leadership

COVID Clarity: Business Lessons Learned During Uncertain Times

Part Three of a Three-part Series

In the first two articles of this series, we focused on lessons learned, while leading our people and our financial operations through the continuing pandemic business storm. We call these realizations and new-found knowledge: COVID Clarity – important insights that will help you navigate ongoing uncertainty, with greater focus as we begin the new year.

For the final article in the series, we’ll focus on what business owners and leaders have learned about their market and about managing relationships with customers. We’ll also look at adapting sales processes to these market needs.

Let’s first take stock of key questions to think through, when assessing the market and customer needs. Ask yourself:

  • How do I learn customer needs that have changed, because of COVID?
  • How will knowing these needs help me to customize and cement customer connections?
  • How do I adjust my outreach, marketing and sales messages?
  • How effective are my point of service and CRM tools to help me track customer buying patterns and support my direct outreach to customers?
  • How do I employ new technologies and software to support customers?

COVID Clarity – If cash is king, customers are royalty: Business owners have learned that staying connected with customers has strengthened loyalty. Customers want to know that you are sensitive to their needs and current situation. They desire a personal touch. After all, they have a choice, and you need to provide a reason for them to want to buy from you and do business with you. Give them that reason.

For example, a local high-end sneaker business used its point of service customer list to reach out to each of their customers, stay connected and inform them of product offerings and how to shop in the store safely. The owner responded swiftly and clearly, through direct outreach to known customers. These actions led to them achieving more than 80% of last year’s sales during the height of the pandemic.

Many businesses are holding discussions with customers, to learn of their concerns and changing needs. Think about ways you should adapt to the needs of your customers – and then make the experience of doing business with you memorable by going the extra mile for them.

COVID Clarity – We need to work smarter to find opportunity in the market: Even though finding opportunity is daunting, we need to think differently about the market. Here are a few thought-provoking “how do I?” questions to assess, after you have learned about the changing needs of customers in the market:

  • How do I tweak the marketing of my products, to invite new customers?
  • How do I leverage my strengths to develop new offerings in the market?
  • How do I partner with competitors, to form new alliances?
  • How do I engage noncompeting businesses, to form complementary product offerings?

I’m reminded of a company who applied these lessons and thought through a new opportunity. Seeing that health care regulations changed favorably they found a new way of connecting doctors with their patients using telehealth technology. This is a fine example of innovative leadership to maintain your current customers, which is now a staple of their ongoing revenue stream.

COVID Clarity – Sales success is more than having a few great salespeople: Many owners learned that they can no longer rely on a few strong salespeople to steer new business into the top of the funnel. When you rely on the success of a few salespeople and do not have a repeatable, reliable and scalable process for selling, you put your company’s revenue at risk.

Resilient businesses follow a timeless process-focused mantra: The Right Salespeople holding the Right Conversations with the Right Customer Targets at the Right Frequency. This requires a disciplined approach to building a skillful and market-focused sales function. It starts with making the right hires, proper onboarding and an investment in training.

Let’s discuss the process of calling on the Right Customers. Priorities have changed because of the pandemic. Therefore, business leaders need to rethink who their customers are. In the words of a friend: What got you here might not be what gets you there. This means whom you currently target in the market might need rethinking. Stay abreast of subtle market changes and signals that indicate how to adapt your targeting focus.

As a case in point, because of the pandemic, many older people are aging in place, in their homes, to avoid assisted living and long-term care settings. This has led to an opportunity for a construction company to seek new business by safe proofing the homes of seniors within their geographic reach. This company adapted to this need by having their salespeople reevaluate whom they target for new business. Then, this construction company adapted its sales and marketing messages to support their new customer targets. Their forecasts look strong for new business in the face of COVID challenges.

As we complete this three-part series, reflect on a few salient COVID Clarities:

  • Your people are your most important asset, especially in challenging times.
  • Instituting financial and operational controls is not only smart business, it is essential business.
  • Innovation in how you adapt to the market and adjust whom you target as customers is critical for finding new opportunities.

Becoming a resilient and sustainable company takes strong leadership, an understanding of the changing market needs and your willingness and readiness to make positive change. As we turn to a new year, reflect on what you have learned through a period of great uncertainty and apply these lessons in making change. Place trust in your leadership and in your people to transform challenge into opportunity. Have a highly productive 2021!

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