‘Don’t apologise for survival mode’: Why it’s time to drop the corporate mask

Companies that exploit suppliers during COVID19 pandemic will pay long-termthe long-term

"Companies using COVID-19 to exploit suppliers will pay long-term," says Ian Whitworth.

Right now your earnings are somewhere between zero, or if you’re super lucky, just your worst year ever. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in something like supermarkets or medical equipment.

It’s going to be that way for a while. Get used to it.

It’s confronting to call customers who you know don’t need anything for the next six months; sales people have all done the ‘learn to love no’ course, but no has never been so limitless.

So what do you do? I’ve spoken to a range of smart, connected people lately as part of our new chat show project and the single common theme has been a return to basic humanity.

Looking out for the people around you. A pause in the selfishness and animal-kingdom posturing that drives so much of business. A dropping of the corporate mask.

Whether that’s a blip or a seismic shift, I don’t know. Nobody does. It’s still early days.

If your business is in hibernation, you should basically do nice things for free. Because you’ve got nothing else to do, and you will be rewarded whenever the wheels start turning again.

It’s a bit like the staff layoff situation from a few weeks ago: clients will remember for decades how you behaved through all this. Good and bad.

Now is the time that strong, enduring new customer bonds are created, far more than in the good times. Because now is a time when people can tell if you have their back or not.

Sales: Just check in

Here’s your sales call in April 2020: don’t even mention your product unless they bring it up. Now is not the time.

At a basic human level, check in with your customers (and others in your industry) and see how they’re going. As a business owner, I haven’t spent as much time on the phone since email was invented, and we’re doing zero revenue. People want to talk.

They want reassurance on a level that messages can’t provide. The phone (or one-on-one video call) is the Magic Empathy Machine, picking up 1000% more information than digital chat.

Ask how people are. Personally, as well as business. Listen. Not just to what they say, but their general vibe. Let them finish. Pause before you answer.

(I think we’re now in an era where female communication skills will absolutely rule. And men, you can do this.)

Making those calls is important now, and it’s going to get more important to check on people you value, as weeks of lockdown grind into months. People are going to go down some dark mental holes indeed. Even if they’re still working.

I have readers I’ve never met checking in on me. Bless those people.

What can you do that’s valuable to them?

If they can’t buy your product, what can you do to help them that costs you nothing other than your time?

It depends on your product, but here’s some ideas:

  • Open up online subscriptions for free;
  • Research future trends and write customers a report;
  • Do some Zoom training on your product;
  • Use your connections to help them find some customers; or
  • Can you partner with a complementary business who also has nothing on?

We’re doing that last one. Because there are no live events on, we built pop-up video streaming studios in three of our offices.

We spoke to our friends at Saxton Speakers bureau, who have a huge lineup of (normally expensive) guest speakers who are also doing nothing. Combine the two, and we have a free twice-weekly show that’s providing a lot of benefit to both companies’ customers, and which will pay off in future goodwill.

Nadine Champion: drop the corporate mask

Responsibly-spaced studio chat with martial arts World Cup winner Nadine Champion. Source: supplied.

(Bonus: I can’t speak for Saxton but from our viewpoint, it’s helping stop ourselves getting bored out of our goddamn minds.)

Your stiff corporate persona is so 2019

Clients seeing your social streams have eroded the divide between your work personality and your actual self for the last decade.

COVID-19 is destroying what’s left of that wall.

Customers see you in all your vulnerability, dressed in put-out-the-bins casual. They see your stacks of background junk where you hacked out a home-office clearing like a jungle explorer. Kids fighting. Cat snacking on the half-eaten sandwich you left next to the printer.

Zoom home images are starting to look a lot like this.

“Urchin, wherefore art thy mute button?”

In that context, it’s much harder to start a conversation with: “So the bottom line is, when are we going to deliver those deliverables?”

I have seen posts from people who put on the full boardroom outfit, full makeup, perfect hair and so on for their home Zoom calls, to show that they’re still on top of the situation. It might be just the mental trick you need to switch yourself into work mode, and if so, go for it.

But be aware that it can come across like some kind of weird dress-up party now.

And virtual corporate backgrounds on your Zoom: weird and fake.

(Also, though a bit off-topic, is it just me or has every brand I’ve ever unsubscribed from re-set their email lists, and are now back pestering with off-key COVID-themed sales pitches?)

The virus has done us the favour of stripping away a lot of success-prop fakery. We’re moving into a sort of anti-prestige situation where genuine status comes from being honest and unafraid to talk about your weaknesses and feelings.

You can drop your corporate mask and still be fully professional.

Honest is strong

Here’s a nice example of the new rules at work: Sydney lawyer James D’Apice, who does a really good video series called Coffee And A Case Note with interesting case law snippets presented in words non-lawyers can understand.

He shoots them in various CBD cafes, toting a piccolo or hipster cold drip brew, suited up like Mister Big City Law Guy.

James D'Apice

The videos open with a set-piece montage of ties knotting and cufflinks snapping into place. Oh yeah, it’s Business Time.

Coronavirus destroyed James’ natural habitat but the videos roll on. I’m guessing most viewers were expecting to see him pop up in a comfortable Tuscan-style villa in one of the rugby-enthusiast suburbs. Guess again.

A couple of kinda rustic-looking videos in a hoodie, then … enter The Woodsman.

And he don’t care who knows it.

The fact he’s opening up about something that doesn’t fit conventional lawyer prestige, and admitting to his fears about something competitors might call weakness, shows infinitely more strength and character than someone stepping out of a Bentley Bentayga with LITIG8 plates.

(I did take the liberty of suggesting to James that the shot is crying out for a red flanno, both for bush cred and to pop him out from that camouflage background. Old art director habits die hard).

The point is, the game has changed. Things you thought were impressive a few months ago now make you sound really tone-deaf (and a liar).

Wrong

“Enjoying a celebratory #champagne after closing yet another successful client deal in this market. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Strong

“I’m getting about 70% of my job done but I’m enjoying helping educate my kids. And frankly I’m still pretty scared but we’ll get through this.”

Don’t apologise for Survival You. The only way you’re going to survive the coming months is being absolutely true to yourself.

Your clients can handle it. Your loved ones will appreciate it, even if they’re not saying so at the time. You’ll emerge a better, stronger person, and frankly you’ll have more fun in the long term because you’ll hear those inner voices more clearly.

Gosh that’s a bit lofty and inspirational for this blog. Strange times indeed.

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.

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