Leading in the Time of Coronavirus

April 2, 2020

Few times in modern history has the world been upended so quickly and so fully. In mid-2019, a Gartner CMO Spend Survey found that 86% of CMOs were optimistic that future environmental conditions would yield positive economic results, and another 61% projected marketing budgets would increase in 2020.

That optimism carried into 2020 but then in a matter of weeks at the end of Q1, our economy ground to a near-halt due to the Coronavirus pandemic and everyone began adjusting to new ways of operating in their personal and professional lives.

While your company is busy rethinking its operating models, budgets, policies, and activities, your customers are finding their way through all this too. And as each day brings new developments—and new uncertainty—we are all in a constant mode of analysis and adaptation. With this comes a growing need for true leadership.

A “business as usual” stance will not see us through the current crisis. Those that manage from the status quo risk being perceived as irrelevant, or worse, completely tone deaf. Customers and employees are looking for your leadership to help them find stable ground – and then to eventually help get them in a position to soar once again.

They’re looking for humanity, for guidance, and support – and they want to understand how your business is providing that for them as a customer, and for your employees and partners along the way. In fact, a recent Edelman Trust Barometer special report showed that nearly 90% of people want brands to do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employee and suppliers.

talk the lead in online/virtual communications

Leading Communications

When messaging to your customers, it is critical to understand the new context they’re operating in…everything from their business priorities to their working environment (at home, with kids, operating off a makeshift desk in the living room), to their mental and emotional state, the communications channels they’re using, and their current media consumption habits.

To be clear: while communicating with your customers is important, it’s imperative that you’re not simply adding to the “noise” that’s circulating. We’ve all received communications from companies (that we didn’t even know had our information) wishing us well and telling us that their sanitation routines made them able to serve us immediately.

Be intentional in your communications—identify the relevant parties who need to hear from you, know your purpose for reaching out, lay out clear next steps and proactively think through the questions that may arise. And just as important, be human. In times of fear or uncertainty, we all want to feel connected by a willingness to “get through it together”.

Leading Sales & Marketing

What we are experiencing requires more than simply messaging differently. This is a critical time to review your fundamental business strategy and your sales & marketing strategy. Take a hard look at your:

  • Mix of offerings. Given your operating realities and those of your customers, you may need to reprioritize where you put your focus and effort. Organizations are closely eyeing every dollar they spend in the coming months so place your weight behind the goods and services that make the most sense and impact for customers in the current environment.
  • Target markets. Not all markets are feeling the impact of this crisis in the same way. Some industries, like hospitality and travel, are constricting greatly during this time while others, like cleaning supply manufacturers, paper goods manufacturers, delivery services and healthcare are struggling to address a sudden surge in demand. Look at which sectors to “turn off” for now, while taking a fresh look at how you can help others.
  • Unique Selling Propositions (USPs). What wasn’t a top priority yesterday may be one today. Think about emphasizing things like: the health of your sourcing/supply chain, the location of your facilities, your remote monitoring/support capabilities, your ability to offer user-specific permissions, etc.
  • Activities. If you’re looking at digital activities to replace in-person events or physical sales calls, remember that everyone else is flocking to digital channels too. It will be more difficult than ever to cut through the noise and connect with your customers. It is time to get creative to find the white space and ensure you’re offering up true value there.
  • Team support. Your sales and account teams may need help through this adjustment as well. Even the most charismatic sales people may fumble a bit more as they adapt to video calls or virtual presentations with myriad family and home distractions. Talk to your sales leaders to understand what they’ll need to help support their efforts—be it stronger collateral and assets, video assets, microsites with resources, more extensive Q&A guidance for objection handling, and more.
  • Customer journey focus. Now is the time to take a step back and think about where you’re honestly positioned within the customer’s new journey. You may have started out the year focused on net-new leads where you anticipated great customer demand, but now need to shore up your onboarding process and strengthen customer retention.

Leading to a Stronger Tomorrow

For years, businesses have talked about putting the customer first and creating positive customer experiences. Now more than ever, we must adopt and act with an obsessive customer focus. Our attention must be on solving, not selling. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer special report backs this up, finding that 71 percent of people will lose brand trust forever if they perceive a business puts profit over people.

Human beings are resilient and we will get through this. But the difference between those who survive and those who thrive on the other side of this lies in your company’s ability to lead customers and employees through the uncertainty with shrewd observation, quick pivots, clear communication and meaningful connections.