No one could have anticipated the unprecedented effect of the coronavirus on our economy. Local and state governments enacted stay-at-home orders across the country, which forced nonessential businesses to close their doors. Considering about half of small businesses say they can survive for only two months under current conditions — and one-third say no more than six months — it’s no wonder small business owners are in a state of distress.
Some business owners and leaders have found themselves paralyzed by fear, and that fear has kept them from responding well to this crisis. They’ve drawn inward and failed to reach out to their best customers. They haven’t planned how they will react to the different world that will inevitably exist after the pandemic; instead, they plan to decide on a course of action later and repair the damage when they start back up.
If you’ve found this anxiety consuming you personally and professionally, you’re not alone. It’s normal to feel unsettled and unsure during uncertain times, but there are still things that are entirely in your control — especially when it comes to your business. One of the most important items? Putting together a sales contingency plan. By focusing on this plan, you can position your company to recover as quickly as possible once things return to normal.
The Importance of a Sales Contingency Plan
The stronger your sales infrastructure, the more likely it is that your company will withstand this crisis. By reaching out to customers now and asking how they’re doing, you’ll maintain relationships in the present and set a firm foundation for those relationships to continue well into the future.
This is also a great time to hang on to cash and prioritize the essentials your business needs. That point is especially important considering 80% of small business owners who applied for the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program (in its first round) still haven’t received the much-needed funds they requested.
It’s vitally important that you consider how your business climate will be different after the pandemic — and how you’ll need to pivot your approach in response. If you don’t process that information now, you won’t be prepared once you’re allowed to reopen. You wouldn’t start training for a marathon the day you’re supposed to run it, would you? Apply that same logic to your business decisions.
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
COVID-19 has been a harsh reminder of the importance of having a sales contingency plan. It’s much easier to continue to operate during a crisis when there is a stable sales plan formulation in place.
How can small businesses increase sales amid this crisis? Follow these four steps to create an emergency sales plan of your own. This plan will help you retain control of your company during the current pandemic and prepare you for any unforeseen events that may come up in the future.
1. Conduct a thorough analysis of your current environment, challenges, and capabilities.
Do you have the right people in place to address a new way of selling? Things are working now, but what if one variable changed? Would the whole process fall apart? Make sure you’re able to adjust your sales process to a new climate — if needed.
If this analysis reveals significant holes in your sales plan formulation, bring your leadership team together for a half-day working session to iron out these details. That might seem like a lot of time, but it will pay dividends when an unexpected event occurs.
2. Plan for alternative sales scenarios.
Consider hypothetical sales scenarios that may be necessary due to the changes in your business, industry, or environment. Talk with your leadership team about what these scenarios could look like.
Depending on how deeply the crisis has affected your business and industry, there could be several different scenarios you’ll need to work through. A shutdown of one month may look very different than a three-month closure, for example — and a resulting recession could turn your business on its head. Make sure you have a sales communication plan in place to address every possible outcome.
3. Map out your ‘new normal.’
Once you figure out what business might look like in the future, you can build a sales contingency plan that addresses the realities of your future. Consider whether your sales organization can simply start back up when the crisis ends, whether you need to change your approach dramatically, or whether you can find a middle ground somewhere in between.
If you’re a restaurant, do you move to selling gift cards and building your carryout business? If you’re a boutique, do you amp up your online selling and Instagram influencer game? The more details you can outline now, the better equipped you’ll be when a crisis comes.
4. Establish tactical action steps and timing for each sales scenario.
For each sales scenario, map out specific action steps, timing, and stakeholders. This is an important shift from strategy to tactics. For example, if you’re moving your brick-and-mortar store online, how will you execute and secure digital ads, influencers, etc., to stay relevant in the minds of customers?
Take time to determine when each action will take place before crises happen. If you wait until you “need” something to happen, it will be too late to implement those plans — and your competition will likely beat you to the punch. Create a week-by-week plan of the action items that need to be completed and who will complete them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit small businesses especially hard, but these organizations are nothing if not resilient. They’ve been through the wringer before, and they can make it through this crisis with the right preparation.
Focus on what you can control: maintaining customer relations, anticipating the future of your business, and creating a sales plan that addresses your current situation as well as the future. The rest will follow, and you will get through this.
Interested in learning more about how to keep your sales team on track during the COVID-19 pandemic? Download a free checklist to discover six things that will drive your sales team forward during any crisis.