It’s a social good to preserve and if possible, grow your business.
None of us have experience trying to run a business during a pandemic. But having been in the workforce through three recessions, and counseling clients through two of them, I have some suggestions based on that experience and reading as much as I can from practitioners as they innovate their way through unprecedented times. Here are some consistent themes and suggestions that will help you move forward, preserve as much as possible of your business and do so while exercising care in how you communicate (a mandatory when so many face such uncertainty).
Start and end with empathy.
We ran a webinar on SaaS effectiveness, just as the enormity of the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus was becoming clear. As is our usual practice, I reached out individually to everyone who registered to thank them for their interest and let them know that we’re here to help in any way possible, including offering resources and suggestions on websites where practicable. One such email was replied-to as follows: “who gives a #$%& about SaaS during this pandemic?” Instead of taking offense, I took the time to reach out again and apologize if my outreach was in any way ill-timed and to ask if we could be of assistance. In checking out the respondent’s LinkedIn, it turned out that he worked with a friend of mine from school days, which I mentioned and became part of the dialog from that point. The back-and-forth quickly went from upset to kindly, and we agreed to stay in touch. In a world where almost everyone’s been hurt and many are fearful, you need to meet people where they are, and with an open heart and mind. The power of nice never hurts, and in today’s world it’s truly healing.
Don’t stop marketing. It’s your lifeline to future revenues.
Create content that is helpful. Reveal your best insights for free. Be the source of information and inspiration that guides your current and potential customers to the best possible outcome. And continue as much as possible investing in putting your message in front of potential customers. There is more than ample historical precedent demonstrating that brands which maintain or even increase advertising investment during periods of economic distress come out ahead of those which reduce or eliminate their marketing spends.
This recommendation does, of course, have to be confronted in the context of limited resources, but the point is to prioritize keeping your product, proposition and brand in front of potential customers who can buy today, and if not, will have a better appreciation and likely preference for your company in the future (Account Based Marketing might be a big help here in focusing your resources on the highest potential prospects). Additionally, if you are providing content and support that truly helps without asking for something in return, you’ll create an emotional bond with your brand that will help you win in a market where there are substitutes (many business decisions are made emotionally and then justified or rationalized with facts that fit the choice made).
Reallocate budget to online events.
Many of you had trade show and conference budgets that are suddenly unused. This is the time to publish a lot of content, and webinars and online events will become welcome distractions to the legion of workers working from home. Conference organizers are moving their events online, and these events are likely less expensive than their in-real-life counterparts. A benefit to these events is that the organizer has a great list and unfulfilled demand for the event, and I’d expect greater online attendance.
You also can co-market with ecosystem partners to increase your recruiting power and value of your content. If each of three presenters has 20 minutes of content, that’s a full hour. You also can run panel discussions and “ask me anything” sessions that require less preparation but will be seen as highly valuable just because of their unscripted nature.
If you run your own webinars or partner up with others, you might want to consider enhancing your platform with a tool like Glisser, which provides an enhanced environment for audience engagement. I asked Mike Piddock, its founder a few questions by email:
Q: How hard is it to pull off a live video event with PowerPoint and other features vs a webinar only?
A: Think of it like a 'wrapper' for a simple webinar, that provides a) a more branded experience b) better content (slides) display/distribution c) better engagement features d) better audience engagement metrics, and, perhaps most importantly, e) more of an 'event' experience where you can move between concurrent sessions, download slides, etc. So a little extra work compared to a simple webinar, but much more controlled professional outcome.
Q: Is your platform a replacement for a webinar provider or does it work integrated with things like Zoom Webinars?
A: We integrate with YouTube Live, Vimeo, Facebook Live, Zoom, Twitch and Restream, and are just adding MS Stream - they host the video, we pull it through...
Q: How can we help people who haven't been able to use - or put on - trade shows?
A: We suggest combining live speaker, presentations, panels, etc. with pre-recorded sponsor videos, brochures, data gathering etc. - all can be done in the platform. You could have the sponsors live on video via Zoom as well if you wanted, and people could navigate to them to chat.
Focus on your customers as if your business depends on them.
In normal times, SaaS companies earn as much as 95 percent of their revenue after the sale. With sales likely to be harder to come by for the next few months, it makes sense to focus your team on making sure that every single customer has a good reason to be satisfied with your product and support. Depending on the kind of customers you serve, you may be asked to help out in ways you wouldn’t consider previously, whether that’s reducing monthly fees, extending payment terms, adding seats or features without additional cost, etc. The goal here is to retain your base, while setting the stage for future monetization. You might create a contract for these additional value-adds that makes it clear they’ll be billable soon, but are free today. It might make sense to move people from sales to customer success for a few months to boost the capacity in this function while retaining people who have important skills and company and product knowledge.
Refine your messaging to what matters now.
Decision making will take on a new dynamic: is this purchase needed to advance our potential to survive or thrive in the current climate? Generally speaking, investments that will pay off in less than a year should be possible for healthy businesses, as well as those which have received some economic assistance from the government. Your messaging needs to be focused primarily on tangible benefits. And by tangible I really mean operational effectiveness, competitive advantage and cost, time and labor savings.
You need to imagine your prospect going into the CFO’s office to justify the cost of your solution (software plus implementation) versus doing what they’re doing today. What will that conversation look like? How can you arm the brave soul who’s going to champion your product? While we’ve asked ourselves these questions before, they are paramount today. This might also be important around renewals; getting closer with your customers well before a renewal decision to learn what’s going on internally and help them prepare to defend their (and your) budget is key.
Get a freemium version in the hands of as many people as possible.
You can be of service to many more people in your target market if you offer a freemium version of the product. It must be of value to the user, even if they never convert as a paid user. But with smart product management, strong customer support during onboarding and initial use and a value-based pricing strategy that encourages growing use, freemium (or product led growth as it is often called) can dramatically expand your user base and revenue potential. I recommend you visit the Open View Partners website for the most in-depth exploration of PLG anywhere.
This might be a good time to revisit freemium with previously reluctant CEOs and CROs who are more likely to be open to innovative growth strategies given the great level of anxiety all SaaS leaders are experiencing about funding and revenues. I cannot stress more highly that PLG needs to be strategic; the customer journey must make sense and the product must be of value in its free-for-life form. To help get everyone on board, you might characterize “lost revenues” as part of the commitment to marketing that must be maintained to come out the other side of this recession in a strong position.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
If they ask, I let people know how the pandemic has impacted me. And then make sure to quickly ask about them. And offer to help, without any expectation of return. Each of us will experience fear, uncertainty, doubt and significant loss. But this also is a time to connect with people in a real and meaningful way that will be remembered, and that’s a worthy goal all by itself. One day soon the economy will start growing again, and the people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, open themselves up and help their fellow man and woman will come out of this on top.
Keep the faith, and keep on marketing. Your colleagues' jobs, mortgages and ability to take care of their loved ones depends on how good a job we do. Right now.
Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a complimentary 30-minute meeting with me to talk about any topic related to this post. I sincerely want to help and hope that I’ll hear from you.