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Sales and Marketing During a Pandemic

Sales and Marketing During a Pandemic

Some of my colleagues here at Ashton Technology Solutions refer to me as “Andy Rooney”.  Not because of the eyebrows, but because I tend to rant about random things.  If you’re old enough to remember Andy Rooney, maybe you laughed at the thought of his weekly rants on 60 Minutes.  If you have no clue who I’m talking about, you can find plenty of his segments on YouTube.  This one on bottled water is a good example of why people think of him when they hear me.

Since we’ve been hit with this pandemic, it’s changed the way we (and everybody else, for the most part) have been selling and marketing.  Over the past eight plus weeks, my colleague Pete Bunevich and I have basically turned off the Ashton sales engine.  Instead, we’ve become much more focused on the marketing side of things.  For me, that’s easy, as I wear both hats. For Pete, who’s a ‘smile and dial’ kind of guy, regularly making 20 sales follow up calls every morning and prospecting in the afternoon, it’s been a little more difficult.  We made the decision, as a company, to stop pushing services and solutions to people who’ve never heard of us before.  There are plenty of ‘ambulance chasers’ out there who have been trying to take advantage of the crisis (I’m trying not to use the clinical name, because I think people are really sick of hearing about it.  I know I am!), and we have done our best to distance ourselves from them. Instead, we’ve been focused on putting out worthwhile content, staying in touch with existing clients to make sure that things for them are running smoothly, and generally reminding people that we’re still in business (and doing well).  Marketers are familiar with the term “content is king”, and that’s even more important now.

Some Businesses Are Booming

Since Ohio went into lockdown on March 16th (as the sixth state to do so), I’ve been fascinated by the marketing efforts that companies have undertaken, while also considering businesses that are actually booming right now (knowing that so many others are having trouble staying afloat, and of course those are the ones the news focuses on).  While the airline, professional sports, and travel industries take massive hits, others like grocery stores, alcoholic beverages, home fitness, advertising, and yes, even toilet paper are booming.

It seems that every television ad we see (Hulu with ads, Jeopardy, and the local news, in our house) is brand new, and on the topic of changing times.  Think about all the creative, copywriting, talent, and everything else that goes into new tv spots about ‘contactless delivery’, ‘curbside pickup’ and washing your hands.  Or the fact that with restaurants closed, people are now drinking all of their alcohol (and consuming all of their toilet paper) at home.  I’ve enjoyed striking up conversations with people like the meat department manager at my local grocery store, or the guy who runs my favorite beer and wine store.  It’s interesting to hear their take on it, and how good their business is right now. But for them, it’s not even really a question of marketing.  They suddenly have a captive audience, and as long as they can keep product on the shelves (which hasn’t always been easy, whether we’re talking about steak, Tito’s vodka, or toilet paper), they really don’t need to make an effort.

This Is Where My Andy Rooney Comes Out

On the other hand, there are plenty of companies who seem to be making zero effort, and those are the ones that amaze me. I can’t fathom the fact that, with so many businesses being open only online, or for curbside pickup only, that they are making no efforts to market themselves in the best way possible! I have three examples, and they all really grind my gears.

Here’s My Money.  Please Take It!

Just last week, I finally made the decision to purchase a completely unnecessary ‘luxury’ item that I’d been eyeballing for quite some time.  I could buy direct through the manufacturer (which happens to offer a 60 day return policy), or purchase through a local retailer.  Generally speaking, I always buy local.  I hate big box retailers, and can’t stand that huge online retailer based in Seattle (which made a mockery of all the cities bidding for it’s HQ2).  I’d much rather help the local economy, have some human interaction, and get expert knowledge during my buying process. So, I found the closest local retailer for the product in question.  My first step was to use their online chat function to ask whether they had the product in stock.  It took so long for somebody to respond to my question that the session actually timed out.  I tried again.  Finally found somebody to answer my question, and they said they didn’t stock that exact model, but could order it for me.  “Great”, I said. “I’ll be in tomorrow.  Just want to make sure I can return it if I don’t like it, though, as  I’ve never seen the product in person.”  The response?  “Oh, no.  Once we’ve ordered it, it’s yours.”

