In the 1949 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play by Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, the central character, Willy Loman, struggles to adjust to changes in his profession and in society.
This is a compelling but tragic story of a man who feels left behind by a changing world that has passed him by, if not in reality, perceptually in his mind.
I find this story particularly engaging because Willy’s downward spiral is so accelerated in the play (and 1985 movie) based on the final 24 hours of his life.
What happened to Willy in a day happened to a huge number of businesses in the past 60 days. They have become less relevant, facing the real possibility they may never recover to pre-COVID levels, or become extinct because the world has passed by their business model.
The dominance of Amazon (and other online retailers) over brick and mortar retailers accelerated so quickly that it’s close to game-over for the little guys.
The rapid growth of video meetings and one-to-one conferencing will continue to negatively affect transportation related businesses, including airlines, rideshare, hotels, and gas stations.
Concerns of contracting COVID will continue to dampen long distance vacation travel. Are you excited to board a cruise ship?
The widespread acceptance of work-at-home employment made commercial real estate (office and retail) instantly less valuable… with the likelihood that it will continue to go backward.
In my view, COVID precipitated long lasting, systemic change that will endure long after we have a cure or immunity. A lot of people are feeling a high level of uncertainty and heightened sense of vulnerability.
Like Willy Loman, many people feel like their world changed overnight (a valid observation), and they aren’t sure how to adjust, or whether it will ever return to “normal.”
Millions have been furloughed (told it was temporary), but have a sickening and stark realization that it could be permanent.
Those who haven’t contracted COVID are afraid they might, and are changing behavior patterns to avoid it.
Business owners who reopened are concerned they won’t find a way to be profitable with social distancing, lowered capacity, expensive health precautions, and increased government oversight.
To me, one of the big changes that was accelerated by COVID is exemplified by a variation in the title of the play about Willy Loman: Death of the Salesman.
More than ever, since COVID came into the picture, people are resistant to salesy and superficial approaches. Deterioration of their quality of life, concerns about the future, and living without socialization may have caused us to become less tolerant of people who appear to be more interested in benefiting themselves than helping us.
Why is Amazon so successful? It doesn’t try to sell you, it doesn’t attempt to pressure you, and it doesn’t try to “close” you on making a purchase.
Amazon rules the world of retail because it makes it easy for us to buy.
Amazon provides copious information on every product. You can read user reviews. You can return any purchase easily, with a full, immediate refund. And in many cases, you can have what you purchased delivered to your door the same day.
What does this mean for those of us, like me, in professional businesses?
Explain, don’t persuade.
Conduct caring conversations.
Ask questions and listen.
Provide specific, clear answers.
Subordinate greed to customers’ needs.
Changes in people’s mindset precipitated by COVID brought to the tipping point what was happening anyway…. Death of the Salesman.
People don’t want to be sold, they want to be in control… they want a world where it is easy to buy.
Amazon does it. Uber does it. Those of us in business better get it and act on it if we want to be around in 2021.
“Stop selling. Start helping.”
– zig ziglar