Challenges for marketing and sales in post-COVID-19 economy

Aurel Constantin 14/04/2020 | 16:01

The post-COVID-19 economy will defintely be different from the one we know so far. And one of the departments that changes is the marketing and sales. Elena Badea, managing partner at Valoria Business Solutions, put together seven challenges for this department in order to better understand what the companies will have to do from now on.

From the discussions we have with the managers of the companies that we offer marketing consulting services in Valoria, most of them are already working, together with their teams, on the recovery plans in the post-COVID economy. Positive and negative scenarios are prepared, needs and purchasing behaviors are analyzed, products and services are adapted, new marketing plans are elaborated. Despite the unexpected dose, sales and marketing teams make forecasts, talk to current customers, recalibrate budgets and change the marketing mix. What is the goal? It is increasing favorability, improving conversion rates, and ensuring profitability.

What are the actions that make the difference in this context? Beyond the experience and competence of the sales and marketing specialists, the situation generated by the impact of COVID-19 has many variables and unknowns. Therefore, in addition to the plans and scenarios prepared by the managers, the essential elements for success are given by the ability to observe the new tendencies and the agility in adapting to them. For this process, a few elements are essential and that is why I have addressed them in this article.

  1. Use social media to talk to current customers

Communicating with clients is essential both in times of stability and in times of volatility. Social media offers important tools to maintain this communication, with only one condition – focusing on the customer and not on exposing the benefits, offers, and promotions. This is why, now more than ever, companies need to get out of egocentric communication and open dialogue with their customers.

Even if you have not done so before, it is good to create all kinds of contexts in which clients tell you what this period is like for them, what their challenges and needs are, what expectations they have from their business partners, what measures have been taken to adapt, etc. Non-selling, sustained and empathetic communication feeds positive emotions and puts us in the good, long-term memory of our customers.

  1. Discovering new opportunities amid adversity

This is not a simple or easy thing from at least two points of view:

  • The marketing and sales teams are made up of people who also have reactions of panic, upset, sadness or concern at the health crisis generated by this coronavirus. So their ability to discover opportunities is affected by their mental and emotional state.
  • Many companies have procedures that require systematic information to “see” where an opportunity arises, but especially to approve “accessing” it.

The winners will be those marketing and sales teams with enough ancestry to change everything on the go, from companies open to change, testing and agility. Decisions are now made not only based on figures, but also the basis of vision, experience, and intuition.

  1. Observe the new buying behaviors

Demand crises, as it is, turn into financial crises through the blockage they create in the economy. But even when they stay home or are technically unemployed people consume essential products and services, having preferences for their search, selection and purchase channels. Social distance has “forced” large categories of consumers who have so far preferred to buy offline now and also in the online environment.

On the other hand, many companies were forced by the new context to find solutions for partial or total digitization of the purchasing process. What to do? The simplest and most effective thing is to monitor the competition, the actions of the top companies from different industries, in general, and the materials that the big consulting companies publish. All of this must be supplemented with data from their interactions with customers and from observing their behaviors.

  1. Adding a digital segment to the sales process

For over five years we know that between 60-70 percent of the buying process in B2C and between 30-40 percent in B2B takes place in the online environment. What does this mean? No more, no less than the fact that we can have a digital part of the sales process.

But how many companies have acted consistently in this direction? Of the studies on this subject we have in Valoria, the percentage is 36 percent in B2C and 21 percent in B2B. But time has no patience with companies that do not want to sell online. Even if this process is just started in this environment, and is to be closed offline, there is still much to be done to add a digital dimension to the sales channel.

  1. Structuring and adapting recovery strategies

The quote that should always come to mind is this: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. No matter how complicated the situation is and no matter how difficult the forecast is, the preparation makes the difference. The best approach is the scenario-based approach. From my experience in the Big Four, companies that are leaders in their fields of activity can work in a modularized manner, based on sets of variables, models and action scenarios.

Even if we apply only a part of what we have structured, analyzed, forecasted, because the situation is dynamic, and we are still winning because all these prospects and analyzes allow us to observe more quickly where the opportunities appear and where the risks are. Our mind has already imagined them, explored them and can act quickly on their basis. We are no longer taken by surprise.

  1. The capacity for frugal innovation in the new context

Innovation is not the responsibility of managers. Innovation can come from any part of the company. Therefore, competence, trust, autonomy, transparency, and real-time communication are required to manifest. Let’s take them one at a time. Competence because this is the basis of the relevant observation of the client’s need, which leads to innovation. Trust because the innovation once found must be communicated to those who have the role to approve it in the company. Autonomy because it is essential for prototyping innovation in a testing environment. The transparency of the data from the company’s systems for the marketing and sales team supports the whole process. As well as real-time communication, which is critical during the implementation period. My question is: how many companies meet all these conditions? From my experience less than 10 percent, which shows the size of the opportunity brought by innovation.

  1. Continuous recalibration of approach and efforts

A study by Harvard Business Review analyzed 4700 public companies three years before, during and after the recessions. The study identified the percentage of companies that outperformed their rivals: 21 percent for companies that opted for a focus on prevention, so reducing costs, and 37 percent for those who chose a focus on opportunities. The study found that “companies that reduce costs faster and faster than competitors did not necessarily have a faster return.” On the contrary, they have the lowest profitability compared to the competition when the times improve. What is the conclusion? Most companies need a continuous recalibration of their approach and efforts to recover from the crisis.

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