Since the onset of Covid-19, we’ve all had to make some pretty big changes in our lives – from the way we communicate to the way we shop. The way we work, too, has undergone a remarkable transformation in a short period of time; remote business has become the norm as firms attempt to maintain some semblance of normality amid the pandemic.
By now, you’ve probably got used to that morning video call online to check in with the rest of your team. But it’s going to take some time before the full implications of what we’re seeing become clear. After all, it seems inevitable that for many, remote working will be here to stay even once the pandemic is over. Understanding the implications of this will require a lot more than working out how to use your all-in-one desktop app.
The ramifications of this transformation, consisting largely of pre-existing trends sharply accelerated by Covid-19, go much further than changes to the work we do and where we do it. It also requires an understanding of how the consumer’s mentality has changed. That goes a lot deeper than getting more used to making the odd video call online. Consumer expectations were already changing rapidly before the pandemic – so where are they likely to go from here?
Appreciating this is crucial, especially for sales teams looking to gain a competitive advantage in altered conditions. It’s fair to say that for most businesses, there’ll be a degree of trial and error involved over the coming period. We need to start by getting to grips with the idea that ‘back to normal’ as we once understood it is impossible – major changes are already in process, and they won’t be reversed whatever else the medium term holds.
This means that your business, and your sales team in particular, need to work out how it can be competitive in a post-Covid world. From changing consumer habits to keeping one step ahead of your rivals, the next few months promise both significant challenges and huge opportunities.
In this concise article, we’ll offer some (necessarily speculative) ideas about what that post-pandemic world might look like for businesses, what consumers are likely to be looking for, and how your sales team can adapt itself to what’s coming. Let’s get started.
Recalibrating your expectations
First of all, you need to start by reconsidering what you thought you knew prior to the pandemic, and asking yourself to what extent it still applies. There’s an old saying: even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. There’s a lot of truth in it, especially when a global pandemic gets in the way.
The uncertainty around at the moment will inevitably force you to change some of your plans for the relatively near future. Nobody could have seen this coming, nor that it would have such a disruptive impact for as long as it has. And it’s unlikely that the pandemic will be over before next spring at the earliest; even after this, it will take longer for the economic implications to work their way through the system.
Therefore, you should be prepared to be flexible and adjust your strategies based on the changed conditions and altered expectations we’re now facing. In addition, you should have one eye on the opportunities that will present themselves over the coming months: how can your company reinvent itself, and what sort of ethos should it look to promote?
This latter point is more important than you might think. After such a turbulent and, for many, traumatic time, consumers will be looking for something more from brands and businesses than great products or diligent customer service. They’re also looking for an indication that these brands share the same sort of human values that they do. Some businesses don’t take this aspect as seriously as they should, but it’s very important now.
If you haven’t already, then it’s worth taking the time out to think about how you can emphasize your commitment to your customers. Loyalty is the cornerstone of success and long-term sustainability in business: if you can keep your customers coming back time and again, you’ll be in a much stronger position. A compelling ethos can help turn first-time customers into loyal, regular customers.
Rising customer expectations
Following on from the previous point, businesses need to pay close attention to what their customers are likely to expect from them. We’ve already alluded to the fact that customer expectations have changed dramatically over a relatively brief time span. The rise of the internet has given consumers more choice than they’ve ever had before.
What we shouldn’t overlook, as well, is that the consumer today is probably more powerful than they’ve ever been. They have more choice and a greater ability to exercise their purchasing power accordingly. In particular, it’s easier for them to take their custom elsewhere if they feel they’ve received bad customer service. Or if the product they’ve bought hasn’t lived up to expectations.
It’s also a consequence of the advent of social media. Consumers can use social media, whether it’s a pithy tweet or a scathing customer review, to do serious damage to brands. This can have a lasting impact on a business’s reputation. This is why you need to pay close attention to what your customers expect at any given time – because if you don’t, your business could find itself paying a hefty price.
For obvious reasons, your sales team needs to be attentive to this as well. There are potential advantages that might emerge from the current upheaval: in particular, an opportunity to experiment with new strategies and try new things. These new approaches need to take account of the fact that we’re now faced with more discerning consumers.
