The core idea for your business strategy now, in this time of crisis.

business strategy now

I’ve been hosting a series of Facebook Live videos talking about personal and business priorities as we try to embrace the chaos and make sense of this world. Here is the full 30-minute video of my latest, where I discuss the core idea that should be driving every business strategy now.

Below the video is an edited transcript of the discussion (transcription help from the awesome otter.ai) Would love to hear your thoughts, as always my friends.

Edited transcript

I think it’s important to briefly review what I covered on the first episode of this series. We talked about embracing the chaos and how the history of business has been a series of chaotic events. The businesses that survive are the ones that transcend these chaotic times.

We talked about the importance of first embracing the chaos within yourself. You should not feel guilty or ashamed that you’re feeling fearful right now. We’re in a period of grieving. These are legitimate feelings. And that’s the filter we need to use in our businesses right now, too.

We need to connect with people as though they’re grieving, like they are at a funeral. How would you connect with somebody … how would you sell to somebody … if they were at a funeral? You wouldn’t offer them a coupon or a discount.

You would say …

  • “How can I help you right now?”
  • “How can my business serve you at this time?”
  • “How can we help get you through this loss?”

… because there is a lot of tragedy going on and it’s almost overwhelming to hear the stories of my friends and their struggles.

Re-framing and relevance

Another main point I made in the first episode that is key to business strategy now was this idea of reimagining your business offering — In this moment.

I provided examples that showed that whatever was our core competency, our skills, however we served our customers … may not be relevant today.

I gave an example in my own life of how I was doing consulting for a business in Miami.

We had a call scheduled to review a social media strategy. And we never got it scheduled and I asked them what happened. And they said well you know our, our supply chain is up in the air now, we’ve lost 50 percent of our business, and we’re in crisis mode.

So I was relevant to them a week ago. I’m not relevant to this company today.

I have to rethink what I do, and rethink what are my core competencies and be relevant to people in this moment of crisis. We all need to consider these realities.

The priority now

Now let’s talk about this new idea of the number one vision for business strategy now.

Some businesses are going to be doing great in this crisis. Amazon’s going to do fine (they’re hiring 100,000 people!). Walmart’s going to do fine. Almost anybody that’s in the medical business, or if you’re delivering food, you’re probably going to be okay.

But if you’re struggling like most of us, what is the business strategy now?

I want to tell you a story from my past that illustrates this concept very well.

Early in my career, I was a sales leader for a big company called Alcoa. At that time, Alcoa was a Fortune 100 company, a Dow Jones Industrial blue-chip company, and a very well-run company. I had a great experience with my career there and learned from great leaders.

One time when I was a sales manager, we were having terrible quality problems with one of our customers. In fact, it was so bad that we were shutting them down. They were missing their delivery shipments.

And so I had lunch with the president of the company. And I said to him, “We are doing such a bad job for you right now. We’re struggling to keep you supplied. We appreciate that we have 100 percent of your business, but at this point, why aren’t you going to a competitor?

And he said, “Well let me tell you about our history with Alcoa. My company was started by my father. And during World War II, we almost went out of business because the products we made were not relevant anymore during that crisis. We had to retool and reinvent ourselves for the war effort.

“We were running out of cash, we were running out of time. And Alcoa, our aluminum supplier at the time, came to our rescue, and they helped us in this moment of crisis. They helped us retool our plant. They gave us the technical support to pivot in this time. They even helped finance some of the equipment that we needed to survive.

“My father, the person who founded this company, as he was dying in the hospital, said to me, ‘Never leave Alcoa. They brought us to the dance. They made us who we are today.’

“And that’s why we stuck with you, even when we were having hard times.”

That was a very powerful lesson to me. Through generosity in hard times, Alcoa had built loyalty that spanned decades and generations.

The business strategy now

I don’t want to sugarcoat anything. I’m not that kind of person. There’s a lot of “rah-rah” stuff out there about, “don’t be afraid and don’t be frightened and if you’re afraid you’re just playing into the victim mentality.” The fact is, there are people who aren’t going to make it to the other side.

But here’s the opportunity, and here is the vision of this time we’re in for any business. We have to put ourselves in this mindset of fighting to the other side but doing it in a way like Alcoa did.

Fight to the other side, but fight with grace.

We have a choice.

We can be greedy and opportunistic, or we can fight to the other side and do it in a way that’s caring and human-centered, full of compassion and grace to our customers.

That’s what people are going to remember on the other side.

If you want to survive and be stronger and be a leader when things turn around, you’ve got to demonstrate that now. We’re in a crisis and we might be in the fight of our lives. That includes cutting our costs, reserving our cash, reassessing our products. We’re making gut-wrenching personnel decisions.

And we need to think very carefully about our marketing. The research shows in a very compelling way that the companies that thrive and survive in this type of crisis, spend more on marketing. This has been seen across different recessions.

Obviously we’ve never seen anything like what we’re in right now. But if you have a business model that is truly relevant right now, it might be time to double down on your marketing, as we fight hard to make it to the other side.

