Businesses are still buying products and services but their process is different than it was just a few weeks ago. Unless you sell products that are in higher demand due to the pandemic, such as disinfectant or remote data protection services, buying processes to new prospects, and perhaps even renewal discussions with customers, have likely slowed.
The clear path (AKA that overused term the buying journey) you might have mapped out earlier, has become a more winding road.
In our own practice, and across the clients we serve, two changes have been prominent.
First, buying processes are taking longer. The people who are buying remain authorized to make purchases but have been asked to add an extra layer of due diligence. In many cases, cash flow in their business is lower and their budgets have been cut. That means more careful prioritization & tradeoffs have to be made, and they are delaying some purchases until the state of their business “becomes more clear”. They may also be operating with a smaller team and might not have the resources to execute against a new project.
Second, C-suite executives are adding a final checkpoint before making a purchase for products & services they never would have engaged a few weeks ago. It’s largely a formality for many sales cycles, but it is a new audience your team may not already be used to engaging.
What is equally interesting is what’s not happening. We are not seeing buyers try to negotiate price any more than they would have before the pandemic hit. The perceived value of the solution you sell has not changed, right now it’s more a question of what the right timing will be to engage. Although you’ll need to watch this carefully if budget constraints become more permanent, or competitors get aggressive about their packaging.
What does this mean in practice for your business?
- Re-focus your offerings on the set of things buyers need most right now. Part of our business is selling in-person strategic planning workshops. We’ve completely stopped talking about that because no one is sure when travel bans and large gatherings will be safe again. But we’ve increased discussions about qualitative buyer research to understand how the pandemic is specifically impacting prospects because that’s a need for business forecasting right now. It might also be a good time to also consider new use cases for your solution.
- Avoid the temptation to slash or spike prices. Once you lower your price, it may be hard to bring them back up again. You need to do the research to determine if slashed prices would really push buyers into a purchase, or simply put pressure to keep the prices lower in the future when they are ready to buy. Packaging changes might be a better short term motivator without making an impact on your value proposition. For example, let’s look at an industry hit very hard – tradeshows. There are at least two ways they could bring in some short term money. They could pre-sell 2021 event space at heavily reduced pricing. Or they could offer a way to connect with their audience in a new way right now. Which is better for the long term value of the company? There isn’t necessarily a right answer, but it is the question you need to be asking for your business. For those businesses whose offerings are in heavy demand right now, you might be tempted to increase prices. It’s equally important to tread lightly here. Do you want to be the company that served urgent needs fairly or the company that people were desperate enough to engage when they had no other choice, but forever consider a “price gouger”?
- Make sure your content strategy will impress extra gatekeepers. It’s important that you provide messaging and content to your sales team for new audiences they now have to engage. This may be in the form of new resource checklists, documenting additional buyer personas, an executive message map, role-specific talking points, articles, videos, and more. While you want to turn around these new tools quickly, you can’t do them without listening to phone calls, talking to buyers, and doing some research. It’s OK to experiment, but do it with a learning mindset.
- Redirect event and travel budgets where it makes sense. Event and travel budgets are significant for a lot of businesses. It’s where a lot of budget savings will come from marketing teams that are looking to decrease pressure on their organization’s cash flow concerns. While this is a prudent place to look for savings, be thoughtful about where you cut and how you redirect marketing spend. You don’t want to find yourself a one-channel marketing machine. Single-channel strategies introduce a lot of risk at a time when there is already a lot of external risk you can’t control.
- Talk to buyers. I can not emphasize this enough. Your buyer’s decision making context has changed significantly no matter what you sell. Your business needs to know in what ways.
- Think long term. When you are worried about making payroll or paying vendors on time, it’s hard to consider anything but what’s immediately in front of you. That is very real for many business leaders. But it’s imperative you consider the long term. It may not change the financial decisions you make, but it will impact how you communicate them to your community. Your values as a company will be tested during the pandemic and the return to “normal”, remember who you want to be.
- Help your network. In times of crisis, it’s all about relationships. People will remember who was there for them when they needed help most. Helping may mean letting someone out of a contract they can’t afford or supporting their business by buying upfront. But it’s not always financial. Helping could mean being a sounding board, it could be introducing people to each other, it could even be leaving a review or making someone smile. Your sales team should be practicing this always, but on overdrive right now.
- Set realistic expectations. You may not be able to serve your customers as quickly as you would like, or through the usual means, due to delays in shipping, shortages of staff or supply chain disruptions. Mitigate disruptions by being upfront with customers and prospects. Err on the side of transparency.
It’s unlikely these buying changes will go away overnight so it’s smart to plan to work within the new constraints for at least the balance of this year.
And if you need a sounding board, we’re always a safe space to ideate. Reach out. We’re here for you.