By nearly anyone’s standards, 2020 was a doozy. The world struggled to manage a highly contagious virus, which has had seismic impacts on supply chains, industries, and individual businesses. There are few segments of the global economy that have been untouched by the issues created by COVID-19.

>> Related: A Look at the Top 25 Industry Profiles for 2020

Before the holidays, I was talking with a Vertical IQ customer — a bank president — who was sharing some of the challenges her team has faced amid the many months of the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained that she is passionate about getting refocused on business.

Knowing that I talk with a lot of different business leaders, she asked if I had any insights on how others are boosting morale and motivating their teams as they kick off the new year.

A recipe for sales success

Indeed, some organizations did not skip a beat amid the pandemic. For those that continued to thrive despite the obstacles thrown in their path, I believe the secret to their success is that they already had good fundamentals in place, and they didn’t let COVID interrupt them.

This got me thinking about our client’s question, “How can leaders create a recipe for success in 2021?” I came up with five key “ingredients” that successful organizations had in common throughout 2020 and continue to emphasize as we head into this new year.

  • They never let their foot off the gas pedal. 

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helped a lot of businesses stay afloat in the early months of the pandemic. Companies had to retool quickly to implement this program, and some were nimbler than others in accomplishing this task.

But for the ones that have continued to thrive during the challenges brought by the PPP, the common denominator seems to be that they maintained their existing strategy for prospecting and deepening relationships. They simply never stopped doing it and maybe even got more aggressive with their prospecting and relationship-building tactics, even while implementing the PPP.

For example, for businesses that are dedicated to relationship management, maybe they upped the ante on reaching out to clients to help address their needs. For those with a focus on prospecting, instead of making 10 calls a day, perhaps they increased it to 20. These organizations didn’t just maintain the status quo; they took their strategies to the next level, and they did so seamlessly.

  • They established specific expectations for contacting prospects and customers.

As with most things in life, managing success is largely about setting expectations. Organizations that continued to do well despite the pandemic made it clear to their employees what was expected of them.

For those institutions that already had specific strategies in place, perhaps that meant further clarifying or tweaking tactics for checking in with customers to accommodate pandemic-related changes. For those that didn’t already have formal processes, maybe they really hopped to it and set specific expectations — “Call every assigned customer within the next 30 days,” for example.

  • They had a “reason for their call” to their customers. 

In talking with business leaders who saw success in 2020, a lot talked about using the pandemic as an impetus for making customer calls. But instead of “just checking in,” their team would frame the call in a tailored way. So instead of saying, “How is COVID impacting your business?” or “Do you need a PPP loan?”, the client manager used Industry Intelligence (like you’ll find on Vertical IQ) to take a more personalized approach by calling for a specific reason.

That more tailored conversation might begin with something like, “I know that supply chain issues caused by the pandemic have impacted a lot of office supply stores. The reason for my call is I wanted to discuss how you’ve confronted this issue and ideas for bridging the gap.”

Or the call could start with, “State shutdowns in many states have prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people. The reason for my call is I wanted to talk about how your catering business has shifted to accommodate smaller-scale food service and how I can help you even out your cash flow.”

  • They stayed in touch with a consistent cadence and shared value-add information.

Here at Vertical IQ, we frequently preach about the importance of a value-added contact strategy that includes Industry Intelligence. We may sometimes sound like a broken record, but it is such a simple and high-impact best practice.

When you take a consistent, predictable approach to customer contact and share information that is valuable to the business owner, it’s a sure win. And the businesses that prospered in 2020 were the ones that did this effectively.

It might sound something like this: Say to the business owner, “I want to stay in touch, but I know you have a lot on your plate right now. Here’s one way I can help you and your business — by sharing ______ [COVID impacts, timely news articles, industry trends, financial benchmarks, business valuation data, etc.]. What’s a good cadence for me to reach out to you — how frequently? And what information would be most helpful?”

Get agreement from the customer on the frequency and the type of information that would be useful to them and their business, and then be sure to deliver on your commitment.

  • They know their purpose/goals — deepening relationships and winning new ones — and they are executing.

Just as it is crucial to set expectations, it is also important to have a clear understanding of your organization’s purpose and your team’s goals. The organizations that were most successful in 2020 were committed to upholding their mission, and failure simply wasn’t an option.

These institutions didn’t use shutdowns as an excuse. Instead, they continued to reach out to prospects and customers, picking up the phone to let business owners know they are there to help amid these trying times. A little extra TLC can mean a lot to a struggling business owner, and this high-touch approach seemed to go a long way in maintaining existing business and bringing over new relationships.

Resolve to cook up more deals in 2021!

You’ve probably heard the stories about organizations stumbling over themselves to get PPP loans for their customers. Meanwhile, others were laser-focused on prospecting for new business because there was so much in play.

The big winners during these unusual times were the ones that successfully multitasked: prospecting for new business while servicing existing customers and fulfilling PPP loans for those who needed them. It was no small task, but it also was not luck that these companies flourished during the pandemic. Inevitably, they were the ones who were blending the five ingredients above to serve their prospects and customers the tailored menu of services they needed.

As we begin this new year, I encourage you to consider how you can incorporate some or all of these elements into your sales strategy in order to have a more successful year for 2021!