Whether we’re starting out, or a mature organisation, with the appearance of coronavirus, businesses globally are facing very real and serious unexpected challenges. With government-imposed closures of many non-essential sectors, whole supply-chains are being put on pause. As is often the case, the smaller companies are being hit the hardest.
B2B in crisis
A good example might be small meat distributor supplying the hotel and restaurant industry, now rendered client-less, and likely left with a significant amount of perishable stock to either move or write off.
Where mobility rules still permit, restaurants can leverage their existing client base and revert to home delivery, but for a B2B company, what choices do they have?
I know of examples where word of mouth outreach – accelerated through WhatsApp group chats – they are looking to reach end consumers for the very first time, and not see stock go to waste.
Focus turning to the consumer. Trend?
This forced move, from B2B to B2C is a scenario for many companies and likely to become a trend. Driven by controls such as restrictions imposed on movement, a consumer focus back on supporting local business, and societal changes such as the increased sense of solidarity, community, altruism, volunteering, doing the right thing and supporting each other.
A real-world example
Here’s a recent example we’ve stumbled upon that illustrates what I think many B2B companies will be dealing with.
In this case we’re talking about a mature, established medium-sized corporate, offices and operations in multiple European states with a business model leveraging third-party retail distribution and sales channels. Very little of the organisation is set up to service the end customer, which is exclusively the consumer. Given the legacy business model and despite the inefficiencies of the middle-men in the distribution channels adding little value, the potential of e-commerce as barely been explored.
Internally, the management has become increasingly conservative and risk-averse over time, which combined with an under-investment in technology has led to growing communications and collaboration challenges
Enter covid-19 – now they’re thrown into crisis.
The majority of their employees forced into confinement and ill-prepared both culturally and technologically for the realities of working from home. Or worse, with nothing to do, questioning the likelihood of job losses.
Unable to service existing distribution channels, and unable to reach end customers since their retail presence was shut down overnight.
But we were getting the occasional order in via Amazon’s marketplace weren’t we? What about doing more with that?
It doesn’t take long asking around to realise no-one knows who was behind it, now when it was set up.
A quick investigation shows no investment has been made into engagement, barely the odd review. Similar situations to be found on other social media channels.
Enough of the bleak picture
What can be done?
It maybe goes without saying that we need to quickly take stock and look to leverage the available e-commerce capabilities and presence on other platforms and marketplaces.
But that in itself might feel like boiling an ocean, so here are some questions we can ask and thoughts on where to get started.
It is no cliché to say it starts with people.
At the board level, can we address fears, and recognise that this is a time for leadership. Fear in the face of uncertainty is natural, but indecision and lack of action can have worse consequences. Could many companies be facing their “Kodak moment” amidst this crisis?
For management the challenge is principally a sense of control – or more likely lack of! Hierarchical, office-based organisational structures have lead to a significant amount of conditioning. The new reality of physically distributed teams requires a shift in mindset and behaviours if they are to adapt and flourish. Shedding the comfort blanket of this conditioning, and allowing the compassionate human in all of us to
How quickly can we enable and empower our now home-bound employees?
This is a change that can’t be understated, for many it is their first experience of having to adapt to work away from the office. It requires adaptation and significant adjustment in expectations, behaviours and support. Tools and technology also have a role of course, listening to staff and not simply assuming that taking a laptop home will suffice, rather making available the appropriate resources in order for us to maintain a sense of connection and productivity.
Internal communications must step up and facilitate, to play a lead role in supporting staff and developing the vital ingredient of trust in order to create a sense of security. Empathy and understanding are required, where organisations really do need to question the motives behind expectations, and truly put their employees first. To do so effectively, employees need to be put at the heart of any initiatives, actually involved in creating and building any solutions to problems or adapting of processes. It can’t be yet more change imposed by management in already turbulent times.
Existing marketing efforts need to be objectively re-evaluated, some may no longer even be appropriate. This needs to include social media activities. Simple steps such as stopping automated scheduled postings which may lack tact or result in inappropriate timing, and replacing with a simple human message can actually create a positive impact – particularly if we’re genuinely able to offer help and support.
Taking this a stage further, there may be the potential to redirect some customer service efforts into the social space. Providing guidance to empower employees on how and what to share, and doing so authentically through sharing personal stories, their experiences, and not always related directly to the brand or a product. This could be a great time to give some love and attention to those Amazon reviews, responding to unanswered questions and building some consumer engagement.
Given the scale of the current coronavirus crisis, and the inevitable toll it will take on the global economy, it is easy to feel powerless and fearful for the future. However by breaking down an overwhelmingly large, overly complex problem, into smaller considerations, it is possible to avoid inaction and overcome the inertia to change – without turning up the dial further on stress and disruption.
I’m sure there are many more considerations to be made. What else might you do, or aspects you’d focus on in a scenario like this?
Do you agree that more companies are going to have to re-evaluate existing B2B business models and consider shifting towards B2C?
And what do we expect the “new normal” look like, post #covid-19?