As we were ringing in 2020, it’s safe to say that nearly no one could have imagined the novel year that was virtually at our doorsteps. Like a monsoon, Covid-19 arrived. And with it a plethora of changes to not only how we live and work, but how business is conducted.
Quarantines and lockdowns became a way of life, forcing companies to transform how they operate. Office staff, sales reps, and others who were considered non-essential workers began working from home. In person meetings and sales calls became a thing of the past, replaced by collaboration tools to boost the efficiency of virtual teams.
Even though we’re nearly a year into the disruptions caused by the virus, the economic fallout is still being felt in virtually all corners of the world. According to a Harvard Business Review report, the downward forecast includes a 13 to 32% decline in merchandise trade, 30 to 40% reduction in foreign direct investment, and a 44 to 80% drop in international airline travel.
Although the impact continues to unfold, one has to ask: could businesses have been better prepared, what lessons can be learned, and are there any opportunities that can be realized from this once-in-a-century global pandemic?
Covid-19 delivered unprecedented business challenges
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, executives are more optimistic about economic conditions and their own company’s viability. A recent McKinsey Global Survey reveals that more than half of executives surveyed believe global economic conditions will improve over the next six months, and they are equally confident that the demand for their products will increase in the coming months.
While the outlook is hopeful, it doesn’t mean that companies can or should return to status quo. Many continue to struggle, and some will follow in their predecessors’ footsteps by closing their doors permanently. To remain profitable, companies needed to find new ways of doing business, which in many cases means a different business strategy.
To illustrate, the legal and healthcare fields rely on language service providers (LSPs) for onsite interpretations. With the onset of Covid-19, LSPs needed to pivot to remote interpretation almost immediately. “LSPs that didn’t have the technology to support remote interpretation lost almost 100% of their revenue overnight,” says Angelo Passalacqua, CEO at BURG Translations, Inc.
Whether operating on a local or global scale, the pandemic has made companies realize the importance of being able to quickly modify their business model to meet shifts in purchasing behavior. For some companies that has meant enabling customers to obtain what they need without having to leave their cars or even their homes, others have begun manufacturing much-needed products, while others have transitioned from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce.
Don’t make the same mistakes twice
Taking a retrospective look at how businesses have coped with the changes that were thrust upon them, two phrases come to mind: business model resilience and unleashing innovation. “Now’s not the time to take anything for granted,” says Karl L. Buschmann, Executive Director at International Trade Club of Chicago (ITCC). “It’s a new world of uncertainty. What is tried and true is no longer.” Many companies found this out firsthand when they had no other options, but to reinvent themselves.
An example we’re all familiar with is the restaurant industry. Many establishments that never dreamed of providing carryout are now doing so with increasing regularity. It seemed to have happened virtually overnight, restaurants nearly everywhere began offering curbside pickup and meal delivery.
In the same vein, many manufacturing companies have retooled to produce equipment that has been in short supply. From small furniture stores to large corporations like GM and Boeing, companies have manufactured products to combat Covid-19, including ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPE), nasal swabs, and even field hospital cots.
If you’re in an industry that isn’t conducive to offering curbside pickup or don’t have a manufacturing facility that can be retooled, you still have options to generate sales. One of the best ways to do this is by getting in front of new markets.
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The time is now to seize opportunities
As a result of the pandemic, e-commerce has seen a massive increase, with online spending in April and May reaching $153 billion, according to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, a dollar amount that is $52 billion more than what retailers usually see during April and May. “Whether B2B or B2C, cultures around the world are embracing anything online,” says Passalacqua. “Technology has made it possible for people to buy abroad and sell abroad easier than ever before.”
Prior to the pandemic, many businesses were embracing customer centricity strategies to build trust and loyalty. Since Covid-19, putting the customer at the center of everything you do can be the difference between thriving and failing during these uncertain times. Providing personalized online service is difficult in the best of circumstances, but the complications are compounded when selling in a foreign market.
“2020 is the year of the customer,” says Scott Snyder, Founder and CEO at Sellution. Companies need to put more focus on the customer experience, and this takes a combination of the way things used to be (person-to-person), and combining it with today’s online shopping demands. “It’s all about building rapport using a hybrid approach of automation and personal touch,” Snyder explains.
When most people hear the word “e-commerce,” they tend to think of B2C. However, this sales model serves B2B companies equally. Similar to their B2C counterparts, personalization matters in the B2B world.
To drive the most value, B2B companies need to truly understand their customers and their requirements,” says Dan Neiweem, Co-Founder and Principal at Avionos. “They need to approach their e-commerce strategy and digital portal much like a service-centered company would, providing both an online service and ongoing strategic support from a human being, and seamlessly merge the two.”
Results from a recent Avionos survey support these statements:
69% of respondents indicated they would make online purchases of $50,000 to $150,000, and 35% would make purchases greater than $500,000.
Nearly all B2B buyers (94%) say salespeople generally improve their experience when making purchases.
51% of B2B buyers would prefer to interact with their salesperson more often.
These statistics clearly indicate that the B2B e-commerce market is ripe and waiting for those bold enough to make the leap. However, with it comes some considerations to ensure your success. The Avionos survey also reports:
88% of buyers would turn to a competitor if their current supplier’s digital channel couldn’t keep up with their needs.
Over half (52%) of B2B buyers report a lack of product information on e-commerce sites.
57% have difficulty comparing products and pricing through the e-commerce channel.
While none of these challenges are insurmountable, especially if you’re planning a national e-commerce rollout, there are other considerations when you expand globally. If your strategy includes globalization, to make the desired impression, you need to localize and translate your content: web copy, blog posts, emails, videos, and SEO tags. Doing this will enable prospects to find you online, and will provide the personal touch necessary to turn prospects into customers.
Don’t let an economic downturn upend your business
“The business community doesn’t like uncertainty—it wants certainty and concrete plans,” says Buschmann. Whether you’re dealing with Covid-19 or any other economic downturn, this isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. To keep your company running at maximum efficiency and profitability, there are a few things you should do during any economic downturn.
“First you should review every source of revenue and look for problems and solutions within your control,” says Passalacqua. “Second, be sure to host team meetings to get an internal view of what’s going on, get creative with new initiatives, and find people to help start them.”
Although the effects Covid-19 has had on businesses will continue to plague us for some time, it has also allowed those who are willing to make bold moves to seize new opportunities. It has shown us how easily the internet allows geographical boundaries to disappear, opening the door to business opportunities across the globe.
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