Now What? Navigating the New ‘Virtual’ Normal
Now what? People have focused much of the last 90 days on savings lives, bolstering our health care system, shoring up the supply chain of essential goods and services; masks, ventilators, hand-sanitizer and oh yes, the essential toilet paper, while many of us were forced to stay home and if possible, work from home. Government programs are and continue to be rolled out to help those impacted financially by this pandemic, individuals and businesses of all sizes are navigating their options while trying to stay safe and afloat. There are signs of hope however, that we are on the down slope of flattening the curve of COVID-19 in Canada. Plans are underway to reopen our economy slowly and carefully to non-essential services. We must now focus more of our attention from saving lives to preserving livelihoods. We must get our economy pumping again but business and the way we work has changed, dramatically.
There is good news. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. People and companies are having to get creative and are also stepping up to answer the call to action for #TeamCanada. Restaurants are not only offering take out, providing take home meal kits you can make yourself; they are also making meals to support our health care workers and the homeless. Distilleries and Breweries are making hand sanitizer. Plastic factories are fabricating face shields. Car factories are retooling to make life-saving ventilators while garment factories are sewing up thousands of masks and gowns.
Many businesses are pivoting to offer their services and products online. Bricks and mortar stores, already under pressure from giants like Amazon, are now enabling online purchases and are getting there lightening fast to serve their customers or be doomed to fail. It’s not an ‘IF” anymore, it’s now a “WHEN” you will sell online and how fast can you do it. You can do a variety of classes online from yoga, personal training, cooking, marketing, technical development, coaching, you name it, you can now do it online. Even our schools are conducting classes online from public school right up to universities.
Without the ability nor need for physical interaction and person to person contact, the barriers are lifting on how and where you can now deliver your services. Businesses are now delivering their services and goods virtually and are no longer encumbered by a geographic area. Where before an SME business was focused on their local community, they can now scale nationally and even internationally, limited only by their ambition and imagination. For now and for the foreseeable future, it is a whole new normal and it’s “virtual”.
So what can you do to embrace this new “virtual” normal?
- Think differently about your customers
If you have not already, think differently about how you service your current customers and how you could serve them in ways you never thought possible. We are all in this together and so, unless you are an essential business, currently potential customers or clients can ONLY buy online. What barriers or obstacles would prevent them from buying from you? How can you make it easier for them? What products or services can you offer in addition to or in place of your current product or service offering? What new customers can you attract to your business that you never thought of before? Before COVID-19 Breweries never even thought about making hand-sanitizer nor servicing the health care industry.
- What technologies do I need to go Virtual or sell online?
What do you need to go virtual will largely depend on the type of business you run and the products or services you offer? If you are a business consultant like me, I had to ensure my home office was set up sufficiently so I could continue to meet with my customers virtually. I’ve also starting offering webinars and workshops online, something I had never done before until now. There are many technologies available and accessible to you.
Laptop – most everyone has a laptop or computer. If you do not have one, you can buy them online from Amazon, BestBuy or other online marketplaces.
Online Meeting software – Software that enables you to meet virtually with your customers, usually one to one, using video and/or audio. Options like Zoom are extremely popular. I am using ZOHO Meetings that is included in my ERP software; ZOHO One. Other options like GoToMeetings, Microsoft Teams, Ring Central, all have web-conferencing solutions ranging from free options to low priced monthly options.
Webinar software – Software that enables you to conduct online webinars for many more customers or prospective customers. Many are being offered for free today as part of a public service offering while others are for a fee. Pricing and topics vary widely again depending upon your service or product offering. Options such as the one I use, ZOHO Webinars, is included in ZOHO meetings and allows me to conduct live webinars, record them and save or replay them over and over again. You can also create paid workshop this same way and create a whole new revenue stream you never thought of before. Other Webinar options include GoToWebinar, BigMarker, WebinarJam, among others.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software – Software that enable you to create a database of customers, communicate with them, track activities and follow-up with them. It allows you to stay in touch with them including automating some of your marketing. I have used several including AgileCRM and am currently migrating to ZOHO CRM as part of the full suite as mentioned under ZOHO One. Other CRM solutions include PipeDrive, Keap, Salesforce, Zendesk, NetSuite, and HubSpot.
eCommerce Software – Shopify is one of the best and most well-known eCommerce platforms today. Others include WIX, NetSuite, Epicor and Square. Again, while I do not use it today, ZOHO Commerce is also available as part of the ZOHO ONE suite. Be careful which solution you choose. You will need to consider the suitability to your products and services, geographic restrictions, taxes, regulatory compliance etc. Do thorough research or work with a consultant such as ProcurePro to help you ensure you invest in what you need.
- Consider Your Employees Wellness
If your employees are not used to working remotely, there are many things you should consider to be successful, after all, they will be critical to your new virtual success. Make sure they have the appropriate setup at home to work effectively and efficiently. Do they need a laptop, phone or any equipment to deliver services from home? If not, if you can, considering investing in making their work life from home a little better. Whether it is a webcam for meetings, or a new headset or other special equipment needed uniquely for your business, investing in them means they will be investing in your business.
Make sure you check in with them regularly to ensure they are coping ok. Those who are juggling work, children, home-schooling etc. need support and patience. Life is stressful for them and everyone right now.
If your business is pivoting and the new nature of your work means employees will be negatively impacted, above all, treat them with fairness and compassion. If you can recall them at some point in the future, they will be grateful. If you cannot, treat them fairly and with the greatest care you can afford. Consult your HR professional to help do this right. My HR professional is Corette Miller at newInitiativesHR. She can help you and your employee through this difficult time.
When economies take a downturn and companies top line growth begin to flatten, many organizations must sharply focus on the health of their bottom lines by better controlling costs and prioritize spending investments.
- Stay in touch with your customers and connect to new ones
Many are unsure if they should continue or start to invest in marketing during this surreal time and if so, what is the right tone to take? The tone should fit the times we are in. Our first concern should always be on health and safety. Do not be afraid to inquire on their health. I truly care about my customers and absolutely want them to know I am thinking about them and I am here to help them, even if it’s just to listen to their concerns and fears.
My go to Marketing partner, Brian Davidson at LightSwitch Media tells me when the economy is in a downturn, it is more important than ever you invest your dollars in smart marketing. Whether it is digital marketing or relationship marketing, you need to stay in touch with your customers and find out how THEY are doing. What do they need? What pressure are they under? What advice are they hearing?
I stay in touch with my customers by sending out a monthly Newsletter “On The Button”. It is automated through my CRM system. See CRM above for options. I post regularly to Social Media using ZOHO Social and send out email drip campaigns to offer free information and communicate promotions and new offerings.
Before COVID-19, I would often meet clients at their place of business, take them for lunch or coffee to catch up on how they are doing, what I have been up to and new products or services I may be offering. It is more about a relationship for me. I am NOT a salesperson. I can only develop my business authentically through helping customers with actual problems they have. I am replacing in person meetings now with “virtual coffees”. It’s great, we can connect by video and or audio right from home using ZOHO meetings and it’s much more relaxed and bonus, there is no hour-long commute and outrageous parking fees.
If you need help navigating the new virtual normal, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 416-505-8698. If you want more information about ThryvX or ProcurePro, visit our website; www.thryvx.com or www.procurepro.ca
All the best! Stay Positive and Stay Safe!