488 Days: Thoughts on the COVID Period — March 17, 2020 to July 17, 2021

July 21, 2021

By John Kerr

Looking back to early 2020, the industry entered the first quarter with a sense of a solid year ahead, one that would easily eclipse 2019, and then in mid-March the brakes went on and relatively quickly.

On both the supplier and distribution sides, many took a reactionary stance and then quietly planned their next moves. Thinking differently, adding stock and doubling down on inventory, looking at alternative shipping methods and figuring out how to stay close to the customer are among the attributes of those that pivoted well and have come out of the dark in great shape.

This time has prompted new thoughts and new mindsets, and like the financial setbacks of years before perhaps this time we may remember and be managed by this more than ever before. Moving to adopt online and digital strategies were quickly the rage. In fact, on one day alone in late June 2020 we counted 36 webinars taking place. Many suppliers and distributors added to their marcom budgets, and the ad spend increased across the board replacing travel and entertainment expenses with good old fashioned marketing methods that drove awareness.

Perhaps the COVID era will be defined as the period where we accelerated, we moved, pivoted and made it work for the most part salvaging a year of anticipated prosperity into only a nominal loss. Some firms came out of this much stronger with gains in share, awareness, and preference.

Commitment to marketing seems to be an underlying strength. Those businesses that understood this as part of their company DNA have grown coming through this. They continued their messaging and leveraged integrated components to get there. Less on promotions and push button tactics but more about unique product or service features as lead tactics, and because of this when they did add a webinar or virtual event they had great traction. I have two key observations from this time:

• those that continued to market, promote, communicate and build bridges to their clients are winning today with big time gains in revenues

• there was an opportunity lost among those that invested so heavily in e-commerce and digital interfaces built around tactics to convert who they knew and not gain new customers.

The e-commerce platforms serving the Canadian market are good, some short on attributed data and product descriptions but for the most part the customer experience is world class. While COVID accelerated it for some, the others who already had this built failed to pounce on the e-commerce opportunity that is approaching $800 million this year. Now do not get me wrong. There were some huge winners here but they all shared in gaining and valuing new customers as much as converting current ones to online buying. What COVID did is reinforce the fact customers control when they engage, and in today’s environment that could be anytime.

This brings me to sales teams. In this time the debate of the role of salespeople has been front and centre. What is often forgotten here is the reality that clients rely on loyalty more often than not and those relationships built on years of effort matter. What’s often forgotten too is that people buy, companies don’t. There is a big but here though. COVID has accelerated the need to invest in more technical support in sales ones that on demand have the answers the end users and customers need immediately. We have spoken on this point for some time and the COVID period has once and for all driven home the fact mores sales support and technical expertise will also win the day moving forward.

Every previous financial set back has its lessons, many of them long forgotten, but this time perhaps because of the severity, speed and time perhaps these 488 days we have spent on the edge the lessons learned will be remembered and acted on for years to come.

John Kerr is Publisher of CEW; johnkerr@kerrwil.com.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/

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