Asking questions is the foundation of innovation, which during uncertain times is what sets successful businesses apart from the rest. And right now, as massive disruption from coronavirus continues, major changes in ecommerce are happening faster than ever before.
To address this situation, Multichannel Merchant has launched a new “Ask the Experts” feature, so our audience can submit questions weekly. Below is our first crop of answers from ecommerce experts on the merchant and provider side, based on questions submitted last week. We hope you find their insights of value as you navigate these uncharted waters.
Note: if you want to submit questions to our expert mailbag, you can do so anytime by clicking here.
Question: We run a cycling and running shop. How do we keep our best foot forward in the current environment?
Answer: At Hubbarton Forge we’re thinking: How can we appeal to customers, most if not all of whom are in the same boat we are – working from home, perhaps homeschooling children or caring for elderly parents – all while keeping their business afloat?
We need to be relevant to them. Does our product help solve a problem? Or is there training and development we can do to keep our brand top of mind? We’re offering virtual continuing ed credit (CEU) training. Our reps can’t call on retail stores, so being able to offer something of benefit while keeping our brand top of mind is a win/win for both parties.
It’s also important that we’re not trying to sell under the guise of solving problems or being helpful, which comes across as disingenuous, ultimately hurting the brand in these unprecedented times.
- Lynn Jeffrey, customer interface manager, Hubbarton Forge
Answer: Donna Salyers Fabulous Furs has actually pivoted our internal manufacturing department into making masks for local frontline caregivers (hospitals, EMS, police). It has now turned into supplying masks for businesses and we’re preparing to launch masks on our ecommerce website.
Our other businesses are donated food to local charities (hotel and event business); contacting customers to help ease their stress by answering questions and pivoting event dates (event and bridal business) and created Facebook Live events to stay connected to customers (bridal business).
Send out emails and set up Facebook live events focused on staying healthy and active while social distancing. Create an interactive challenge for customers (miles ridden, steps taken, etc.). Show your product and industry knowledge while helping them during this time. Offer discounts or rewards for their challenges.
There are a lot of opportunities. The first step is to turn away from the dark news of being closed and open their minds to the possibilities. Get creative. I recently read a quote: “What we water grows.” If we linger in fear and negativity it will continue to grow; if we think positively, our outlook and positivity will grow.
- Lauri Sullivan, COO, Donna Salyer’s Fabulous Furs
Answer: Create a plan. Your current plan doesn’t work now, and the rules of engagement are changing daily. Assess your situation to determine the resources and options available for you to work with your employees and serve your customers.
Take care of your employees: They’re your primary asset. While it may not be possible to keep all of them at full pay, work with them to ease the pain. If layoffs are necessary, provide guidance on their options for unemployment and other assistance.
Look for opportunities to serve: Customers under lockdown have more time available. How can you provide a service to them that reduces the monotony of social distancing? Identify uplifting and positive activities to counter the fear of the unknown while embracing your core business objectives.
Be completely transparent: People understand that things have changed. When sharing information about changes in your company, don’t make promises that can’t be kept or sugarcoat the situation. The initial conversations may be challenging but the transparency will be appreciated.
Clean house: There are always lower priority projects sitting on the back burner. This is a good opportunity to get them done. It provides productive work for your employees and helps position your company for a comeback. Before assigning them, make sure they fit with your new business plan.
- Debra Ellis, principal, Wilson Ellis Consulting
Question: How do I get prospects to answer my calls or my emails and set phone appointment meetings?
Answer: Send a handwritten note on company letterhead, suggesting a solution to their challenge, letting them know your product or service will help them solve it. Ask for a 10-minute call to explain.
Give them a separate piece of valuable information in the note, such as a trade article or piece of information about a known passion of theirs; make it personalized.
With extremely tough prospects, make the extra effort. Create a case study (i.e. a short slide deck) demonstrating what you did for another company, whether in or out of their industry. Send it via expedited delivery with a handwritten note explaining what you can do for them and asking for a 15-minute call.
- Doug Guyer, co-founder, Brandshare US
Question: Our company provides displays and graphics to exhibitors at trade shows. With ZERO trade shows happening, we need ideas for other markets. And, do people think, as we do, that trade shows will return the second half of 2020?
Answer: Yes, I do believe that trade shows will return and the majority of my industry peers agree, but the question is when. They provide an important opportunity for collaboration with prospects and customers and play a vital role in our business building strategies. We hope to see many of the postponed events announce their new dates for the second half of the year.
In terms of expanding into other markets, the service you provide to exhibitors at trade shows is similar to providing the retail industry with in-store fixtures and non-sellable products (graphics and signage). For example, the counters, displays and custom shelving used in many apparel retailers would fall under this category. Applying your expertise to this new channel could potentially expand your core business even after the tradeshow market returns.
- Jeff Veenis, SVP, Contract Logistics, Business Development Leader North America, CEVA Logistics