So, for example, think about your approach to email marketing. Your email output needs to be better tailored (more directly relevant to the needs and tastes of individual consumers) and more useful. Think about email etiquette, too: tone of voice matters as well as the content. Your customers are bombarded with email marketing all the time, so you need to pay real care and attention to yours if it’s to stand out and drive sales and revenue.
Customers are less susceptible than the old, tried and tested marketing formulas. They no longer respond in the same way to more generic appeals that might have worked previously. They expect brands to take heed of what they want and need, and woe betide those that fail to do so. This is a very important development, and one your sales team needs to appreciate.
Mobile and digital connectivity
For years now, remote sales have accounted for a higher and higher proportion of overall sales and revenue. As we’ve noted, consumers have taken to the greater choice offered by the internet with great enthusiasm, and since the onset of the pandemic, online shopping has been something of a lifeline for a lot of people.
We should expect this trend to continue to develop and deepen post-pandemic. Consumers like to make use of digital services – it can save them a lot of unnecessary hassle – and being able to do this has become central to the way they plan their everyday lives. You need to think, therefore, about how your brand will approach consumers who are less inclined to purchase goods and services in person.
Your business’s ability to do this effectively will depend to a large extent on how effectively it makes use of social media. Bear this point in mind: social media is no longer an optional extra, or something that’s merely nice to have. It’s essential, as consumers now expect to be able to catch up with or contact brands and businesses they use via social networking sites.
The need for easy, regular updates has been heightened by the pandemic. There has, for example, been a lot of disruption to deliveries and stock levels as a result of changing patterns of customer demand (and instances of panic buying). Consumers, therefore, need to receive regular updates from the business they patronize. Therefore, social media channels must be updated frequently so that customers are kept properly in the loop.
Furthermore, consumers expect to be able to engage directly with those brands through social channels. They commonly use them to make complaints or raise queries, and social accounts must be monitored closely for these. They also expect brands to provide them with engaging content that’s useful to them and makes those accounts worth following. This is now an increasingly important aspect of sales and consumer outreach.
Another important trend that’s gathered pace in recent years (and one which is only likely to gain further traction) is the importance of mobile. Mobile has come to account for an ever-growing share of online sales, as consumers overcome their previous doubts (for example, over security) and take advantage of the convenience offered by mobile purchases; mobile allows them to buy what they want and need, wherever they are.
Your sales team, therefore, needs to be alert to this. Your marketing strategy must be mobile-friendly: it needs to meet consumers where they increasingly are, i.e. on their smartphones. Any sales team needs to ensure that they use mobile effectively for sales engagement. Your website must also be well-optimized for mobile – a clunky or awkward mobile site is always hugely frustrating for consumers, who can always go somewhere else.
Given that we don’t even know for sure when the current pandemic will have come to an end, it’s very difficult to make any firm predictions for the next few years. We don’t know what the economic impact of the virus will be. The indications are that it will be severe – with a sharp recession and the potential for large-scale unemployment – and this will obviously have a major bearing on how consumers behave, and what purchases they prioritize.
There are, as we’ve discussed here, some broad trends that already predated the pandemic but which we can expect to outlive it. The expectations of consumers are changing all the time, and they’re becoming more and more demanding. There’s a far greater emphasis on the customer experience than there once was – consumers do expect businesses to give thought to the overall experience, not just the transaction at the core of it.
Furthermore, the shift towards using social media to engage with brands (and lodge complaints) and mobile shopping is also bound to accelerate further in the post-Covid world. Your sales team must have a thorough understanding of these trends – including what’s driving them and where they might end up – in order to adapt to them effectively. You also need to take care of the basics, like having ecommerce software that’s up to the task.
We’ll finish here on the point we gestured towards before: the pandemic holds both pitfalls and opportunities for business. Now’s a good time to draw up a sales action plan taking this into account. Those firms which can adapt to the new economic conjuncture, and the new consumer environment, will be the ones best placed to prosper in spite of all the adversity.
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Sam O'Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a Global VoIP, video conferencing, and cloud education solutions provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. Here is his LinkedIn.