Over the past few weeks, we've seen the events industry take a nosedive as a result of the coronavirus. Google canceled I/O 2020, and Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference. Twitter, TikTok, Mashable, Intel, Vevo, Amazon and many others pulled out of the South by Southwest festival, which was ultimately canceled the week before it was scheduled to begin. Coachella followed suit just days later. Large gatherings everywhere have been canceled. Ironically, the Council on Foreign Relations canceled its conference, Doing Business Under Coronavirus, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in New York City.
In addition to canceled conferences, companies as well as state and local governments are encouraging employees to work from home, some even mandating it. Sales teams from coast to coast have been asked to cancel face-to-face customer calls for the time being. No one really knows when they can get back on the road again.
As painful as these steps are, I wholeheartedly agree that these measures are necessary to stem the spread of the disease. Still, we need to recognize the impacts these restrictions will have on the sales funnel for every company in America. For many vendors, trade shows are where their first potential customers raise their hands and say they're interested in a product or service. For a salesperson who has been nurturing a lead for a few months or longer, the separation may result in that lead going cold.
Post Consumer Brands (then called Postum Cereals) bucked the trend during the Great Depression, investing in advertising when all other brands were cutting back. As consumers still needed to eat, Post amped up its marketing. Similarly, today's circumstances offer savvy marketers an opportunity to show their customers, prospects and sectors that they can think outside of the box to keep their businesses – and their customers – rolling along. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Deploy your executives.
Now is a good time to demonstrate your company's thought leadership. The current climate creates the opportunity to take a step back and think about the big picture – a luxury you may not always have the time to give the proper attention. When face-to-face meetings are prohibited, creative thought leadership can fill the gap. Consider setting up informational webinars that tackle the big issues in your industry, led by your executives. Thought leadership is one of the reasons why people travel to conferences, and you can replace those canceled trade shows with a virtual conference that features online executive-level talk tracks.
2. Check in with each and every customer.
If you haven't already done so, give every sales rep a Zoom or other video conferencing account so that they can invite every stuck-at-home customer to a virtual meeting. Ask your clients how they're faring and what your company can do to help. If they rely on your company for products or services that you can't deliver in wake of the coronavirus, explain your plans and strategies for delivering once your supply chain is up and running.
It's critical that your customers hear this individually – straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. These one-on-one meetings will allow your sales teams to identify which customers are most adversely affected and should be prioritized once business is running normally again. Moreover, if you are a B2B company, your customers will be in a better position to explain to their customers the plan for getting things back to normal. [Read related article: How to Run Effective Video Meetings in Your Global Business]
3. Schedule product demos.
For many companies, the new year is a time to think about investing in tech stacks. These plans will now be delayed, which can hobble their growth plans further. You can help them shorten those delays by offering open webinars for prospects to learn about your tech and see hands-on demonstrations. If your company is fully integrated with other platform providers, consider offering joint demos with them.
You can also ask your sales teams to schedule hours for open prospect demos. All they need to do is to keep their video meetings open, and anyone with the link can drop in anytime during those hours.
4. Start an online community.
Conferences offer attendees the chance to meet with their peers, ask questions and share best practices. For many people, networking is the most important reason to attend a conference. You can make up for this lost opportunity by starting an online community that fosters peer-to-peer discussions among your customers. This shouldn't be a crisis-only initiative, by the way. Providing a forum for your customers will deliver various dividends for as long as your company is in business. There are many plug-and-play services that allow you to set up a community quickly and easily.
5. Communicate with your market.
When the financial crash hit in 2008, a lot of people said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and there's a lot of truth in this. At the moment, business is slow and travel is restricted, which means people have more time on their hands. Use this crisis to raise your brand in the market.
One great way to raise brand awareness is to write thought leadership articles for publications that are specific to your industry. Share your vision of where you see the industry going, the opportunities to seize, and the challenges to watch out for.
Keep your social media channels active and engaging. Social media keeps you connected to your customers and gives you the ability to communicate your latest news and offerings, share your expertise, and relate to what is top of mind in your industry. This is a great time to give some TLC to your social media strategies and tie them into your content marketing initiatives so that you are not only sharing your company news, but also staying connected to your audience at a time when everyone feels a little socially isolated.
Podcasts are another way to get your message out, and the reasons they're effective are really interesting. Podcasts allow you to tell your brand story in an immersive format to an audience that chose to listen. They also open up an avenue for new prospects to find you. Start your own podcast, or look for industry-specific ones so you can submit yourself for consideration as an expert guest.
6. Improve your website content.
Finally, take this opportunity to make sure your website creates the optimal experience for your target audience. Ensure that your messaging connects with them and speaks to their concerns, all content is up to date and relevant, and that you are adding more resources to drive traffic to your site, such as engaging blog posts, videos and customer success stories.
Every crisis has a silver lining; use this one to consider the big picture of your company. Rather than getting stuck in emergency mode, look at where you want to be and think of creative ways to get there. We know companies that market aggressively during economic downturns are poised to reap big rewards when the economy picks up again. The same is likely true of this crisis, which means it's not the time to stagnate. Remember, business will pick up again, so don't panic.