Selling from a Distance

Tips on staying connected to customers during COVID-19

Working from Home
Many contractors are using their down time to take training seminars.
Photo by Luke Peters on Unsplash

Focused on helping contractors navigate their businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert recently shared his tips on how to keep sales moving forward.

Ken Boegeman, president of Swinter Group in St. Louis, Missouri, who also serves as a member of the Snow & Ice Management Association’s (SIMA) Education Committee, talked about what his company is doing to maintain contracts and customers during this uncertain time.

“Most people are working from home with diminished capacity,” Boegeman says. “Our company is experiencing the same thing as everyone else.”

Creating a Virtual Office

Not everyone is accustomed as office workers with conducting meetings online, instead of in person or over the phone. Virtual meetings are a strategy Swinter Group is using to connect with clients.

Some of the virtual meetings services Boegeman recommended are GoToMeetingRingCentralClickMeeting and Grasshopper. Other services include ZoomPexipLoopUp and StartMeeting. The virtual meeting service is installed on a phone or computer, and web cameras are used to provide video feed of each participant.

“It’s very helpful for when your team is all in separate areas,” he says. “It’s a more personal way of meeting than just a speaker phone or conference call.”

He also suggested businesses adopt an online cloud storage service to store and share files, such as DropboxDropbox BusinessGoogle Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.  

“This is very handy for a file you’re going to view or share with someone else,” Boegeman says. “They can, from their house, pull up the same document and make changes. You can both look at it and make changes at the same time.”

Google Earth, an online mapping tool, creates 2D and 3D views of any location on the planet. It’s another online tool that Boegeman recommends. The tool can help contractors measure residential and commercial properties for bids.

“It’s a good way of establishing measurements to get the square footage of properties you’re bidding on,” he says.

Keeping Your Head in the Game

Working from home, sometimes with other family members in the house all day, can create a long list of stressors and distractions.

Boegeman shared several tips to stay alert and productive:

  • Keep your routine: “Don’t slip into sleeping late,” he says. “Set up some standard operating procedures for how to work from home. Set up an office in a guest bedroom, so you can focus on work instead of watching TV in the living room.”
  • We’re all in this together: “Interruptions in meetings has become the norm; that’s happening everywhere,” he says. “Do your best to keep your appearance professional, but also understand that if your kids are fighting in the background, that’s happening to everyone these days.”
  • Focus on documentation: “We’ve lost a lot of the one-on-one interaction that we really rely on to accomplish things,” he says. “Increase the notes you’re taking as you’re having phone conversations with folks. I’m making sure I’m documenting what I’m doing and if I’ve got a question, I write it down, so I don’t forget it later. It’s not as easy as when I could pop across the hall to ask someone to do something.”

Helping Customers, Renewing Contracts

The downtime that comes with shelter-in-place orders provides an opportunity to connect with customers and vendors, Boegeman says.

“Most customers are working from home, not doing property visits,” he says. “Property managers are in a situation where they’re trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.”

While most are uncertain about what their budget will be in the coming months, once they’re back in business, there will be a need for repairs and maintenance.

“No one has been in these buildings for a long time,” he says. “Folks going to come back into the office they’re going have problems, like roof leaks. Property managers are going to be slammed with problems, deferred maintenance issues; they’re going to be very busy when this is over.”

That’s why now is a good time to talk to property managers about renewing contracts for snow removal and lawn care. Some property managers won’t be comfortable with the idea of renewing those contracts now, because of budgetary issues. Others will want to take care of the issue.

“We’re talking to property managers about, ‘is this a good time to renew,’” he says. “Some are very open to that, very responsive right now. It’s something off their checklist now that they’re not going to have to deal with later.”

When calling on existing customers about those issues, Boegeman recommends taking a personable approach, especially if it’s an existing customer.

“If they’ve hired you before it’s more often than not because they trust you to do a good job, they know you and like you,” he says. “Ask them, how they are doing in all of this, are they working from home, do you have a high schooler who’s going to miss a dance? Build on and strengthen relationships. And then talk about snow. Explain you’re trying to get ahead of things.”

Sending Emails with the Right Message

When sending out emails to clients, stay away from messages that sound like they’re part of a mass marketing message.

“There’s a really fine line you need to walk there,” Boegeman says. “It seems like everyone is coming out of woodwork on how to handle COVID-19; from how to make hand sanitizer, to keeping documentation and how to clean a counter, from the perspective of, ‘we’re here to help you in a crisis.’ I get what they’re doing, but that’s a little aggravating to me. It’s disguised as, ‘we want to help you,’ but sell you something later. The ones I have responded to don’t have feel of a mass type email. They’re individual messages. ‘How are you and your wife doing?’ ‘What’s going on in your world?’ ‘What’s new?’ instead of a marketing piece.”

Think about how that customer is likely working from home and spending a lot of time with family.

“Keep your messages family oriented,” he says. “Stay away from the vague, general, broad stroke. Have a more personal touch. Share how you’re helping the community, how you’re protecting your employees.”

Plan Now for a Busy Fall, Winter

Swinter Group employees are using this time to audit company equipment and see what needs repairs.

“We’re compiling a list, with different levels of importance,” Boegeman says. “And if we can’t find a part, we’re taking the time to see if we can get it from a different supplier.”

It’s also a great time to do some training, he says. Several of his employees are completing training seminars this month.

When businesses reopen, repair and equipment install shops will likely be slammed with orders and appointments, he says.

“Now is a pretty good time to fix, upgrade, repair equipment,” he says. “It’s a good time to contact them and get in line and get into the queue so you’re ready to go (when business picks up again).”