The coronavirus and new social distancing mandates have shut down many traditional sales and marketing strategies. However, some small businesses have found unique ways to adapt and pivot in response to COVID-19.
The new rules put in place to enforce social distancing have resulted in digital innovation in many businesses that typically rely on selling to customers face-to-face.
Kent-based estate and letting agent Martin & Co, for example, has had to rethink how it showcases properties. “Now that we are no longer permitted to do viewings in person, we have switched to online-fully interactive viewings,” explains managing director Dennis Roodhardt.
The business already offered customers walk-through tours using 360-degree photos of every room, but Roodhardt says it now uses interactive tools provided by its partner Giraffe360. “This allows the business to do such tours in a Skype-like call, where it can walk our clients through the property and answer questions at the same time.”
“The effect is a viewing that’s close to the real experience: the 360-degree photos are amazing and give a really good ‘feel’ for the property, and the video-link makes the virtual viewing far more personal than just a pre-recorded video of the property,” says Roodhardt. “All in all, our transactions have remained as good as stable using Giraffe360, which is a tremendous result.”
While you may need to rethink your approach, business owners can take advantage of video conferencing software like Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime and Skype to schedule virtual "face-to-face" meetings with staff, customers, and prospects.
At the same time, many customers are staying at home, spending hours online, and looking at their phones. This could be a good time to ramp up digital marketing strategies with social media, published content, Google ads and email campaigns.
Finding ways to help
TheIndustry.fashion is an intelligence and insights service for UK fashion businesses. The company's business model relies on subscriptions, but decided early on to open up its content for free, and removed all payment and registration barriers on the site.
“Instinctively, it just felt wrong to be asking people to pay for information that they desperately needed right now,” says CEO and editor-in-chief Lauretta Roberts. "As a small business, we’re not in a position to donate large sums and we have no infrastructure to help with manufacturing vital supplies, but we do have content that might help – so we donated that.”
Roberts believes that by finding ways to help during the crisis, the business could emerge stronger. “We know that we are cutting off potential subscription sales but we also think, judging by the feedback we’ve had, that people will remember we supported them when times were tough,” she says.
The move has helped the service increase traffic to its website by more than 100% in the first month and sign-ups for its free daily newsletter have risen too. “We are sure we can continue to build on that traffic as we move forward,” says Roberts. “In a normal environment that would have taken months and months and a lot of paid digital marketing to achieve, so there are some very tangible benefits to being one of the good guys.”
Adapting to new customer needs
Consumer demand hasn't completely evaporated – it has only changed. Businesses that rethink their product lines may be able to address the needs of those who are now spending a majority of their time at home.
Like many across the UK, employees at Pallite, a packaging company in Northamptonshire, were forced to make the sudden switch to working from home in line with Government guidelines.
In their new remote work environment, staff who work alongside other family members and have children at home quickly realised that kitchen tables result in sore backs and space in the home for desks is often limited. Using the company’s packaging materials, the team designed a prototype pop-up desk which it makes in adult and kids sizes.
What was a passion project for the team has since become the brand's first foray into the business-to-consumer market. Pallite now offers the product to all customers who are remote workers.
Delivering virtual events and classes
Face-to-face classes, conferences, and conventions have been cancelled or postponed for now, but people still want a chance to network and learn. That’s why technology startup RoadBotics, which focuses on improving roads and infrastructure, launched its own remote online series of events.
"Each week, we release six to eight web events for civil engineer and public works professionals," says Alison McGee, marketing associate at RoadBotics. The business is already starting to see results from these courses. "So far, we’ve held seven web events with over 240 registered attendees, many of which are not current clients," she says.
Companies can pivot by helping to fill the knowledge gap with virtual classes or events, educational videos on YouTube, and social media, or by publishing thought leadership pieces in industry trade journals. These provide an opportunity to forge and develop a reputation for expertise.
Improving the sales process (for now and the future)
As business owners try new systems to get through the social distancing era, they may uncover ways to get better at selling even when things return to normal.
Sa El is the co-founder of insurance broker Simply Insurance. Instead of speaking with prospects over the phone, he now uses video conferencing so he can share his slides, show the calculations, and present more information than just a conversation.
"The reason I could close so many calls was because I was sharing my screen and going over the information with the customer in real-time over the phone," he says.
While talking, he can also fill out an application and send it to the client to print and sign during their meeting instead of waiting for later, when the client may have lost momentum. "It made it a streamlined process and much easier for the customer in regards to their understanding and trust," he adds.
Businesses that work with new technology should consider what would improve the sales process even after social distancing ends. For example, if clients need to sign contracts, they could explore electronic signature software to get their signature during a call rather than asking them to manually sign after the call ends. There's also an opportunity to streamline sales meetings with video conferencing.
These are uncertain times for the economy, but by taking advantage of ideas such as these, business owners can continue making sales and help put themselves in a stronger position when social distancing rules are relaxed.