Work on Your Long Game: Engaging Contacts in the Pandemic

By: Hileman Group  | 05/07/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a sense of urgency for everyone, from sales to marketing and — without a doubt — your leads and clients as well. We’re all going to want to sprint toward recovery. But if your contacts are going to get their life and business back on track, they need a different kind of value proposition from you.

Here’s how you can build toward becoming a trusted advisor in a time of need — and be truly helpful. It starts with making your short-term approach playing the long game.

Audit Yourself

First, stop whatever you’re doing. The world has changed a lot in the past couple of months, and a lot will have changed for your contact’s business. Before you engage, take a step back to ensure any content you’re using is relevant for your audience today. And if it’s not, rework it. This includes:

Your Sales Approach and Messaging

Before anything else, be human, and shift the center of the conversation from what you want to say to what they need. “Here’s how [insert product or service here] can help you” becomes, “Here’s how we can help you.” But do so with clarity, directness and authenticity. We’ve all seen enough emails about how we’re all in these uncertain times together. So state how you can truly, in practical terms, be helpful.

Realistically, sales are going to be challenging in the short-term. Take this opportunity, then, to build a longer-term relationship based on trust and human connection when needed most.

Your Website

This is also the time to audit your website with that same lens of helpfulness. Don’t leave your prospects and clients to hunt down critical information from the far corners of your site. Identify what it is they need to know of first importance as they look to you for timely solutions, including contact information and CTAs — and make sure these are readily visible “above the fold” in most browsers.

As relationships become even more important going forward, provide qualitative evidence for the supportive value you bring. There’s no better way to demonstrate this than testimonials and no easier way than to add simple, prominent quotes from current clients to your pages.

Your Content Calendar

If you had a contact calendar going into 2020, that’s wonderful — but April was far from what you planned back in January, so don’t be beholden to what you can change. That doesn’t necessarily mean throwing the whole thing out, but adjust at least the next two months to run timely, topical subjects.

Bear in mind, though, that not everything has to be directly about COVID-19 to be highly relevant. Go back to thinking through how your prospects and clients have been most affected by the pandemic, lockdowns or resulting economic impacts — and what’s most important to them as a result. By steering toward these topics, you can provide great value, whether they’re the center of your company’s expertise or just useful and unique insights about how your audience can work from home effectively.

Adapt to Change

You’ve already been adapting in recent months with new work modes and new technologies — and the challenges they bring. Going forward, this will look like continuing to adapt alongside your prospects and clients as you lead them into doing business together under the “new normal.” That may include:

  • Leveraging video conferencing. Even with the lift of lockdowns, travel will be lessened long into our future. Embrace the technologies you need to support stable, quality videoconferencing and to help ease your contacts along in this technology. That means preparing to be the champion of tech you may or not be on your own.
  • Redefine “live” events. Part of embracing this tech is using more web events like virtual presentations and webinars to engage or convert prospects.
  • Prepare your teams. Of course, none of this is possible without preparing teams to execute new strategies. Today, that requires more intentional communication than ever. Regularly schedule biweekly updates from your leadership so everyone can remain on one page despite frequent changes and stay rallied behind a clear vision. Also create and promote opportunities to reskill and develop capabilities on new technologies you’ll need.

And Now, Engage

After shifting to a support-first approach, make sure your value proposition comes across loud and clear.

  • Leverage outreach methods beyond email. In addition to email, consider using other outreach channels such as LinkedIn InMail or inbound channels like Facebook, Instagram or your company blog.
  • Prioritize channels. Meet your clients and prospects where they engage with you the most. Make sure first and foremost you have the right content for these channels. Of course, you can create efficiencies by reusing content that works across multiple channels, but prioritize your efforts where you see the greatest return.
  • Create once, publish everywhere. This is more about ensuring your messaging is consistent across all channels than forcing content through every possible channel. You still want to prioritize your efforts. But while Instagram, for example, may happen to be a low-priority platform for your business, if you haven’t updated it since before the pandemic, make sure it’s communicating any new and important messaging.
  • Personalize the message. Leverage data points to create a personalized experience for your customers and leads, whether that’s with marketing automation and dynamic content or basic email segmentation based on data from your CRM.
  • A/B/n test everything, no exceptions. If you think an outreach will work, you may trust your instincts—but always test it. That means measuring your efforts against an alternative. Use the results to adjust your strategy and maximize conversions.

Conclusion: Playing the Long Game

In the midst of a “new normal,” there’s no clear answer to when we’ll return to a true normal. The best approach you can take in the meantime is to be an adaptive organization that proactively supports clients and prospects.

Be Ready to Act Fast

Have a process to respond as news and information around COVID-19 develops, including identifying and assembling a cross-functional team to lead the response. Create a RACI guide or matrix to clearly document for each task: who’s responsible, who holds it accountable, who should be consulted and who needs to be kept informed.

Be a Trusted Advisor      

Position yourself as the authority on how changes will impact your clients and how they should adapt. And keep reinforcing messaging around how you can help them adapt. That may include helping them switch to digital ways of doing business by providing instructions and leadership around the “new normal.” Finally, don’t be shy about showing your credibility — highlight any impacts you’re making through philanthropy or corporate responsibility initiatives.

Leverage Reporting

In the spirit of always testing, always be reporting, and use your data to make informed changes to your engagement strategies in the short-term. What channels are most effective? What messaging prompted greater response? Apply those learnings to optimize your outreach going forward.

Be Transparent

Lastly, keep contacts aware of any business changes. A lot is changing quickly, and the impacts on business in your state may be different in theirs. Don’t assume either that they received or read a particular update on a particular channel; there’s a lot of communication going out from most companies your contacts have ever done business with, and information can get lost in the shuffle — so err on the side of being repetitive when changes to how they work with your business are important.

In the end, your best short-term approach is to play the long game. Imagine yourself a year from now asking, “How did I help my customers come out better on the other side than before"?” How do you want to be able to answer? That should be your approach.

How do you get there? Contact us today, and let us help you engage.



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