In the span of a few short weeks, we have collectively changed our habits beyond recognition. What used to be commonplace – going to work, running errands, eating in a restaurant, meeting friends for drinks – is now unimaginable. Close to 4 billion people – half of humanity – are under some type of order to stay at home until further notice.
The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly altered how we live and work, and when we make it through this crisis, we are not going to revert back to our old ways. We will instead evolve into a new normal. If anything good comes out of a terrible situation, it’s that our new habits will help us find better ways of doing business. We will develop more effective digital methods for interacting with partners, collaborating with colleagues and keeping up with customer expectations.
This shift was already happening, but the current situation is a change agent expediting its progress. In an investment horizon, our present circumstances will last for a relatively short period of time – perhaps one or two quarters in the course of multi-year planning. But massive changes will occur during this brief period. How your company reacts now will have an outsize impact on your future success.
Some businesses in industries hit hardest by the crisis – tourism, retail, transportation, hospitality – have been forced to slow or cease operations until the economy reopens. They don’t have a choice in how they react, but many other companies do. Among these companies, we have been seeing three main responses:
Option 2 and 3 is clearly the optimal approach. Companies that aren’t forced to put everything on pause should use this time to think about their customers and their business, moving forward with projects they were going to do (or should do) anyway.
Too many companies were already behind the curve in terms of consumers’ sophisticated digital behavior. Amazon, Google and other tech innovators have taught us to shop, communicate, gather information and conduct much of our lives online, and these behaviors will now be accelerated and accentuated. Out of necessity, we are changing our habits to shop, work and meet in purely digital ecosystems, causing a jump in digitalization that will further increase our high expectations.
Take this moment as an opportunity to evaluate your company’s current standing with your customers. Is there a gap between their digital expectations and what you provide? How can you close this gap?
Start by assessing and adjusting your company's mindset:
Recognize that consumers moving en masse toward digitalization is an underlying trend that was already happening before this crisis. You need to invest in solutions to keep up with consumer demands if you want to stay relevant and competitive in the future.
Acknowledge that this situation is a change agent that will accelerate customers’ digital behavior and expectations. The world will advance tremendously in a brief time frame. If you observe from the sidelines, your inaction will negatively affect your business when we come out on the other side of this.
Determine what your company can do in this moment to get closer to customer expectations. Ask the question: What is it we can do right now? If you come to the conclusion that you can’t do anything at present, at least you have spent the time to think about it. But if you realize you don’t want to do anything because you’re feeling nervous, helpless or intimidated, examine those emotions more closely. Resist the urge to act based on fear or anxiety. Look for factors within your control that you can change to align better with your customers’ needs.
We are supporting many of our clients in different industries – tech, healthcare, finance – as they navigate this process. Here are a few successful strategies we recommend as you move forward:
Companies spend much of their time and energy hunting for new business, but that strategy is too challenging in an economic slowdown. They are now realizing most of their business is going to come from existing clients, which is one of the main reasons to invest and optimize the customer journey (opposed to the buyer's journey) and investing in account-based marketing (ABM) programs is so important.
Look at how you are communicating with your current customers. They shouldn’t hear the same message that non-customers are hearing. They should receive a personalized message that is relevant to their specific pain points, desires and priorities. What data and insights do you have about your existing customers? How can you leverage that information to solve their problems and help them reach their goals?
The traditional pre-COVID-19 buying cycle was siloed, with marketing cultivating leads and passing them onto sales, without any ranking or prioritization. The problem with this model, even before the current situation made out-of-home advertising irrelevant, was that it didn’t match the buyer’s journey. Customers now do most of their decision-making process independently online, long before they are ready to speak to a sales person.
Now marketing – not sales – must take control of the buying cycle, providing full visibility throughout the entire funnel. Rethink how your company manages customer flow. How can you convert the buyer’s journey to a fully digital experience that connects your sales and marketing teams? What KPIs will measure not just the final sale but multiple conversions throughout the customer journey?
Forget the generic “we’re all in this together or we are here to help” platitudes so many companies are spouting right now. That message is “meaningless” in a business context – and likely even annoying – to your customers unless you show them you care through your actions.
Look for ways to strengthen your relationships with your customers on an ongoing basis, not just when you want to sell to them. Don’t go into panic mode, like many companies are doing, and simply slash your prices by 20% to motivate all your customers. If you do decide a sale is the best course of action, reach out to your loyal existing customers first. Make them feel special by opening an advance one-day sale just for them, before opening it up to the general public. Use the knowledge you have of your long-term customers to deepen your relationship and give them something they appreciate. Treat them like they are valuable to your company – because they are.
The world will continue to evolve rapidly in the coming months, and your customers will not be the same as they were before. This crisis is speeding up a trend that was already underway. Will you be an observer and be left behind – or will you use this as an opportunity to catalyze worthwhile change in how you do business?
Companies that employ a slapdash action plan (Option 1) will only have to play catch-up even more once this crisis is over. Which mindset is your company adopting?
Smart marketers recognize that there will be a distinct “before” and “after” in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic. You must start now to create the digital tools needed to embed your brand in the customer’s post-COVID life.
Take the time now to identify and understand the new expectations of your customers, and how have their habits and priorities shifted during this time