From Early Payments to Zoom Boxing Classes: How Are Sales Teams Working Through the Lockdown?

Sales MeetingThe COVID-19 lockdown has added friction to most of our lives, but those working in commercial roles will have felt more disruption than most.

Sales, an inherently social role, is hard to do while social distancing. Staples of the job like meeting with clients and prospects for lunches and making new contacts at networking events can’t be done remotely.

And, as the ad industry is all too aware, selling during a global crisis is not an easy thing. With clients struggling financially and emotions running high, a poorly judged sales pitch can cause far more harm than good.

Those VAN spoke with said that as the lockdown measures were introduced and the economic impact of the virus started to become clear, one of the first ports of call was checking in with existing clients on a personal level.

“The reality is for the first month or so, there was a bit of a shock” said James Cornish, VP of international sales at Vevo. “As a team we have good friends at agencies and clients, so the first approach has been to check in with people, rather than being on a hard sales mission.”

Cadi Jones, commercial director EMEA at Beeswax, took a similar approach. “With our existing customers, for the first few weeks we were really just trying to be there for them,” she said. “Whether that was contractually and financially, or by using our view as a DSP of how different sectors were being affected to give them intelligence about what’s going on in the market”.

But as the weeks have passed and businesses have started to plan for the future, commercial teams have had to return to their regular work of maintaining existing relationships and building new ones. Those VAN spoke with said they’ve found a fair amount of friction has been added to their daily work.

Reaching new clients

Like the rest of us, sales people are spending a lot more time on Zoom, and dealing with all the network issues and audio problems that come with it. But while it’s a convenient way to catch up with clients or talk with prospects, a Zoom call isn’t as effective as a face-to-face meeting.

“You lose the nuance of the non-verbal interaction and communication,” said Emma Newman, CRO EMEA at PubMatic. “What’s not said can be almost as important, if not more important, than what is said. And those non-verbal cues that you pick up when you’re in a room together, you miss those when you’re on a Zoom or BlueJeans call. There’s a lot to be said of just being able to pick up the vibe of a room.”

Vevo’s Cornish agreed. “Certainly when you’re meeting new people or people you’re less familiar with, it’s harder to read them and to establish a rapport on a Zoom call,” he said.

And finding time for calls with potential new clients in the first place has become more difficult.

Dave Simon, CRO at Fyber, said the added friction in everyone’s work lives is making it harder to pin down prospects. “What might have taken five minutes to do in an office, where you look over your shoulder and ask someone for help, now you need to schedule a meeting to do that,” he said. “Most people I’ve spoken to say they’re working flat out at the moment. So finding space in someone’s day as a new vendor, if you’re not a key revenue priority for their company already, is a challenge.”

“And there’s not much you can do to entice them, you can’t take them for lunch!” he added.

Simon said it’s become even more important for initial outreach to be finely tailored to the potential client. “If you don’t capture their attention with something meaningful or differentiated now, it’s much less likely that you’ll get a reply,” he said. “So we have to focus on finding ways to make things very personal, relevant and specific when doing outreach. If you don’t you won’t get the meeting. That wasn’t always the case before, you could trade a little bit on your name and get meetings if you were a well known company, but that’s become a lot harder now.”

Away from cold calls, commercial teams have been finding creative ways to reach and engage new companies. The loss of events and networking opportunities has made it harder to meet new people. But several VAN spoke with said that showcasing their work and expertise can help them find new opportunities.

Beeswax’s Jones said her company has run webinars on industry topics like the death of the cookie and brand in-housing. “That content is helping us to stay connected with our current customers, but we don’t lock down our webinars, so companies we don’t know can join too” she said. “I’m hearing from both customers and from prospects that they value the time and energy we’re putting into this future-facing content.”

Christian d’Ippolito, commercial director at Level99, an esports focussed creative agency, has similarly focussed on putting out content that prospects can engage with.

“We’ve been using Instagram Live a lot,” he said. “For the Fortnite collaboration with Travis Scott the other night, we livestreamed the event from my front room and added our own commentary. By doing that, you’ve got a discussion taking place on your Instagram feed involving fans of your work and people involved with esports who might be interested in what you do.”

Level99 has also been finding ways to involve clients and prospects in the content creation process. d’Ippolito said since esports is still relatively niche and misunderstood, prospects will often come to his company looking for insight into the space. For some of these prospects, Level99 will film these fact-finding calls where they talk through the space and answer questions, and send this footage back to them.

“That’s a really honest way of having your credentials and ideas delivered organically internally at potential clients,” said d’Ipollito. “We’re not forcing the agenda and talking about budgets, timelines, or preferred work scopes. We’re just saying ‘here’s some info, we’d love to help you guys, share it round and let us know if you have any questions’.”

Maintaining client relationships

As Beeswax’s Jones said, content can be useful for keeping connected with existing clients, as well as finding new ones. But as social events and work lunches have been cut off, those VAN spoke to have been finding other ways to maintain client relationships too.

Vevo’s James Cornish said his company has been running online social events with their partners. “We’ve started to do more things to try and bring clients together, from team Zoom insight presentations for agencies, to things like music video quizzes and drinks on a Friday afternoon,” he said. “We even had a virtual boxing class, where we had around 60 people turn up on Zoom on a Friday lunchtime!”

And beyond the social aspect of relationships, commercial teams have been trying to gauge what they can do to help clients through a potentially difficult period.

PubMatic’s Emma Newman said she’s found it important to simply offer reassurance to her clients about PubMatic’s own financial position.

“We’re very fortunate we’re in a good financial position, and we immediately off the bat went out to reassure our customers about that,” she said. “We don’t want them to have that extra stress, wondering if one of their largest revenue generating partners is suddenly going to go bust.”

To help do this, PubMatic decided to pay its partners early, both to help them out with cash flow, and quell fears about late payments.

Cadi Jones said Beeswax has similarly been reaching out to see if they can make their clients’ lives any easier. “Whether that means helping a customer with payment terms, or changing contracts so they don’t have the same outlays at the start of the contract, or whether it means additional support around optimisation or for setup, this is the time to be there for your customers and your prospects,” she said.

The running theme from all those VAN spoke with was they are having to be active in figuring out what their clients’ needs are right now, and if it’s possible for them to meet those needs.

And this process can even lead to whole new business opportunities.

Level99’s Christian d’Ippolito said that with sports broadcasters starved of live sport content and increasingly leaning on esports, his company is looking into making TV content for the first time – branching out from its traditional marketing-focussed business.

“We’ve seen an opportunity,” said d’Ippolito. “They need content, we make content, and the dial is moving towards games and esports. If that’s not sales, I don’t know what is!”

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