2020 started full speed ahead, orders were flowing, travel was happening, tradeshows were kicking off for the year; three months rolled in and everything came to a screeching HALT. Like nothing we had ever experienced before, the spigot shut off and everyone froze in place. Restaurants shuttered, businesses went into hibernation and everyone braced for the worst.
Oddly, orders were still coming in. Maybe fewer orders, but they were still there. March rolled into April and parts of the country were shutting down while others were full steam ahead. The pandemic was in full swing. Unemployment numbers were off the chart, the political aspects of the whole thing were mind-bending, and trying to forecast what was next in 2020 was an inconceivable task. All anyone wanted to know was what WAS next?
It is September 1st. We have four months to go of this strange and unpredictable year. We are going to use these next four months to chart our path OUT of 2020, and into what has to be a better year.
So first, we reflect and look at 2020 in hindsight.
We were unprepared for a pandemic.
Safe to say this goes for all of us. But, there were aspects of this new world for which we WERE prepared, unbeknownst to us at the time.
We were prepared for a virtual world.
We use Salesforce, online accounting, and mail systems, and we had an education platform for architects and designers that easily transitioned to the work-from-home scenario that became a mainstay. Our ability to engage with our customers was not disrupted completely by the inability to have in-person meetings. Virtual presentations and webinars became commonplace and our business was ready.
We had to change the ways we communicated.
Group texts, emails, and phone calls were increasing exponentially as people were striving to find ways to stay connected. We quickly realized we needed a real-time communication platform to eliminate a lot of the trivial interactions that would usually have happened in the office. “Do you want me to call her?” “Do we have this in stock?” “What color is this?”
We chose the platform Slack to manage the just in time back and forth and created channels for certain conversation topics, which streamlined information flow and freed up our time for more meaningful conversations and interactions. Not that the back and forth is not meaningful and needed, it just becomes a bottleneck when it runs the risk of getting buried in an email or on a task list.
We had to add value to how we communicated.
So…Much…Noise…. We interact with architects and designers on projects. So does every other supplier out there. When we all went remote, the email floodgates opened and everyone was inundated with emails. Newsletters, webinar invites, project check-ins, and product information was burying action items and important emails. It became imperative that any communication that you had was value-added, or it would just become part of the noise. Restraint and timeliness were critical in how you interacted with your customers. We honed in our language and email frequency in an effort to mitigate the chance of being perceived as annoying. Many have not.
We needed to be present in other places.
All we want to do is Zoom Zoom Zoom. It wasn’t enough. We needed to be in more places, and be able to be “found” as more people were looking for materials online since design libraries were closed. Being able to be found in places like Material Bank, Source and Mortarr increased our footprint exponentially beyond our website. If you are not familiar with these platforms, you should look into them and see how their free and/or paid services can help expand product awareness online.
We needed to mine our own business.
What projects were happening and which were not? Were we getting value-engineered? Would we even get a chance to plead our case? Where were our products getting specified and where were they not? Which firms value health and sustainability and search for those types of certifications? To answer these questions we partnered with iSqFt and Insight, both Construct Connect products, to give us a high-level view of project activity with the ability to drill down into specifications and see where our brands were actively being specified.
Resources are critical right now. The resources that you have need to demonstrate their ability to adapt, and you may have to add new resources to support new platforms that you have put into place. Businesses changed and they are not going to go back to the way they were. So we reflect, evaluate our changes, and adopt those that are going to be ever-present moving forward.
There is no magic mirror to tell us the future. We have to be as prepared as we can and react quickly so that the seeds we have sown don’t yield poison apples.