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The COVID-19 crisis has caused so much disruption and uncertainty for everyone in all aspects of work and life. When talking to customers, it can be hard to know how to strike the right balance between acknowledging the crisis and focusing on business. And especially if customers’ businesses have been affected by the crisis or if buyers are more reluctant to buy, it’s important to know how to approach those customer conversations in a compassionate way.

Sometimes it’s okay to blend business and personal with your customer conversations, especially during a time of widespread stress, grief, and uncertainty. Here are a few tips for having better customer conversations during the coronavirus crisis. 

Don’t ignore the news 

COVID-19 has caused a massive shift in everyone’s priorities and daily life experience. We’ve seen examples of this from every corporation in America and everyone on LinkedIn: everyone is commenting about the crisis and sharing stories of how it’s affecting their business. So don’t assume that your sales conversations with customers have to be strictly about business. Start out the conversation by just asking the customer how they’re doing, how they’re coping with the latest news. You don’t have to be afraid to acknowledge the crisis that we’re all in. 

Most customers will probably appreciate you being candid and willing to talk about a situation we’re all going through. At times of crisis, customers may even be more skeptical of salespeople who are not acknowledging the bigger situation and circumstances. 

However, you don’t have to dwell on it; don’t spend the entire call talking about COVID-19. Try to keep the conversation light and optimistic. You might want to say things like, “Obviously, these are crazy times! How are things going with you and your business so far?” or “It’s been awhile since we talked; the situation has been difficult, of course, but in the last month, my company is starting to enter into a kind of new normal, and I would love to talk with you. How are things on your end?”  

Talking about the crisis in terms of a shared experience and a common adversary can help your customers feel like you are on their side, like you are both on the same team. You’re not trying to sell them something; you’re trying to help them overcome a crisis that is affecting everyone on Earth. 

Listen with empathy 

Every customer conversation right now needs to put empathy at the forefront. More than ever, be sensitive to what your customers are going through. Be patient. Be compassionate. Be willing to just listen and sit with them for a minute on the phone—they might not be ready to buy, they might not have good news for you, they might not even be happy to hear from you.

Everyone is going through a lot of emotions right now. You may be calling customers who have had a family member die of COVID-19, who may have the virus themselves, or who may be at higher risk for it. Your prospect’s company might have taken a huge hit and could be struggling to stay in business. 

Whatever your client is going through, be willing to listen and show that you care—not just as a businessperson, but as a human being. 

Show vulnerability 

This crisis has been so all-encompassing, and it has hit so many industries hard. Your customer conversations might be a good opportunity to share your own story. Not in a sad way, not in a “woe is me” tone of voice, of course, but just as another way of acknowledging the crisis and helping your customers know they are not alone. 

You might want to open up to your customers about your own personal experience during the crisis. Do you know anyone who’s become infected? How is the crisis affecting your immediate city or neighborhood? What concerns do you have for the industry that you serve? 

Of course, you’re on these calls for business purposes and you should still try to be confident and upbeat. But it’s okay to commiserate with your customers a bit about just how uncertain the world can be, and show them your own human response to the crisis, while also offering an optimistic vision of how your company can help them recover, rebuild, and move forward into a brighter future. 

Help before you sell 

Now more than ever, B2B salespeople are in the business of helping people. Your B2B buyers might be in a moment of unprecedented crisis: They may be struggling to stay in business or recently had to part ways with some beloved employees or a longtime vendor. They also may be going through emotional turmoil, feeling scared about their own health and their financial future.

Be ready to help. Be ready to think big about how you can help your customer’s business, even in ways that might not be immediately relevant to what you sell. Think beyond the immediate short-term transaction and build a longer-term relationship. Even if you can’t sell to this customer today, or even later this year, look to create the beginning of a business relationship that could last for years to come. 

The COVID-19 crisis will eventually pass. But even in this moment of crisis, there are opportunities to get better at helping customers and having meaningful customer conversations. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, be human, and listen with empathy. We are all going through this crisis together, and there are still lots of ways to build connections with customers and help each other emerge stronger than before. 

Originally published at All Business

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