Editor’s Note: This article is a part of a series that explores the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on the business world. Each article is designed to help you navigate your marketing strategy during this time.
The last few months have been extremely difficult for the entire global community as we adjust to a new normal amid the coronavirus pandemic.
From a personal point of view, many of us are practicing social distancing by staying inside, cancelling plans, and avoiding crowded spaces.
From a business perspective, the majority of people are working from home, uncertain of when we’ll be allowed to return to our usual place of work.
Businesses are facing a multitude of challenges from changes in demand, retail closures, supply chain issues and staff retention to name just a few.
Importantly, now is the time to consider the impact this pandemic is having on our businesses and what adjustments need to be made, in the short term at least, to ensure survival.
This process involves a review of our marketing strategy, beginning with target market definition, then understanding what makes you attractive to customers, followed by mapping changes in your customer’s journey, getting your messaging right and now, adapting your sales and marketing processes.
Adapting Your Sales and Marketing Processes
The businesses that will survive COVID-19 and indeed thrive as the eventual rebound takes place, will be those that have adapted their sales and marketing processes in a planned fashion.
Like any planning process, there are steps that must be taken, beginning with an assessment of the current situation, both externally and internally.
After this situational analysis has taken place, then goals need to be set for the short to medium term. This will help ensure survival for the longer term.
Once the goals have been set based on the current situation, then adjustments can be made to your sales and marketing processes.
No doubt the adjustment process will be ongoing as we enter the ‘new normal’ and as your customers and clients begin to face the challenge themselves of rebuilding their lives and businesses.
As this happens, your sales people will getter a better feel for the new processes, requirements and expectations based on market place feedback.
In the cases of B2B marketing, it is highly likely that your customers and leads will have the same goals as you, as they themselves adjust to the new reality with less resources available.
So, let’s begin with some basic steps, starting with an audit of what we are now facing, both externally and internally, thanks to COVID-19.
Current Situation Analysis
The loss of jobs, the fear of losing jobs, income reduction and social isolation has rapidly created a new consumer mindset that is influencing their purchase behaviour.
That mindset has seen consumers categorise their purchases into 2 baskets;
- Essential purchases
- Discretionary purchases
Products such as groceries, insurances and wine have been deemed ‘essential’ by the Australian consumers and have sold well during COVID-19.
The same can be said for services such as internet, mobile phone and home entertainment services such as Netflix.
Discretionary purchase items such as luxury goods, high ticket items such as new cars and boats as well as travel (travel could have its own separate category ‘unavailable’, along with hospitality), have no fared so well, and many businesses in these categories are facing bankruptcy.
Government restrictions, fear, uncertainty and loss of income are having the greatest influence on consumer behaviour.
Consumers have, more than ever, accessed products and services online, many for the first time. Think online gym workouts. New behaviours have been learned through necessity and are unlikely to completely disappear when personal contact restrictions are lifted.
Even as government restrictions are eventually lifted, the other influences are also not likely to go away soon
From a B2B perspective, new behaviours have also been adopted such as working from home and holding meetings via Zoom and over the phone. This behaviour will not disappear either.
As we mentioned in our previous article ‘Getting Your Messaging Right ‘, empathy is the key when communicating to customers in this environment.
Empathy that leads to and communicates a clear understanding of what your customers now consider “value” to look like, is pivotal.
Internally, it’s important to take stock of your sales and marketing resources and assets, particularly in light of the external factors mentioned above.
• How many sales people do we have?
• Are they trained / capable of virtual selling?
• Do they have the resources / equipment to conduct sales online?
• Do they have the analytical skills required in the digital sales world?
• How many existing (loyal) clients do we have?
• How many prospects do we have that were in the “consideration” stage of their buyer’s journey
• Are our products or services suitable or easily adaptable to customers in other industries?
• How much can we invest in marketing?
• Is our website providing an exceptional customer experience at all stages of the customer journey?
Setting the right goals by the leadership team is crucial if the business is to survive and rebound.
Not setting the right goals that take into account the current situation will mean that the plans that are put in place to achieve those goals will waste valuable resources.
This would be mean at worst, not surviving, and at best, not being able to take full advantage of a rebounding economy.
The focus of any business in an environment like COVID-19 must be short term survival. That’s the most important goal in the immediate future. Without this goal being achieved, nothing else matters.
But it’s how this is achieved which represents the key to a successful future beyond the short term.
Firing all your sales people may be a quick fix for the bottom line but that will obviously not stand the business in good stead moving forward.
