Don’t blink

Business as we know it has changed. Probably forever. It’s tempting to step back, to put things off, try and wait it out to see what happens. But from the small intricacies of day-to-day work, right up to big picture strategic planning, the need to be proactive, and brave, is right now.

Whilst this has already been incredibly painful for most businesses, the second test of resilience, creativity and adaptability lies ahead as the competition begin to break cover.

As the famous saying goes, ‘It’s only when the tide goes out, you see who’s still wearing shorts’.

If businesses take this period as a reason to slow down, to be cautious in the wrong areas, and supress ambition they will certainly be left behind. The work to do right now is to prepare for the resumption of battles-as-usual.

With that in mind that we wanted to share some experience and expertise, and outline 3 core themes to be considering right now. Take a look – they’re all designed to help you emerge with your shorts very definitely on.

1. Brand and Marketing

Don’t go quiet.

Continue your marketing.

If there’s one take out from this, let it be: continue marketing and don’t cut the budget.

In challenging times, the Marketing budget is always the first port of call for a CFO – but as innumerable case studies prove, that’s the very last pot that should be plundered.

Quite simply, stop marketing now and it will take months and months to recover and cost multiple times the current investment. Those that do bunker down and stop spending also emerge a very long way behind their competition, and without doubt lose deals they may otherwise have won. It’s the ultimate example of short termism, which will set the business back years, so defend the Marketing budget, the team, and the direction to the absolutely fullest – it’s very possible it’ll be the combination of Marketing and Sales that save the day.

Adapt and iterate.

Put the focus on soft marketing: building name recognition and awareness within the market. Position the brand as the market leader through insightful, empathetic and helpful insight so that when the market returns, yours is the only one people talk about.

To do that, focus on one key theme that prospects are and will be grappling with in the near-mid term, with multiple messages and flavours. Experiment – try different versions. See how the market reacts and adjusts. Go with the current mood. But always be smart, and helpful.

Is the business selling the right thing?

This is also a crucial time to stress-test the Go To Market strategy – is it still the right one, is the market the same, do prospects need what was being presented in the way it was being positoned and messaged? Engage other thought leaders, discuss plans. Consider a shift. These are the times to explore every avenue and put commercial agility at the top of the list.

If budget is tight, also go out to the wider team – they’ll nearly always have something that won’t have been thought about. Ask them what’s the 3 things they’d change to ensure the business emerges fit and healthy. At the same time, task the teams with producing content to help build organic reach, optimising site content based on the new market dynamic so that you’re one of the first few hits on Google when people enter the buying cycle and start searching for solutions.

Build on existing and new relationships.

It is so important to keep conversations open to leverage when the time is right. Provide the sales teams with helpful content to use to continue exisiting, and build new, relationships. Provide a reason to start the conversation sensitively, gaining insight into the prospect’s business and issues, it will pay back dividends.

2. Planning and Profiling

Use this time wisely.

Eisenhower once famously remarked, ‘I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’
Mike Tyson had a similar view, but a slightly different articulation.

What both of them do have in common is the fact that plans can very quickly become out of kilter with a changing situation, but the actual work done planning is still indispensable in informing how to adapt and the directions to take.

Right now is precisely the time to be doing this with vigour – both planning for what the new state could be, and planning for what happens if it’s not.

It’s valuable to not only keep this as a senior management activity. There’s a lot of very useful work that can be undertaken by bright employees who aren’t perhaps as fully utilised as a few weeks ago, yet who could become indispensable in contributing to the successful business COVID exit strategy.

Profiling

Now is about both engaging with the accounts which are ready to buy, but also focus on profiling industries that have maintained or even grown during this crisis.

Later, there will be a huge need for sales teams to have profiled those accounts that are ready to invest once ‘normal’ resumes. Assess what they’re saying and doing, research the impact COVID19 will have had on their revenues and their market, look at what their competition are doing – and make sure the sales teams are the smartest people in the room, virtual, or hopefully, actual.

Planning

The ‘old’ markets may well not be the ones that the business will win in post COVID19. Use this time to understand where the organisation could go, and what it could look like.

A useful aide to consider in this endeavour is Blue Ocean Strategy by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. In it they talk about frameworks and tools to move from highly congested and fiercely competitive ‘red oceans’, into relatively untouched ‘blue oceans’ that are wide open and full of opportunity. It will expand the horizon of thinking, help imagine new ways to win, and how the business could innovate on its existing strengths – all vital to finding new competitive advantages the competition won’t have considered.

Also consider the changing face of where business is happening. Segment prospect and customer data by geography and the pace that each region is coming back into an investment phase, and have a CRM system that’s driven by leading the charge, rather than following.

Use this time wisely. Whilst Sales Teams are at home, they can be pivotal in ensuring the business bounces back. And it might be needed sooner than you think.

3. Training

Work out the answers.

The rise of remote connectivity means Sales Teams are never far away – so there’s no excuse not being able to sharpen skills, learn new ones and find more ways to emerge even stronger.

They’re about to encounter a world full of objections, but the team should have already profiled and planned for the challenges their customers will face, so now work out the answers. Collaborate, share insights. Work out the reason a customer needs to choose your business rather than someone else. Or even worse, no one else.

In the same vein, work with the team to cross-specialise and fill in the gaps. If needed, remind or teach how to pro-actively prospect, how to react when back in the field. When the world starts turning again, the best placed teams will be the ones who can react instantly to a customers’ needs, no matter what they are. Make sure the best placed team is yours.

Preparing to handle common objections should be at the forefront, along with role playing scenarios specific to the new normal and appropriate for when budgets are released and companies are ready to invest.

At these times we might learn a lesson from someone who truly knows the value of planning, former Red Arrows pilot and Business Leader Justin Hughes.

In his book ‘The Business of Excellence’ he comments: ‘If you fail to plan effectively, then you have relinquished ownership and control of what you end up delivering.’

So, take the time now, right now, to start the planning for the business you will become.

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