by Mary Mechler, Technical Specialist, IMEC
We find ourselves in a most unpredictable situation today. It seems each day, another challenge is added to an already very complex business environment. Many companies are experiencing slow sales with uncertainty of the future, while others are experiencing new growth. There is a tendency to cut back on marketing activities when in tough or lean times. In fact, the opposite should be the choice. These are exactly the times when your presence can make a difference in growing customers and revenues. No matter how small the market, there still is a market. And, in keeping with common reaction, many competitors will pull their efforts back, leaving more space for those who choose to continue marketing to stay in front of customers and prospects. A very wise customer once told me that adhering to this fundamental marketing guideline is one of the primary reasons he had been able to lead the market in sales in his company’s 50 year history.
To begin, put yourself in your customer’s shoes to formulate a plan. Following are some steps to create a short-term plan and approach:
Talk to your customers.
Nothing beats speaking directly with customers, especially during uncertain times. So, invest some time into making calls and gathering information. Ask about their concerns and pains. There could be a range of issues they are confronted with, from supply chain delays, ability to produce and deliver, slow or canceled orders from customers, etc. Those same concerns and pains are likely relevant to prospective customers as well, and understanding them will serve you well in marketing to both customers and prospects. Now that you know your customer’s circumstances, how might you be able to mitigate or minimize the effect of those concerns? Now is the time for creativity in assisting to fill gaps and solve problems. Is there more work you can do internally, such as assembly? Is it possible to partner with complementary service providers to give more of a total solution? What flexibilities are you able to offer? One word of caution – take care not to stray too far from your core competencies into unchartered territory when considering options.
Make a list of the customer’s needs and how you will address them.
The customer pains you understand, and solutions you can provide will become part of your marketing messaging. Write down each challenge and how you can address each. Remember that your customers and prospects want to know what is in it for them, particularly in difficult times, so avoid simply providing a list of capabilities. There will likely be an overwhelming amount of information available at this time, so be as relevant and focused on the customer needs as possible. The goal is to solve problems.
Get your message out
Having identified customer pains and your solutions, begin communicating in channels available to you that will allow your message to get to customers and prospective customers as quickly as possible. Use what you have in place now. There are many options available that are low to no cost. For example, if you only have the means to make phone calls, then make phone calls. You can plan for future, more comprehensive marketing practices as the situation settles a bit.
Update Your Website
Do this first. Your website is the top channel for anyone seeking solutions to problems and should be included in all other forms of your messaging. Over 70% of people begin a search for, well anything, online. Amend your website copy to reflect this new information so that customers and prospects alike can clearly understand how you can support them. Keep their success and minimization of business disruption in mind, using thoughts such as, we are here for you; we understand current needs, are dependable, flexible, and htis is how we can help. Once you have the message created, it is there to be used across other channels listed below.
- Phone Calls: If this is your only means of engaging with your customers, simply call them to share your message. Multiple people working on this as a team is helpful, if staff is available.
- Email: People are more likely to see emails now due to social distancing, making email even more important as a tool for communicating. Do you have a customer email list? This is an opportunity to use it in helping you spread the word. Again, address the known pains and how you can support them. A tip here: less is more. Don’t write a lengthy email. No one has the time, and a lot of words on a page may be ignored. Just the facts. Remember, we’re here for you, dependable, flexible, and this is how we can help. Call us to talk about your unique situation.
- Social Media: Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are a fast and free connection to your network, and an appropriate way to reach customers and prospects with a supportive message.
After things settle, going forward:
If you don’t currently have a communication system or marketing program in place, think about building one now. Plan as if the situation will repeat itself, and maybe to a more challenging degree. Perhaps you have some employees with a bit of time to work on the necessary tools and plans. The benefits of being able to communicate with customers and the market in a nimble fashion will serve you well in good times as well as difficult times. For when the current crisis has passed, you will have a bit of experience, and momentum. The next step is ensuring you have the communication mechanisms and plan in place to help you grow your business in the future.
Side Note: For additional insights on growing your business, NWIRC will offer a no-cost webinar, Proven Ways to Generate Leads During an Economic Downturn, on July 16 from 11:00am-12:00pm.