Growing your business in a pandemic
With a second wave of the virus now sweeping through Europe, and no signs of the virus going away in the United States, firms are facing the reality that we are now living in the “new normal”. Many smaller firms have really felt the weight of economic downturn and recession. With many technology firms worrying about how to survive, is it possible to think about growth?

Introduction

I am sure a lot of us started the year positively, we had defined our growth targets for the year, and were confident that we would deliver on these, and have a good year.  In March, however, the world changed, we have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, being no longer able to travel, go-to-work, visit prospects and clients, and being confided to working from our home offices. It is clear that whatever business we are in, we have had to take a very different approach to business growth than anything we could have imagined.

With a second wave of the virus now sweeping through Europe, and no signs of the virus going away anytime soon in the United States, firms are facing the reality that we are now living in the “new normal”.  In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Bill Gates suggested that it will likely be the end of next year before the US is out of this pandemic, and that it could take other parts of the world even longer, stretching the health and financial instability well into 2022.

Many smaller firms have really felt the weight of the global economic downturn, and subsequent recession. I have spoken with several firms whose order books, and active sales leads were wiped out overnight. Late in March, I remember well speaking with a firm who very despondently told me that over the course of a week the firm had gone from having 18 active projects, down to one, and with it wondering how their business would survive.

With many technology firms worrying about how to keep going, is it possible to think about business growth?

What Should Our Strategy Be?

We need to balance what we do in the short term with how we want the business to be positioned long term, a complete pivot away from an overall value proposition may be ill advised. So, what can you do?

Over the last few months, we have seen a massive rise in webinars, and short stories, as technology firms, big and small, scramble to be seen as “thought leaders” in their respective fields. Online events have replaced the usual mass of conferences, and smaller events that happen all the time around the world. While sharing a message, these online events do lack the interaction, and rapport with the audience that we are used to having with the audience. How many technology sales people go to conferences solely to listen to the presentations? I suggest, not very many, the real reason for attending conferences is the interaction and discussions which happen during the coffee breaks and lunches! Of course, that is not to say that content based marketing not a very valuable tool, it can be really used to drive real engagement and generate real leads, if done with an objective in mind – more about that later.

There was a feeling at one time in the technology industry that marketing, and making sales was easy, phrases circulated like “build it and they will come”, and “cool technology sells itself”, one thing is sure, in times of uncertainty these phrases no longer ring true. In a market where there is less money around, and potential buyers have to focus on keeping the business running, there is less time, and indeed, budget for innovation programs, and we are starting to see some of the larger innovation labs scaling back their activities.

Creating Value For Prospective Clients

Distinguish between the short term, revenue generators, perhaps more tactical, point solutions, and your long term strategy.  Let’s face it, in an uncertain economic environment, your prospects are probably are not making huge strategy changes, or running many multi-million dollar technology transformation projects.

You can still make sales.  Understanding your (prospective) client, understanding where they are at, and how they are coping themselves. The pandemic is clearly having an impact on business models, and changes are happening in their industry value chain.  Ask if your solutions fill any gaps firms have in their improvised operating model, and can you help firms to operate better, themselves, in this new remote-centric model? It is vital that technology firms understand their clients’ new value chain, and identify where they can create value for their clients, and in some cases, their clients’ clients, in this new model.

How To Access Opportunities

One of the first places to start is with our existing customer base, firms who have already bought something from us, and trust and have confidence in what we do.  Even more importantly, as many firms will have experienced, regulated firms often (usually) have long vendor due diligence processes, which may take even longer to complete while their staff are working from home and focused on other things.  Our existing clients are likely to be facing challenges and up-selling to them is likely to take far less time than bringing in new clients.

Rather than using the opportunity solely to tell everyone that you are still in business, use these activities as an opportunity to interact with the market, especially to your prospective target clients. Listen to the challenges they are facing, and adapt your messaging to match their needs. Pay attention to your branding, and brand strategy, how are you seen by your clients? Will this help you to access their emergency budgets during the pandemic?

Think about what kind of firms can you sell to in this situation? Large firms have long sales cycles, and deep vendor due diligence, which can take months, if not years to complete. Smaller to medium sized firms, however are also suffering from lack of tools and technology to enable them to function in this new situation, and the reality is that they can probably move more quickly if you can fill one of their urgent short term needs.  This may even prove to be a foot-in-the-door which can help you to sell more strategic solutions to these firms once the environment is more stable.

From a sales approach, of course, today practically all sales activities have become inside sales. You will be using video conferencing, and online meetings to interact with your prospects. It is an opportunity to go back through your address books, and past contacts to reconnect with firms who might not have had any urgent interest in normal times, but may now be facing a challenging time.

From a sales approach, of course, today practically all sales activities have become inside sales. You will be using video conferencing, and online meetings to interact with your prospects. It is an opportunity to go back through your address books, and past contacts to reconnect with firms who might not have had any urgent interest in normal times, but may now be facing a challenging time.

Weather The Storm And Don't Give Up

It is certain it is not going to be an easy year for a lot of businesses, and it is likely that many, large and small, will not survive, but with the right tools and approach it can be possible to “weather the storm”. With the right focus now, you will be even better positioned to deliver on your long term strategy when things finally return to “normal”.