The global pandemic has brought us turmoil, heightened anxiety and pervasive uncertainty that no one expected. There were, however, positives: new ways of working, more time with family, and a real pause to reflect on how we do business in this brave new digital world.
The pandemic also opened up something unexpected: the ability to communicate on a more human level. This created a space for empathy for each other and for our range of difficult circumstances. Every day we meet with colleagues and clients via video conferencing and look into their world. We see pictures of their children on the walls, we see how these children climb onto their knees and look with curiosity at the strangers on the screen. We see their homes and lives. We see people struggle and juggle competing demands – personal and professional. We see their full life in close-up.
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This is one of the greatest paradoxes of the B2B world. It’s easy to forget how big the companies you are selling to, no matter how many billions or trillions their market capitalization costs, no matter how many offices and employees they have – you are still selling and selling to individuals. People. In a world full of automation, with an unprecedented amount of data and intelligence, it is tempting to rely on predictive data to generate pipeline and profit. This is an incomplete approach. People are insecure, nervous, and the best way forward is to invest and build relationships during these stressful times.
The B2B companies that thrived during this pandemic are the ones that put relationships above their earnings and became trustees during this crisis. Even with the end of the pandemic approaching, we cannot return to a purely income-focused mindset.
1. (Actually) Listen; Find out how you influenced the people you care about
We must always work to understand our customers and their concerns. This is all the more important on difficult days. But don’t dwell on professional questions. Ask yourself: Does my customer have a family? If so, how does the freedom to work from home affect them? While some companies are debating whether to return to the office and the old way of working, many employees are concerned. Really put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their day-to-day concerns.
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Then take it one step further: unexpectedly call them to discuss how the current state of affairs is affecting them. Listen and make room for them. Make it your mission to fully understand the problems they face and how they solve them. Tell us about the problems you encountered. Vulnerability can strengthen relationships and build true connection. You will come out of these meetings with a better perspective, your client will feel heard, and your relationship will deepen.
2. Define success differently
We’ve come a long way since April 2020 and it looks like much of the economy has emerged from the pandemic. But there is still uncertainty caused by the Delta option, and a second, long winter with COVID-19 could await us. This can slow down recovery.
The knee-jerk reaction to a downturn is to increase sales and try to sell more as some customers leave or potential buyers lose interest. But if the new option is causing another downfall, then this is not the time to be an aggressive seller. This is an opportunity to become the client’s confidant and understand what success is for a person. Ask yourself: What does your client want to achieve in their career in the short and long term? How can I help them achieve these goals? Focus on your goals and focus on how your client is achieving their goals rather than your internal relationship metrics.
We all have qualified marketing leads, sales quotas and KPIs to meet. But leaders who can prioritize how their clients are performing against these tough metrics will become long-term, trusted advisors that clients can rely on.
Think of simple metrics you can include in your KPIs, such as how many of your customers achieved their goal thanks to you (personal or professional). Here’s a great example: One of my colleagues, after talking with a client who was struggling to find a kindergarten in a new city, spent several hours researching and selecting options and sent them to the client. This is right. But it is also the kind of meaningful activity that can build brand loyalty and set companies up for long-term success.
Talk to your team about the new quality and customer engagement metrics – and make sure you are all accountable for these new relationship-based KPIs.
3. Cultivate a culture of empathetic leadership.
During the pandemic, so many boundaries were blurred. It is difficult to separate the personal from the professional. Previously, work was a place where we represented only one side of ourselves, but after the pandemic, this is no longer the case. The best leaders learn more about their people and their needs; they create a culture of empathy. Just like you do with clients, plan time with your colleagues to understand how they have been influenced, personally and professionally. Ask how you can make their life easier and help them feel more supported. Ask what problems they are most concerned about right now. Take steps personally to help solve them.
Employees who feel heard and receive gratitude from their boss are more likely to be productive and do better work. They will also be more receptive and empathetic to your customers, which is good for your company and your business. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reported that the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index rose in value more than double the top 10, while generating 50 percent more profit. Leaders must adopt a relationship-centered approach, stop talking about it, and increase our empathy in uncertain times. This will help your business not only be useful, but also good.
It’s a win-win where we can all fall behind.