Have you noticed how easy it is to get spooked in times of crisis and uncertainty, what with COVID-19, bushfires, floods, panic buying and the climate crisis?
Given what we see on social media and in the news you’d be forgiven for asking: ‘Is it all over?’
Well no, it is not. Far from it.
COVID-19 will pass eventually. Yes, it is having a dramatic impact on various industries and people, especially those involved in international travel, tourism, conferences and events, hospitality and of course, healthcare. This is affecting hundreds of thousands of people, especially casual workers, here in Australia in terms of their livelihoods. Which is why governments are delivering stimulus packages to help people get through the crisis. As communities, we need to pull together and do everything we can to reduce exposure and the spread of the disease.
It doesn’t mean that the vast majority of us have to stop doing business with each other. But we have a duty of care, to keep our businesses open and operating, to get money flowing through the economy, and to keep our teams and customers safe. In fact, this is precisely when we need to call upon our human creativity, ingenuity and community spirit to keep the wheels of commerce, industry and our communities rolling on for all our sakes.
Remember as the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
So how can we keep selling and doing business during COVID-19?
The good news is many organisations are digitally equipped to keep on doing business.
This is what business owners and leaders are considering now.
Have a plan
Working from home is a great option, but it is not possible for all roles and businesses. How flexible can your work arrangements be? Do you have a contingency or continuity plan for when staff can’t work at all? Make sure to have a clear policy in place for employees that suspect to be or are sick.
How do you handle an actual staff shortage? What if you can’t get the resources you need to run your operations delivered? How can you keep the impact this might have on your business at bay? Make sure to plan for these scenarios, even if the likelihood of your business getting into such a situation still seems low. Identify what products or suppliers can turn into a bottleneck
Educate and train your staff on how to handle any potential scenarios, how to communicate internally and with customers about the effects this might have.
Diversify. In the long run, this might be a healthy thing to do anyway. Too many businesses are stuck with a very limited number of key customers or types or suppliers. While limiting the number of other businesses you interact and do business with makes life easier in general, it may prove dangerous in downswings.
Critically assess what risks for disease transmission you work environment has, and how you can reduce these risks.
Communicate with clients and customers
Let your clients know that you are working on ways to keep things going — such as managing supply, keeping them up-to-date, making it easier to get access to important information, et cetera.
Show them how they can keep buying from you — for example, online ordering, digital meetings, virtual presentations and pitches
Be proactive about communicating what is possible and what isn’t during this time. Help your customers, staff and other stakeholders to get a realistic idea of what goes on. Build trust by being proactively transparent. As trust can fade and panic can spread faster than any virus, it is critical to nurture trust, reliability and consistency through any crisis
Conduct your business online if possible. Often it is not technology that limits these options for businesses, but executives as well as staff that are falling back behind technological advances and trends. Yes, changing established procedures, supply chains and processes is annoying and bears risks, but not adapting, whether it’s because of a virus, or simply because markets change anyway, is far riskier on the long run.
Find the best way to have meetings
You can still meet people in person, just be aware of hygiene factors. No handshakes, hugs or kisses. (See below for how to greet people in person.)
Use Zoom, Skype or Teams to conduct (and record) client meetings. We have done this for some time now, especially with existing clients we have met before, and it saves so much time, fuel and effort. We can now all use it for new client meetings as well. For instance, we introduced one of our clients to Zoom which made them rethink a two meeting trip to Thailand they had planned three weeks ago. With COVID-19 getting closer they switched to Zoom meetings and the results were amazing. They still did business but without all the time, hassle, money and health risks of travel.
We also use online live video options to do remote sales training and education.
One of our other clients with lots of their clients in remote regional locations has already been using FaceTime to do remote site visits with his clients to look at how things are configured so he can put together a correctly specified quote.
Find alternative ways to greet people in person
By now everyone would be aware not to greet people with handshakes, hugs or kissing.
At Barrett we are doing the Vulcan Salute – Live Long and Prosper (see image)
Of course, you can establish any new form of greeting you like. Touch elbows or tap your feet, make a peace sign, a bow of the head as in Japan, Namaste prayer hands, or simply say ‘hi’ and leave it at that.
Deal with irritated customers
Show them that you understand their emotional state. This doesn’t mean you agree or give in. Acknowledging their perception, emotions and concerns helps deescalate the situation before you can have a more reasonable conversation about what’s actually possible or not.
Balance work priorities and personal health requirements
Asses your team’s work from home options.
What other ways are there to avoid exposure and infections in the workplace? What extra effort has to be made (at least for the time being) to ensure people will safe at their workplace?
Do the maths, what will cost your business more.
Option one. A staff member who drags themselves to work, does their job with only have the energy and then drops out for weeks because a disease gets way worse than necessary (even a simple cold can, if protracted and not cured properly, lead to myocardial or cardiovascular issues), of course not before infecting two other colleagues?
Option two. A staff member who stays at home for a couple of days right away, to then come back healthy and energised again, without any long term side effects for themselves or your business?
Stay healthy, calm and patient
There is an abundance of information out there on how to keep the virus out of your office, from washing hands to cleaning surfaces and objects. However, knowing these things is one thing, applying them another. An enclosed office space can give people the impression they’re in a safe space, like they feel when they’re at home. This can lead to a paradox effect of neglect when it comes to basic rules of hygiene. Make sure to re-enforce such measures, and communicate them again and again. Use signage as reminders in key places like toilets, kitchens, meeting rooms and other common areas.
We need to accept that during this crisis we need to reduce the level of exposure to others, contain our social lives for a while. This does not only mean reducing travel or face-to-face meetings that can be avoided, it also includes the pub visit on Friday after work.
Consider the mental health and social consequences of all this. Address those potential issues and offer information and support
Adapt to the new reality and see opportunities
Don’t panic, instead, look for opportunities. Clever investors, business leaders and salespeople look at downturns in markets as opportunities find new ways, new solutions, new markets. They look at the evidence at hand, the trends that are emerging and see opportunity, when many others see disaster. These people aren’t idealistic or oblivious to the challenges facing communities, markets and economies. The truth is they are far more aware of all the challenges and issues at hand because they keep themselves fully informed of what’s happening, and then look for patterns and commercially viable opportunities. They don’t sit still, instead, they ramp up their market research, market presence and sales efforts by getting in front of the right people (virtually or face-to-face), prospecting and investigating where people and markets are at and how they can help them. They understand that selling is the vehicle that allows opportunity to flourish and people, businesses, economies and societies to prosper.
New markets and new ways of operating can emerge during a crisis — discuss with your teams and colleagues what you ‘can do’. A positive outlook is better than allowing a general cloud of doom hanging over your teams. Purposeful optimism needs to be carefully nurtured in such times.
During healthy economic periods, ‘holding your ground’ most likely isn’t enough to keep an edge over your competition. In times of crisis, when others retreat (such as through reducing staff, hours or operations), or are anxious to make their moves, holding your ground can actually give you an advantage. Try to stay level-headed and to assess pragmatically what can be done to hold your ground, or even progress into new opportunities without putting your business at risk.
So keep the doors open and find ways to keep on selling and doing business.
There are more opportunities than you think.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.