During times of business disruption, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, demand for your products and services may vary from the norm. Relationships with customers and channel partners need special attention. In some industries, customer buying behaviour has put a renewed focus on e-commerce.
To manage cash flow and operations and ensure your business is positioned to resume to normal in a few months, adapting to consumer behaviour and maintaining your pipeline of sales and prospects is critical.
In this article:
Sales and marketing: Keeping customers engaged during a crisis
A disruption can be a great time to reflect on new ways of reaching customers. Create room to map various scenarios so you can shift rapidly as the business environment changes. Here are some considerations:
- Certain products or services may be higher in demand at this time, or your distribution and delivery methods may have to change temporarily.
- Anticipate customers disengaging or changes in their buyer behaviour and think about new ways to reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to test different methods and adapt them if they don’t work.
- With physical distancing measures in place, customers are spending more hours online daily than they would under normal conditions. Is there a way to connect with them through social media or applications they’re using for business?
- It’s a great time to embrace technology, even if it hasn’t been part of your marketing strategy in the past. Marketing interactions on the internet don’t have to be purely transactional. In fact, customers and prospects are always on the lookout for relevant, shareable content.
Tip: The sales and marketing planning tool offers eight ways to keep customers engaged during a crisis, plus a one-page chart to track different scenarios, activities and timelines that will help you stay connected to your customers and prospects.
Sales and marketing planning tool
Chart how you will reach customers under various scenarios.
Communicating to customers in a crisis
Customers are looking to your business for clear, concise and accurate messaging about any changes to your business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can help customers by sharing practical information about your business in a timely fashion.
Customers need practical details
- Tell customers about changes to business hours, location, events, products or services.
- Provide details of changes to product availability or delivery delays.
- If it’s financially viable, show compassion to customers at this time by extending payments, offering reimbursements or no-fee cancellations.
Clear communications about COVID-19 response
Customers may want to know what your company is doing to limit the spread of COVID-19. Consider including a special page on your website. Use social media channels or direct emails to customers, suppliers and partners to communicate updates.
Tips for external communications
- Offer consistent messaging across all platforms.
- Be positive and aligned with your brand.
- Track frequently asked questions (FAQs) and publish responses.
- Monitor reviews online and respond appropriately.
Tip: The marketing communications planning tool is a single-page template to track key messages and timelines to reach customers.
Marketing communications planning tool
How and when to deliver key messages to customers.
Getting started with e-commerce
Business disruption is often a catalyst for innovation and change. With physical distancing measures in place, businesses that aren’t already set up online may find the time has come to figure out the basics of e-commerce.
Keep it simple
E-commerce can be a complex undertaking. But it doesn’t have to start out that way. A simple website can help you reach new prospects and will allow customers to continue to communicate and transact with you at a safe distance. Complexities, including integrating inventory management software and analytics can come later.
Resources to get started
- Marketing plan—Your website uses existing brand assets and value proposition. Target online content (articles, ads) to customers already identified in your marketing plan.
- List of top-selling products or services—Limit online inventory to your most popular offerings initially and test your system. You can add more later.
- A web developer—With the right expertise, a developer can design a site on an easy-to-use platform that can be added to and adapted over time. A site should have basic search engine optimization (SEO) that will help customers and prospects find you on Google and other search engines.
Best practices for your e-commerce platform
Payment—If customers place orders online, credit cards payments are possible. Other options include generating an invoice by email or allowing for e-transfers.
Shipping—Customers may want to see delivery time guarantees. Consider how you will communicate that and stay on top of any changes or delays in distribution.
Inventory management—If your inventory management software cannot be integrated with your online platform, you need to have some sort of control in place to ensure you have inventory on hand to fulfill online orders.
Alignment of brand across channels—Customers may find you online or in person, on Facebook or through your website, but their experience with your business and brand should be consistent across online and offline channels.
Developing and expanding your e-commerce platform
A basic e-commerce site with a few product or service options is the foundation to eventually expand your online business. Once the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis has subsided, you can slowly start to collect data and conduct tests to make improvements to your site.
Future e-commerce considerations may include:
- Routine search engine optimization.
- A content marketing plan.
- Integration of inventory software and web orders.
- Email automation.
- Cross-channel promotion, using your website and social media.
- Means to measure and use data analytics to adapt your marketing plan.
- Customer personas.
Tip: BDC’s Adapting Your Marketing Strategy Guide is an easy-to-follow PowerPoint presentation that includes information on how to use the current COVID-19 disruption to develop marketing scenarios and marketing communications plans, as well as an introduction to e-commerce.
Adapting your marketing strategy guide
Sales and marketing priorities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Reach out in a timely, relevant manner.
Business and risk assessment
Identify key business functions and map risk.
First steps in crisis management
Put people first and make rational decisions.