The team at A.P.E. are currently supporting a number of businesses on Covid-19 responses, so we thought it would be useful to share observations and learnings as they may help your thinking too.
Over the weeks of Level Four lockdown I know my emotions have ranged from lethargy to happiness, concern to gratitude. Over Anzac Weekend I enjoyed exploring the hill walks that border our bubble with my family and arrived back to my computer feeling positive and ready to face the remaining time in Level 3.
Businesses are being impacted in so many different ways - some have lost 100% of their sales with no sight of when that will change. Some have had sales deferred, while others are experiencing an intense ramp-up in demand which is, of course, bringing fresh challenges. Many of them will experience some uplift under Level 3, but a number can’t operate until Level 1 or 2.
Businesses are also experiencing disruption to their fundamental business model. A lack of physical access to clients who need to ‘touch and feel’ their product; no route to market; or supply chains that can’t operate.
Some of the businesses have got ideas, or even projects that were started but not implemented, such as for online sales, but now need to identify a way to accelerate them, or steer them in a slightly different direction in order for them to be useful right now.
We’ve found some businesses already have the elements of what they need to do, but hadn’t quite joined the dots together for a solution.
Other businesses are set up for online sales, delivery and support, but their product may not seem a priority, or even relevant, to customers’ even in the mid-term.
With so many variables and new challenges in front of them, some of the businesses we’re working with have not quite known where to start and have found it useful to have someone to help them lift their head above the ‘fuzz’ and look more objectively at their business.
Many people we’re working with have found it invaluable to have someone outside the business to talk through options and act as a sounding board. That’s no different from non-Covid times really, it’s just the fact that this is an external and unexpected situation that might be different from the norm.
DO NOT PULL BACK!
With a fall off of their sales, the first thing many businesses do is to cut their own sales and marketing spend. In fact, this is what we have seen some accountants recommend, but that is not a long-term view.
It is of course important to review all your outgoings, but we suggest thinking twice before cutting back on activities that will keep you close to your customers.
I could write a lot about this subject, but in short, there is a lot of evidence that organisations who continue to maintain relationships and invest in sales and marketing activity during a downturn have better sales, profit and customer growth when things recover.
Are you trying to build a transactional relationship with customers or a long-term one? In most markets customers want to know that you care about them and can empathise with them at this time. We’ve all seen the banks and real estate agents advertising on TV during Level 4, even if they aren’t expecting your business at this time.
There is an opportunity now for companies to keep in peoples’ minds so they think of you first when they are looking to buy again.
This is not the time for insincerity, or irrelevant communications. I received dozens of ‘Covid-19’ emails in the first weeks after lockdown and many of them indicated a lack of true customer-focus. Some however, were excellent, showing empathy and understanding and it is these businesses I will feel favourable towards in the future.
This is also a time to stay close to your customers and keep open a valuable feedback-loop as they may start changing their needs and habits in the mid-long term. You want to be aware of this and adapting to shifting needs.
The important thing is for the business to act. The world has changed and so it’s important to ensure your business is ready to make the most of future opportunities.
There’s plenty of support around for businesses at the moment, including funding*. Check out: chambers of commerce and economic development agencies (Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, ChristchurchNZ, South Canterbury Chamber & Enterprise North Canterbury) business.govt.nz; and the Regional Business Partner Network
The A.P.E. team is working with business owners to create a short to mid-term plans that can be realistically actioned.
I would love to hear from you with any other suggestions about your approach - what’s worked or not and if you need some support, please get in touch.
From Ian and the team at A.P.E
*P.S. Our COVID-19 Sales & Marketing Plans for Now & the Future Programme is registered with the Management Capability Development Voucher Fund. Find out more by visiting www.regionalbusinesspartners.co.nz