Management: Resilience: Your Competitive Advantage In The Age Of COVID-19

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“Resilience is accepting your new reality even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
– Elizabeth Edward

Do you know anyone who has not been negatively affected by the current health and economic crisis? What we’re about to witness is how each individual handles this crisis and thousands of very different outcomes. From my experience, challenging times do not so much build character as reveal it, and this current situation will show us who we are.

The McKinsey consulting firm writes, “Resiliency—the ability to absorb a shock and to come out of it better than the competition—will be the key to survival and long-term prosperity. COVID-19 could end up dwarfing the financial crisis in economic damage. In that case, it will not be enough for many companies to tweak their business model; instead they will need to rethink it.” 

Re-Think Your Plan

That 2020 business plan that you wrote back in December or January needs a rethink. Re-think: what are you building? Socrates said that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but building the new. Re-think: why are you doing this? Your “vision” and “mission” must be ready for facing these new challenges. Make sure your heart and commitment to live out your purpose are strong and passionate.

Re-think your strategies. How will you build it now that the world has changed? How will you communicate with your customers while physically distancing but remaining socially close? Have you considered that many of your clients who you regularly visited in their offices may continue to work from home? You are not a door-to-door salesperson. Studies of shopping behaviors during the pandemic are showing that people who previously were not big users of online shopping have changed their habits. In Italy alone, ecommerce transactions rose 90 percent between February and March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. 

Up Your ECommerce Game

What does this mean for you? It means that if you’ve been ignoring your ability to conduct sales transactions through ecommerce, you need to accelerate it now. Your customers are expecting an Amazon experience from you. At the very least, partner with your suppliers for some free tools and customizable solutions that will get you into the game. Ask your supplier reps; they’ll be happy to guide you to these resources. 

There are a variety of industry providers of ecommerce solutions such as DistributorCentral, commonsku and SAGE, the latter available with a PPAI membership. You can also create your own customized, branded and uniquely-you ecommerce solution using non-industry solutions such as Shopify, WIX, Weebly, Magneto, Etsy, Nimbit, Squarespace and others. 

Develop Your Online Presence

You should improve your online presence outside of ecommerce with content that is relevant to the needs and problems of your customers and target audience. Your job is to build trust and position yourself as a subject matter expert. 

How do you do that? You can create content through writing, reading, video or any creative outlet. If you have skills in any of these areas, use them and work on improving them. If you don’t have these skills, you can become a reader and researcher and share great content that you find online and in sources you read. (Just make sure to attribute the content to the creator of it.) You may also hire someone to create content that is relevant to the needs of your target clients.

The great thing about creating an online presence is that you can be a media mogul fairly easily. Through blogging—sharing your writing online—you can create your own newsletter. Free resources such as WordPress make it easy. If you’re more comfortable just talking, record your great ideas and solutions and share them in a podcast. Now you’ve got your own radio station. Videos are extremely popular, especially if you’re trying to reach Millennials and Gen Z. Videos allow you to be real, funny and increase your chances of getting widespread shares. Did you know you can create your own channel on YouTube? There, now you’ve got your own television station.

Here’s the thing. If you do it right, you could be everywhere. You can write your blog post. Then, audio-record it and deliver it as a podcast. Then, you can take the same information and record it as a video using whatever props are relevant and post it on YouTube. Then, you can push all these out on your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social media profiles. If you do this consistently, within a month, you’ll be a social media rock star.

Remain Physically Distant But Socially Close

There are other important shifts to consider as your business bounces back from the pandemic and comes back stronger than the competition. Physically distant while socially close means that Alexander Graham Bell’s invention may make a comeback. No longer fear the telephone. Get good at and use FaceTime, Zoom, GoToMeeting and the other virtual communication tools. Direct mail, lumpy packages, “thinking of you” cards and promotional products will be a real advantage for you as you build your place in the hearts and minds of your clients.

I predict that post-pandemic we will be looking at a Golden Age of Personalization. Look for and recommend products that can be personalized as both you and your clients will be connecting with people on a much closer level socially.

Remember that engagement, while physically distant, is going to require creating memorable experiences. Video, humor and authentic communication will rule the day.

Practice The Platinum Rule

Now, more than ever, the Platinum Rule (treat others as they want to be treated) surpasses the Golden Rule (treat others as you want to be treated). This means asking your customers how they want to communicate and how they want to be reached, and then deliver on their wishes.

Now is the time to focus on solving your customers’ problems. (Remember: problem-solvers always make money. Can I make this the Titanium Rule?) What are their problems? Helping their employees, customers and stakeholders feel safe? Protecting their stakeholders? Appreciating and recognizing employees? Communicating changes (new practices, social distancing, safety, new hours)? Creating positive experiences to build their brands and sales? Re-engaging former customers? Learning new skills and reinvention? Teaching new skills? 

Examine Your Customers’ New Problems

What problems do your customers have now that they did not have in February?

As the economy and society reopens, businesses in all vertical markets will need to go to market differently. What do you have in your toolbox to help them? Think about how each of your client markets will need to approach business differently to come up with ideas to help them. What will businesses in these markets need to do to create safe, responsible and positive experiences for their customers? Here are a few ideas:

  • Financial institutions (lobbies re-opening, signage, touchscreens)
  • Educational institutions (spacing, collaboration, one-on-one instruction)
  • Health-care facilities (waiting areas, disinfecting, protection)
  • Gyms, salons, personal care providers (spacing, protective barriers, masks, disinfecting)
  • Construction sites (no-contact estimating, physical distancing)

Authenticity Rules

Yes, we’re all tired of hearing that we’re all in this together and the other clichés, but the truth is that everyone is experiencing a lot of unknowns, a lot of change, and various degrees of fear, confusion, misinformation and disinformation. 

If you are your own best self and work from your heart, you can be an inspiration and a model for others. If you care more about others and care more about being a part of the solution—even more than making a sale—the sales will follow. Demonstrate the courage of resilience and keep creating hope. Optimism is true moral courage. Optimism and courage are needed more than ever as you make the decisions that will shape the next normal.

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”
– Elizabeth Edward   

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Paul A. Kiewiet, MAS+, CIP, CPC, a former distributor, is the executive director of the Michigan Promotional Products Association and an industry coach, speaker and consultant. Kiewiet was inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame in 2015 and is a former PPAI chair of the board.

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