Perspectives from ISB

Panelists: Prof. S. Arunachalam, Assistant Professor, Indian School of Business,
Ms. Anindita Banik, Founder, and CEO at SmartWinnr and Mr. Shiladitya Mallik, Chief Business Officer at SmartWinnr
Date: August 7, 2020
Compiled by Minal Agarwal, Manager, ISB-Centre for Business Markets

COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected businesses globally. Organisations are confused and uncertain about their future. Business leaders are left with a big question: “What should we be doing in these critical times?” Thankfully, a multitude of digital technologies has come to our aid. However, it is crucial for organisations to utilize these technologies effectively. With the right strategies in place, organisations can turn these challenging times into opportunities for meaningful change to enhance the organisation’s wellbeing.

Strategies for Marketing activities:
In the last four months, the marketing landscape has changed. Amidst this uncertainty, research has shown that there has been a spike in social media marketing budgets of organisations from 13% in February 2020 to 23% in May 2020. Some social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram have reduced their advertising costs in the last four months, i.e., from March 2020. Facebook has reduced the Cost Per Mille (CPM), a commonly used measurement in advertising by 50%. This means if organisations reduce their marketing budget by 50%, they can still get the same number of impressions as they were getting in normal times. Companies that are using Social media marketing effectively have seen a positive boost to their performance.
With these emerging new behaviors, organisations should reimagine their digital strategies to capture new marketplaces and digital customer segments. A social media marketing agency can help organisations in understanding this new landscape. Some of the key points which organisations should keep in mind while engaging with these agencies are:
Partnership: Companies must identify the right social media agency and develop a trusted relationship between them and their social media agency
Melding: It is essential to integrate marketing strategy and social media strategy. Organisations should invite senior executive(s) from the social media agency to their marketing strategy and advertising meetings, to ensure tight integration of the social media strategy with the organisation’s culture
Communication: Create a simple process for effective communication with customers is vital. Organisations need to build this capability, leveraging the competencies of the social media agency.
Metrics: It is very important to put in place the right set of metrics to bring alignment between intent/goals and results/outcomes. The organisation should design customer-oriented metrics to understand the following questions:
I. What is the brand awareness of the organization in the market?
II. How many current customers have the company succeeded in retaining?
III. How many new customers have the company acquired recently?

Feedback: Regular feedback can help organisations in improving their services and offerings.
Research has shown that brands that are responsive and listening not only to their customers but also to their employees, perform better. Empathy is the key in these uncertain times. Organisations should share with their customers, how they helped their employees, customers, suppliers, and community, to cope with the all-round uncertainties that confront each of these stakeholders. This would help in getting a customer’s loyalty and enhance future purchases.

Strategies for Selling activities:
In the current scenario, sales teams that have always been the frontline face of an organisation are left with no other option but to sell their products remotely to customers, leveraging digital technologies. Prior to the pandemic, face-to-face meetings with customers was an effective tool for sales representatives to understand all germane aspects relating to their customers, thus enabling them to pitch their offerings accordingly. It has now become challenging for sales representatives to understand the likes and dislikes of their customers, as well as other vital customer’s thought processes in the context of remote selling.
Some of the major challenges which sales representatives are facing in this remote selling mode are:
• Not getting the right content to engage with their customers
• Difficulty in understanding customer needs
• Lack of motivation in working from home
• Lack of right digital tools and access to high speed, reliable Internet

Research has shown that only 1/3rd of the sales representatives have the right skillsets for selling remotely. To overcome these challenges and improve the performance of their sales teams, organisations should work on inculcating the following skills to their sales force:

Conversation skills: Sales executives must do their homework and work on developing their conversation skills.
Active listening skills: It becomes very important for sales representatives to hone their listening skills to enable them to accurately understand their customers’ requirements.
Building trust: In the digital selling process, the sales processes are broken into multiple short engagements in the form of different modes of communications such as video calls and conferences, WhatsApp chats, etc. It, therefore, becomes imperative that the sales team build strong relationships with customers, which is essential to foster trust, which is a vital ingredient for success in selling.
On-screen presence: Sales representatives should be presentable in front of their customers even in the digital medium. A casual approach, which is common when operating from home must be abjured.
Presentation/written communication: A sales representative could be a great orator in face-to-face situations but may not necessarily be a good communicator in the digital world.

Organisations should empathize with their sales team and help the salespersons in developing new skills required for success in the new world.
Training Strategy: Sales Representatives need to be given proper training to learn new skills. A new format of training is required and organisations need to rethink their existing training models by including shorter sessions and bite-sized learning clippings and videos since attention spans have seen gradual diminution. The training sessions could be a blend of synchronous as well as asynchronous learning modules, combined with pre- and post-training activities. Organisation should encourage peer-to-peer learning as well.

Content Strategy: New content must be developed because the attention span of a customer is less in the digital world vis-à-vis during a physical engagement. Organisations need to create bite-sized consumable content and infographics that will help sales professionals in communicating effectively with their customers.

Incentives and Motivation Strategy: Organisations need to focus on tracking and monitoring the salespersons’ activities in addition to the outcome. Rewarding the sales team for performance, encompassing both activities and outcomes, will motivate them. Gamification is complementing traditional incentive structure.

A cross-functional team consisting of Marketing, Sales, Finance, Technology, and other relevant departments should work in cohesion to thrive in these challenging times.

One of the greatest advantages of digital communication is that the organisations can measure the performance of their salespersons and the sales pitch that is being made to customers in real-time and modify them suitably.

To illustrate the points that were discussed during the session, the panelists discussed a case study of a life insurance company. The company was advised to rework its product portfolio and work on its communication strategy to address the growing needs of its digital customers. By implementing the following initiatives, the company obtained a significant upside in its sales performance:
• Relook at its existing product portfolio to include products that are relevant in the present times
• Revamp the content of the product brochure to deliver value to their digital customers
• Reposition its sales pitch to have more empathy-based conversations with clients
• Reboot the insurance agents’ knowledge and skills about the product that they are selling, and to enable them to answer customer queries appropriately.