Consumers no longer buy goods and services. They buy relationships.
As we persevere through COVID-19 — when products and service offerings become scarce as the government shuts down private enterprise — trust becomes the coin of the realm.
Let’s not sit back and play Candy Crush on our iPhones through the panic. Prescient leaders strengthen their connections during economic downturns. They consistently reach out to new and current customers to ensure their prosperity when the pandemic inevitably subsides.
Here’s how you can too.
First, cut all unnecessary expenses to hang onto as much of your workforce as possible.
The one asset to avoid losing is your team. They know you and your business like no other, especially those who have been around a few years. They’ve put sweat equity into building your company. Prioritize their well-being.
Training new hires is a lot more difficult than retaining employees. Consider upskilling your existing team when resources allow. They will be critical to reopening and getting you out of this situation in a better position than when you started.
Negotiate terms with your landlord or bank for deferred payments. Freeze pay increases and reduce hours to prevent layoffs. Seek assistance from your state and federal government. Eliminate subscriptions that are not mission critical. Revisit automatic payments on your credit cards.
Second, the coronavirus will cull the herd in terms of your highly leveraged competitors. Those already skating by on razor-thin margins likely will be the first to close their doors.
“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,” Warren Buffet famously said.
Don’t skinny-dip. Support your customers, employees and community at every opportunity. People will remember you for helping them during their struggles, and you will boost your reputation as a result.
Also, ensure that you’re identifying talented individuals that your competitors can no longer afford. Not all that many qualified workers were available a few weeks ago. Many of them are hunting for jobs right now. See if you can afford them if you have the cash.
Third, work on business development. Build a list of prospects to whom you can reach out once the dust settles. Even in good times marketing budgets are the first to go when the going craters. The problem is that good marketing becomes more necessary than ever when operations stall.
Your customers are anxious and seeking direction. Provide valuable information to them through social media channels, newsletters, blogs, webinars and podcasts. Advertising has suddenly become affordable as well for those priced out before as incumbent players cut budgets to conserve resources.
Ad departments are willing to cut deals right now.
Consider writing thought leadership articles that you can submit to well-read websites. Nothing establishes credibility more than when your name appears positively in a reputable third-party news outlet.
Fourth, the novel virus is forcing every leader to reevaluate their business model. Exercise facilities are scheduling classes through video conferencing. Auto manufacturers are repurposing their facilities to meet needs in the medical industry. Restaurants are gifting toilet paper rolls with their takeout orders.
One legal service provider built a database that tracks all state and federal laws related to COVID-19. It’s become the most-trafficked page on the site, generating more views and subscriptions in a day than the site typically received in a month.
Finally, create a sense of “we are in this together” with your consumers to demonstrate your empathy and shared burden. Offer steep discounts on products and reduced fees for services. Lowering prices normally erodes value, but not in these uncertain days.
Host a re-Grand Opening when the coronavirus abates. Announce all of the enhancements that you’ve made during the crisis and say thank you to customers and employees who stuck it out with you.
Those you helped while your own finances tanked will give you the benefit of the doubt for life.
Now is not the time to give up. It’s time to double down. Prepare for the end of COVID-19 by cultivating trusted relationships for the future. It will be here sooner than we think.
Dave Yonkman is president of the manufacturing PR firm DYS Media.