A lot of digital column inches have been dedicated to the Covid-19 virus. Few are as good or refreshing as Mark Ritson’s column in Marketing Week. Last week, he wrote about business spring cleaning, which is exactly what we’ve been doing. Ritson knows the name of the game is finding advantage in crisis, not hunkering down. We need to be bullish, not bearish because just surviving isn’t enough.
About two weeks ago, inspired by Sam Walton of Walmart fame, we decided not to participate in the economic slowdown and looming recession. We decided, as a group, to get on the front foot and look for reasons to talk opportunity instead of disaster. We’re following exactly the advice in this blog and it’s working for us. It could work for you.
I’ve spent quite a lot of the last fortnight on the phone to people and it’s inspiring to hear how creative a crisis makes us. I hope to feature some of those stories on our podcast, Martrek, which swings back into action this week.
In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to explain how I/we are responding and adapting. I talked about this on the Business Marketing Club webinar last weekend.
Denial > Paralysis > Adaptation
As time has progressed through this crisis, our response has necessarily been adjusting to match both mood and needs. In Kübler-Ross style, I started in denial. On March 11th, I published a blog calling for a proportionate response to the virus because I feared for the state of UK business. That fear was not misplaced, but I underestimated how quickly the virus would take hold.
I started working from home on March 16th as a precaution. I say working because that week and the one after it was one of paralysis. I had work to do, but it didn’t seem important. It wasn’t going to make a difference. That passed pretty quickly and then we all shifted into adaptation mode. Working out how we make ourselves relevant to our clients. That involved a lot of listening.
Just Surviving Isn’t Enough
Now, I think most businesses that aren’t facing extinction (and I am afraid that too many are) are entering a stage we’re calling “survival at lowest cost cash flow”. That is – they’ve identified the cash flows they can realistically bring in to their business and they’re cutting costs to create a steady state that will allow them to survive.
But, what the quest for survival misses is a desire for surplus. Of course, we know surplus better as profit.
Businesses that haven’t already been officially closed should still be looking for profit – which means that they should and must still be actively marketing and actively selling. But how does one do that right now?
Quite apart from fact that most companies are still focusing on reducing costs, the people we’re trying to reach and influence are at home, not in the office. That’s going to change their psyche. It’s going to change how they think, how they interact and how receptive they are to new ideas and new relationships. It will change their attention spans too.
Key account management
First things, first, we all need to shore up our key accounts. That means Key Account Management and ABM strategies and tactics are a high priority. These things have been around for a long time, but many companies pay lip service to them.
Before furloughing your marketing department or your agency, ask yourself whether you’re really on top of your key accounts? Without them, you’ll struggle to survive let alone create a surplus.
If you’re going to invest in one area only – make it key accounts.
Net new from inbound
Next, I think net new relationships are almost impossible to make in this environment using push techniques. That’s not to say net new isn’t possible, especially using pull techniques. Our agencies are winning new business both from existing clients and net new relationships, but they are exclusively coming either from referral or by direct inbound approach.
Incidentally, I’m using this time to prepare for bounce back by investing in what Ritson’s calling spring cleaning too. We’re training our people with a fabulous concept called Selbey Anderson Online College conceived by our COO Simon Quarendon. We’re implementing insight tools recommended by agency leaders Samantha Andrews and Russ Powell to give focus, teeth and a more strategic approach to our own sales and marketing. We’re also deploying new marketing platforms recommended by Flagship PR‘s MD, Mark Pinnes, that will enable us to seek greater share of voice to grow awareness of our group and its agency brands. All of these improvements are being made possible by net new relationships. They’ve come through two sources: either I or someone in the group has ‘found them’ and made a direct approach or they’ve been referred to us by someone we trust.
Our destiny is in our own hands
So, as marketers, all of our immediate work should focus on just two things. One; make it easy for people to find us themselves and two; make sure we’ve got the mechanisms in place to encourage referral. Let’s look at those.
Making it easy to be found means:
- Having a really good grip on intent so we can focus effort on people who want what we do;
- Having assets we can deploy so our targets can ‘discover’ them;
- Having a means of deploying our assets in contextually appropriate places to minimise waste.
The good news is that you can buy one and three and pretty much all marketers are in the business of creating number two. This isn’t just possible, it’s easy to do. Harder to get right of course, but that’s the secret sauce agencies promise to bring.
Encouraging referrals is a little harder, but it’s not impossible. It’s hard because most people don’t like to ask and I’m no different either. Look at my LinkedIn profile and you’ll find two endorsements. I’ve been in business for thirty years and I’ve got two endorsements. Pathetic. Or is it? Asking for a personal endorsement is one thing – I find that really hard. But asking for a business referral, a case study or an interview… that should be easier?
Your best customers should be flattered that you’re asking them because it makes it clear that you are proud of the work you do together. And guess what? Your best referrals will probably be coming from your key accounts which takes us back to where we started. Key accounts.
None of us know how long we’ll be in this mode
As I press the publish button, the UK Government has announced another three weeks of mandated lockdown. None of us know how long we’ll be in this mode. Some businesses have already failed, others will fail in the coming weeks. But, for those that either have enough reserves or those that have managed to adapt, everything is to play for. Survival at lowest cost is ok if that’s all you can shoot for, but thriving at lowest cost and what we should aspire to. It’s the surpluses we generate that give us strength in times like these.
Just surviving isn’t enough. We need to be bulls not bears.