Not in a way that’s greedy, in a way that is sensitive and appropriate and compassionate.

Fight with grace

I have a friend who has to cancel an event with a big hotel in Chicago. The hotel is holding him to tens of thousands of dollars in cancellation fees and they’re not budging.

Let me tell you something. I’m going to be around after this crisis, and my friend will be around, and that hotel will be around after this crisis, and people like us will never do business with a hotel like that again, right?

So part of the survival strategy is, we’ve got to treat people in a way that will help enable loyalty in the long term, help each other fight to get to the other side, fight to enable undying loyalty right now.

Do the right thing, even if it hurts.

Should we offer discounts as a business strategy now?

This was the main message of my session and then I took some questions.

A friend of mine offered a 95% discount on our Instagram course in Spain and man she has had some nasty comments which I can understand. It just doesn’t seem appropriate right now.

We have to be careful about promoting products and services right now in a way that seems tone-deaf.

I need to emphasize that every single person we are working with is grieving. They are in crisis. I mean it’s unimaginable.

This week I’ve been on the phone almost nonstop, coaching people and lifting them up. There has been a time or two where both of us have been emotional because of the profound suffering and loss that’s going on right now.

Our businesses have to know this reality and can’t be tone-deaf in our marketing or advertising when people are grieving. They may not need a discount or a coupon. They don’t need leadership classes if they are trying to find food for their families in the moment. You must be aligned with the context of this day.

We need to be a real human, and connect where people are right now.

I would also say, let’s show some grace even to the people who are making mistakes. Everybody’s just trying to figure it out and stumble through.

The boilerplate emails

Businesses need to be more human than ever right now. From a communication standpoint, we’ve all had enough to have the boilerplate emails, communicate with empathy kindness, which means telling the truth.

That’s a beautiful sentiment and certainly very true.

One of the things that’s been so interesting for me to observe is how long it is taking for these businesses to adjust. Believe it or not, this morning. I saw an ad for a company that will like help you create your fantasy baseball team. I mean dude … Baseball was canceled a week ago.

That doesn’t help.

You know, and the thing is puzzling to me. It doesn’t take much effort to turn off ads. I mean really, I just can’t think of a scenario where you would somehow be encumbered, or committed in a way that you can’t turn off ads.

I think it’s more important to be sensitive than to commit these dollars when your advertising is tone-deaf.

The test of culture

We are fighting hard in Scotland UK getting our people to change pace and it is challenging. Why won’t these people change when they see what is going on?

I see this in every kind of business  — they are locked into the old way of doing business … even in the good times, right?

Sell, sell, sell, even at the expense of relationships or common sense. Always be closing. Abuse the customer with spam and robo-calls.

Marketing and advertising and doing public relations in ways that aren’t relevant to the way our customers connect to the world today was the norm even before this crisis.

I think this time will be a true test of the corporate culture. You know, every company says “customers are the heart of our business.”

Really? Let’s see what happens when times are this hard.

If you’re opportunistic and greedy and tone-deaf, people are going to remember that we are not going to be doing business with those companies when we get to the other side.

Is it appropriate to use humor now?

What do you think about companies using humor with their staff to get through this period?

I think that’s an important part of being a leader right now.

The number one thing we need to keep in our minds is that great leaders dispense hope.

When I was in the corporate world, the president of our company had only thing on his desk — a little sign that said “leaders dispense hope.”

When you get right down to it, in terms of transparency, in terms of effective communication, in terms of you know how you’re connecting to people — even in a virtual world right now — it really gets down to dispensing hope.

And I think one of the important things we can do right now is to use humor.

There are a lot of positive physical and psychological benefits to humor that we, we need right now. We need to make humor a part of our lives every single day and I think it’s not just a part of lifting people up psychologically. I think that’s an important part of leadership.

Should I offer my services for free?

I see many people offering free services and some say you should actually not start discounting your services. Hurts you in the long term. What’s the best course of action?

I received an email request yesterday from someone doing a roundup blog post and the question was something like this, “should businesses continue their Facebook advertising?”

This is an impossible question. The answer to every marketing question is, “It depends.”

There’s never a cookie-cutter answer that fits everybody when it comes to marketing. Everything depends on your business, position in your industry, customers, strategy, etc.

I want you to run your businesses in the world that IS, not the world that we wish it to be. And the world is crappy right now.

But the research shows that the companies that make it to the other end do spend more on marketing right now. Maybe that means advertising, maybe that means discounts.

As a small business owner, I’m cutting to the bone. I have to reserve cash to make it to the other side. I’ve had some of my key business partners offer to change contracts or ignore them. They’ve been very understanding and helpful.

And you know what, they will be the first companies I come back to when things return to normal. They are the companies I will be talking about for years.

The last thing I can say about business strategy now is, just be incredibly emotionally intelligent and think about your customers in the context of this moment.

Let’s embrace the chaos together as we plot our business strategy now!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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