where your company can provide solace. Not in a sales capacity but in a relationship capacity. Listening can also provide insight into forecasting and future relationship-building efforts. Follow up, follow through – when the time is right.
- Be empathetic. In order to build rapport, staff must be empathetic and that starts by having no agenda other than just checking in and listening. Providing an outlet for your clients to know they are heard and matter.
- Provide a basic guide, reminding sales reps that this isn’t a sales call. This is a relationship call. Provide a basic guide, a recipe so to speak, conducting a listening call to clients to learn about their current status, frustrations and challenges as measured by asking who, what, why questions but more so how are you doing? Listening more and talking less. The key is the unscripted, authentic, “how are you?”
- Being flexible. Let your clients know that you are available and will follow up in a specific period of time to check in again. Following qualitative research best practices, when it comes to engagement, research is an ongoing practice and timing is everything.
Qualitative research provides many benefits for organizations including uncovering issues you may not know about, insight into sensitive topics, foundational data and deeper, broader insights. Your sales team are actionable personality types and are programmed to want to move things forward. The COVID-19 pandemic has put sales and marketing on hold from the promotional stand-point but it’s an excellent opportunity for sales to build relationships and act as qualitative researchers for your organization. The benefits are win-win-win. A win for the client relationship, they feel valued; a win for the salesperson, they can keep moving and taking action; and a win for your organization, your employees and clients are connecting and building stronger relationships that will provide valuable insights to help come out of the storm stronger and better prepared and positioned for tomorrow’s recovery.