When COVID-19 hit, Fisher & Paykel had two choices: retreat, or put its foot on the accelerator. Ahead of his appearance in our on-demand webinar about the future of sales leadership, Rudi Khoury, Executive Vice President – Customer Experience, explains the decision the company made and how that decision helped reshape its approach to sales.

Working through this pandemic has brought many different challenges for all types of businesses, and COVID-19 presented us with a big decision: do we let things play out and see what happens? Or do we double down and invest in technology?

As a global business who sells products in more than 50 countries, we operate in a B2B, B2C and B2B2C world, so we needed to ensure our sales channels were still able to work as best as they could.

We asked the question internally: “In 12 or 18 months, are we going to regret investing in technology now?”. No one could say “no”.

There were some things that we already knew we needed to do. Straight away, we brought forward the technological investment that was already on our roadmap. Since then it feels like we’ve done at least two years of work in the past six months, but it’s been worth it.

Under our new CEO and the executive team, we’ve been focusing very heavily on internal communication and transparency to make sure our shared purpose, vision and strategy have cascaded through the company and permeate everything we do at every level.

This culture enabled us to quickly take action and helped power the changes we made to the way we connected with all of our partners and customers.

Reimagining the sales process

As you’d expect during this global pandemic, we’ve had to rethink our approach to sales. And as a global business, that looked different in each region.

Parts of North America have essentially been in lockdown since March; in New Zealand we had very swift lockdowns, but were back in action relatively quickly. So we’ve had to tailor our approach based on what’s happening in the region.

Across the world, though, retailers’ ability to sell to the customer was taken away overnight. This meant we had to change how we supported them – and change that quickly.

The most significant change, of course, was for those who usually operate from a storefront. If you don’t have a store, how do you keep on selling?

The immediate things we focused on were perhaps the obvious. Were our products on their website? Did they have the right content to support those products? And this, all of a sudden, leads into how can we keep training your staff?

It was important they understood the principles of B2C commerce, so when they’re engaging a customer whose only access to the store is now via a website, they can have the right conversations.

The key thing to note, however, is that we didn’t turn to a direct sales approach – we weren’t cold calling or putting the hard sell on. We said to everyone selling: “we want you to keep engaging with customers in exactly the same way. The only thing that’s changed is the medium – you’re online, not face-to-face”.

The fundamentals are very similar.

Out with the hard sell, in with the gentle touch

From the outset of the pandemic, we decided to change the way we marketed and to take the focus away from the product.

We didn’t think it was right to deliberately promote our brand, so we decided to engage with customers on a much more human level. There was so much information about coronavirus and the economy, and it was all doom and gloom. We just wanted to add something positive – a distraction to lighten the mood and help people.

We started to communicate with customers about things that could improve their lives a little – especially given they were going to be spending more time at home.

We ran a series of ‘life hacks’ on timely topics, like ’how can I make my food last longer in my refrigerator?’ or ‘how do I use my dishwasher better?’, and ‘how do I make a cake for someone who’s allergic to flour?’. We just wanted to stay connected with our customers and continue to find new ways to add something of value.

Fast-tracking tech implementation

To keep the business and our channels to market working as well as they could given the new circumstances, we quickly moved all of our websites – across all of our brands and countries – onto Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

The first step was to home in on the user experience. The second step was to support our trade customers by continuing to build out our trade portal, which is built on Community Cloud, and getting that into the hands of more customers.

The third step, which was critical, was putting in place the internal tools of enablement – making sure employees had the right tools at their fingertips.

We did a lot of work in Service Cloud; we enabled Facebook Messenger as a channel and WhatsApp as a service channel, put the Channel Menu on our website and made sure we had the right touchpoints for everyone to do their jobs as well as they could.

The importance of empowerment and ownership

Of course, we couldn’t do any of this globally without our teams being able to act quickly. This comes down to empowerment and ownership and having the right groups of people focusing on outcomes for customers – again, something that stems from our culture.

Our Australian sales team was focusing on what they needed to do for their B2B and B2C customers; our UK team was focusing on what they needed to do on a direct-to-consumer basis.

Importantly, the teams had to have some autonomy to make decisions and move quickly, which our culture and leadership supported.

The changes we’ve had to make to the way we operate haven’t just been done to deal with the pandemic. They’ve been done for the long term, too.

The vast majority of our activity was on the roadmap for the future. Twelve months ago, I could never have imagined we’d have gotten there so quickly.

Find out how other sales leaders are driving business resilience and growth by downloading the fourth edition of the State of Sales report.

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Hear more about how Fisher & Paykel redefined its global sales approach in our on-demand webinar Unpacking the State of Sales: What are the next steps for sales leaders? Hear from the best in the business, including sales expert Tony Hughes and Salesforce ANZ Chief Commercial Officer Ian McAdam.

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