Short Term Goals
From a sales perspective, short term quick wins are essential. Wins meaning profitable sales that get banked.
The most profitable sales come from our existing customers, so if possible, that’s where we need to look first.
Unfortunately, not all of our existing customers will have weathered this virus induced storm, so we must prioritise existing customers who have not been seriously impaired by the corona virus or are starting to see an increase in demand.
Customers in industries that have been immobilised, may represent a viable source of sales but care should be taken not to over expose the business to the risks associated with dealing with these customers who will no doubt be seeking more favourable trading terms.
Reviving sales from these existing customers should be the number one short term sales goal.
Our secondary sales goal should be to approach potential customers who were in the latter stages of the customer journey before the proverbial hit the fan.
Sales people need to approach these businesses with empathy in an effort to understand what is that now represents value to these potential buyers and what it will take to get them over the line.
It may take a more digital or virtual form of sales communication combined with some added incentives in the form of discounts or trading term flexibility.
Jim’s Plumbing for example, (an industry that tends to hold up well in times of crises) is currently running ads on TV saying they have waived their after-hours penalty fees for customers.
Once sufficient feedback is in place in relation to the achievement of the first two priority goals, flexibility may be required to start acting quickly in relation to acquiring new leads.
The primary short- term goal with respect to marketing, involves implementing more efficient, cost effective marketing strategies.
The following 3 marketing strategies are recommended with both the short term and long term in mind.
- Inbound Marketing
- Customer Loyalty
- A Refocus on the Core Business
Why is inbound marketing important in adapting your sales and marketing process during a crisis?
Firstly, the cost per lead with inbound marketing is 60% cheaper than with traditional marketing.
Secondly, the creation of useful, informative, engaging content helps the customer and lead navigate more smoothly through the sales conversion channel because they have easy access to information that is tailored to their needs according to their stage in the customer journey.
Thirdly, by supplying valuable information in the form of useful engaging content, your brand is perceived as an expert or authority in the field. As such, a level of trust is created and people tend to buy from those whom they trust, especially in a crises.
Finally, the creation of high quality digital content does not require significant investment or cost to brands.
Improve the Customer Experience and Loyalty
Some of the most successful businesses in times of crises, are those that implement effective loyalty and customer retention programs.
Emphasis must be placed on providing the best possible customer experience. This can involve offering a rich, multi- channel experience, customized services or personal customer support.
An exceptional customer experience must be enjoyed by everyone who visits your website, no matter their stage in the customer journey.
Focus on Your Core Business
To survive a crises, it’s usually advisable to focus on your core business. There are exceptions as we’ve all seen, in areas such as the production of personal protection and hygiene products.
But for most businesses looking to survive the short term, it’s best to focus on building the perceived value of your core business.
This means capitalizing on the competitive advantage or strengths you have over your competition including your key point of difference.
Adapting Your Sales & Marketing Processes
Once you’ve completed your internal review, taken into account the external influence effecting your market and have focused your short- term goals from both a sales and marketing perspective, now’s the time to put your plans in place.
These plans should include;
- Provide whatever tools and training that may be required to support your digital sales effort whether your sales people work in-house or remotely
- Make sure that you are equipped to meet your customers newly formed set of expectations and perceived value
- Prepare a sales plan targeting the most profitable customers, most likely to provide a ‘quick win’
- Due your due diligence on these customers to make sure that they are able to meet their contractual obligations
- Prepare some incentives and flexible options in terms of pricing and trading terms in the likely case of renegotiation
- Include in your sales plan, any prospects that may have born fruit if the corona virus hadn’t hit, especially those at the consideration stage of the customer journey
- Complete a due diligence on the financial viability of any new customers, especially those that have been badly impacted by COVID-19
- Note: If you are looking to employ any new sales people, place emphasis on digital savviness and the ability to collaborate as a cooperative team player, rather than a lone wolf.
- You can plan for new lead generation, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact on your shorter- term priorities, or you’ve exhausted your customer lists
- Upgrade your website by filling any gaps that you have found with respect to providing an exceptional customer experience at any stage of the customer journey
- Create a content planning calendar highlighting what new content is to be created by whom and when
- Create a customer loyalty program that builds the relationship with your customers
- If you don’t have an email list of customers, begin building one and offering content people on the list will find of value
- If you do have an email list, look to improve your email marketing efforts with additional value. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they would find useful, entertaining and engaging. It’s better than guessing
- Look at your core product / service range at look at what could be improved given the needs of your market, quickly and cost effectively. Larger NPD projects involving more time , money and risk, are better placed in the longer term category.