Even though the manufacturer offers a return policy, the retailer (a one store operation) doesn’t. And the retailer made no effort to even attempt to work with the manufacturer on this.  Even worse, the sales guy (owner of the retailer) made no effort to offer any other solutions.  I even went so far as to suggest “do you have the same model in a different color, so that maybe I can try that one?”  He said “sure”.  Maybe that’s the sales guy in me, but it seems like a no-brainer to offer up that suggestion.  Especially when the store has just reopened and any business is good business.  Guess he didn’t value my business, though.  Oh well, I found it from another ‘local’ business, this one through a friend in Minneapolis, and they were very excited to help me out (and at a lower cost, with a great return policy).

Update Your Website

Incident number two came earlier this week, when I realized that I have four watches which all need new batteries.  My wife suggested I try a local jeweler that we’d never used before.  Easy enough.  I searched the name of the company online, and of course, they were the first result.  The listing mentioned that they have two stores, one close to our office, and one close to my home.  Figured I’d hit the one close to the office at lunch time.  I clicked through to their website, only to see no mention of that location.  So, I checked the store hours (updated due to the pandemic), which said 10-6 at the location close to home.  I drove slightly out of my way to get there, and did so at 5:15.  Closed.  Frustrated, I left for home.  Called the store, hoping that their hours might be more up to date via voicemail.  The owner answered.  I voiced my frustration, and he explained that they’re opening hours have been reduced.  That’s fine.  But update your website!  And by the way, your website is still optimized to show a second store!!  “Oh, I’ve been fighting with Google about that”. I explained that it wasn’t Google, but  that it was somewhere in the content management system of his website.  He appreciated the insight, and I told him I’d stop back this weekend.

Yep.  That Was Their Last Chance

Third comes from a local restaurant that I can’t stand. Been there three times to overpriced food, poor service, and management that doesn’t really seem to care.  So I won’t go back.  Unless, of course, my college-aged son is home on ‘extended spring break’ and wants to give it a try.  I relented.  We pulled up their website and found a big button right on the home page labeled “Curbside Pickup Menu”, right below a blurb saying they are temporarily closing down.  Ok, makes sense.  They’re closed for dine in, but they’re offering curbside pickup like so many other restaurants.  Click the button and we move through to the full menu and another button labeled “online ordering’.  We figured out what we wanted, and clicked the next button, only to find out that they’re closed. Completely. No curbside pickup, even though the obviously temporary message on the home page is immediately above the ‘curbside pickup’ button.  Really?

Here’s My Point

My point here (and if you’ve read this far, thank you!) is that sales and marketing during a pandemic is difficult.  From a B2B perspective, we realize that many people aren’t buying what we’re selling.  They don’t want to change their IT provider (or their accountant, attorney, or insurance broker) at this point, or they’re concerned (rightfully so) as to the future of their business. So we’ve been gently reminding people that Ashton is still alive, still doing well, and ready for them if they need to chat about technology management.  In the meantime, we’re giving them useful information about things like working from home, pandemic focused phishing scams, or cybersecurity.  From a B2C perspective, this is ‘make it or break it’ time. As my wife points out when I complain, not every restaurant, retailer, or toilet paper distributor has a marketing team or person.  I get that.  But they still have a website, which means that somebody is managing it.  They still have somebody (in my example) answering phones or online chats. And they still have expectations that people will want to buy their merchandise, whether now or in the future.  Customer service is right up there with content.  Take a minute to update your website with your hours or the fact that you’re closed.  Bend over backwards to help the person who wants to give you their money.  Do something to stand out in a crowd.  If you don’t there’s a good chance you won’t get another chance.

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