For many businesses today, the first reaction to the current social and economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic is to cut costs by downsizing staff or reducing paid hours, by shutting down production, or other measures. Every business will have to make hard choices. However, if your business, any type of business, firmly believes that you will survive this and you want to grow quickly after this is over, then you need to remember that what you do and don’t do now will matter greatly. What will your customers know about you after the COVID-19 crisis?
Based on experiences of leading companies through prior crisis (e.g. 9/11, 2008 Recession, Digital/Technology Bubble Crisis), I can project that when this crisis is over, customers are again going to require products and services and they are going to buy from:
- Companies where marketing and sales have aligned to increase effective communication with customers and prospects to project stability and maintain market trust
- Companies that will be able to fill their orders quickly (no waiting to “ramp up production again”)
- Companies that demonstrated integrity, strength, compassion and community commitment during this crisis
How do you position your company to meet all of these prerequisites? Given that our blog is primarily for B2B marketing and/or sales leaders, I am going to go a bit in-depth on the first bullet regarding communications, and then just summarize my thoughts on the final two points.
Consistent and Effective Communications
The first step is keeping trust and building on that trust through consistent and effective communication efforts that come from corporate leadership, marketing, sales, and customer services/support. During this particular crisis, sales is not able to meet with customers to have those longer conversations where they can reinforce your company’s value propositions and demonstrate value directly to the customer. For now, marketing, in collaboration with leadership and sales, will need to create and help deliver precise messages that will shape what customers and prospects know about your company during this crisis.
What are the key messaging areas that will need attention?
- Corporate Messaging – Your CEO (or corporate leadership team as a whole) needs to be in contact with both your customers and potential prospects to share:
- Positive news on how your company is handling the crisis
- Plans for providing continuous service/support
- Any updates on overall hours of operations or availability
- Messaging that you develop to maintain market confidence
- Empathy and understanding for everyone involved – and strength and tenacity in growing stronger through this
- Sales Messaging – As mentioned above, right now sales people do not have access to their most powerful weapon – the in-person meeting. While sales will still have virtual meetings, they will need to rely more on:
- Marketing (with corporate leadership) to provide official pre-written messaging to share relating to any changes to production, delivery and/or service.
- Concise pre-written pitches they can send to promote (or as a response to inquiry/discussion) specific products/solutions along with pre-determined collateral. More than ever, these shorter, bite-size pitches are needed as sales will have to rely more on email to generate and/or maintain engagement.
- Customer Service/Support Messaging – For many businesses, customer service and support personnel have more contact with your customers than anyone else in the company. During this crisis, you certainly want to arm them with messaging that reinforces:
- Positive company commitment to market
- Positive commitment to the customer – you are here and will be here to assist them (answering phone and email)
- Prepared responses or instructions for redirecting inquiries regarding product delivery delays or other issues that may arise during crisis
- What you do NOT want them saying to customers
- Marketing Messages – A crisis like this creates a lot of opportunity to big gains through marketing. Why? It is because so many companies cut marketing first in a crisis and it leaves a gaping hole for those that push on. You can gain significant mindshare in your market segments because anything you do will be amplified by the absence of so many. Some specific ideas to increase mindshare are:
- Maintain any ongoing marketing cadence for customer newsletters or other customer-facing communications (skipping those will be obvious to customers)
- Re-purposing some of the trade show refunds or unspent money to create virtual meeting opportunities like virtual ‘Lunch & Learns’, educational webinars, or your own branded virtual event
- Continue media advertising and negotiate with media companies for better positions that others leave vacant for your continued support – and remember any advertising you do will seem MUCH bigger with others wilting away
- Create a specific nurture campaign – automated nurture stream if possible – that specifically assists corporate in delivering their consistent communication to market (as mentioned above)
I’ve gotten HUNDREDS of COVID-19 messages from companies. Sending one message is not going to make any difference. This is a marathon and not a short sprint. Establishing multiple ways to stay in front of customers and prospects right now is absolutely essential to come out as a preferred and desirable supplier when this is over.
Ready to Deliver
When this is over, your prospects and customers are going to have pent-up demand. One big goal your company should strive for during this crisis is to be the one that doesn’t have to say “wait while we ramp back up” to your customers and/or prospects when this crisis is over.
→ Be the supplier that has been prioritizing inventory management and strategically stocking for the future.
→ Be the one that can reach out and say, “We’ve got what you need now” and hit your stride quickly.
Demonstrate Integrity, Strength, Compassion and Community Commitment
The last thing those customers/prospects will look for, which is probably the most significant: they will remember how your company behaved during this crisis. How your sales team behaves and what they say matters. How your service/support people answer the phone, how they behave, and what they say…matters. What they hear about your company during this crisis will matter. So,
- If your sales and support team members delivered consistent, positive messages and value to customers and prospects, this will be remembered.
- If your company communicated clearly, honestly, and with compassion to your internal staff, this will be known even to the outside and will be remembered.
- If your company gave generously in some ways to the larger community (e.g., food bank, donations for protective gear, sponsoring a ventilator purchase for local hospital), this will be remembered.
- If your company was viewed as capitalism with a conscience during this time, this will be remembered.
Likewise, if your company immediately cut jobs with no compassionate considerations for alternatives, then this will be remembered. If your company was overly aggressive on collections while delaying payments to suppliers, this will be remembered. If your company removes benefits to employees or customers during the crisis and does not restore those during recovery, this will be remembered. If your company almost vanishes and then jumps back in after this is over – well, perhaps you won’t be remembered by then.
Laser Focus on What Counts
I shared three ways in which customers/prospects will evaluate suppliers when this crisis is over. During a crisis, the hard part is not determining what to cut, but instead making sure you focus what NOT to cut and make the proper investments against the current of a shrinking market. The last ones standing are those that have a laser focus on what really matters on day 1 of the recovery.
From Bruce Hammond, GrowthPoint CEO… We would like to thank all of our Clients for their continued support. During these challenging times it’s critical to stay connected to your customers with your marketing activities and sales people. If you need advice or help creating the optimal customer-facing messaging to deliver right now, please contact us.