The last few weeks has been an enormous shock to us all. Despite the media’s ability to rapidly share events in Wuhan, few of us could anticipate the speed, scale, gravity and personal impact of what is unfolding in front of our eyes. The widespread meltdown and paralysis of ‘life as usual’ is daunting.
It is unquestionable that we are all in this together; Covid-19 does not discriminate. If there is a silver lining, it will hopefully be a genuine and enduring empathy for each other’s basic human needs, fears and well-being. Hopefully it will bring out the best in all of us.
For those in sales and marketing, the widespread frustration is feeling completely impotent at a time when your business desperately needs positive answers.
How can you prepare to make a difference?
In the face of the current crisis it will feel distasteful and commercially inappropriate to try and ‘sell something to someone’ when most are focussed on protecting their family’s wellbeing, their livelihood and sustaining business operations. But, by demonstrating you (genuinely) understand and care is the essential first step.
This is the time to practise true empathy for your customers’ fears and challenges. By aligning your organisation’s skills and resources to provide timely and relevant solutions as they navigate their way out of their individual crises you can have a valuable dialogue. Just remember this is about them, not you.
Covid-19 is a threat to every one of us. To achieve a meaningful level of empathy, understanding the psychology that drives human behaviour is an essential guide to our thinking.
Psychology is important because critical business decisions made under pressure are largely influenced by what business leaders feel in their gut. This particularly true when faced with extra-ordinary circumstances with little or no previous experience to call upon.
“This is the time to practise true empathy for your customers’ fears and challenges.”
1. People are grieving
We are incredibly fortunate. We have become spoiled by predictability with little risk to our lifestyle or health. Our tidy, consistently routine and safe lives are simply not equipped to manage a rapid and uncontrollable event that carries a real threat of mortality. People are in total shock. Comfortable equilibrium has vanished overnight and although we all hope this is temporary, we naturally fear that things may never be quite the same again.
David Kessler and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the ‘Meaning of Grief and the 5 stages of Loss’. Currently, many of us will be experiencing what Kessler describes as ‘Anticipatory Grief’. This is the uncertainty when we do not know what the future holds; there is a storm coming and there’s little we can do but try and protect ourselves. Many become crippled with anxiety.
“Anticipatory grief is the uncertainty when we do not know what the future holds”
The 5 stages of grief:
I won’t let this virus affect me; people are just being irrational.
I’m locked in my own home; you have taken away my liberty.
OK, so if I stay at home this will pass and everything will go back to normal?
I don’t know when this will end. Will I have a job? Can I pay the bills?
I need to work out what I can do about it. I can adjust.
Although the five stages are not linear and different people react differently to loss, most are highly receptive to empathy throughout. It is also certain that stage 5 (acceptance) is the most powerful stage. This is the time when we regain control, become decisive, ready seek advice and act.
Show empathy, understand customers’ fears and be ready to engage appropriately when they have come to terms with what has happened to their business.
2. Cognitive human behaviour
We are animals, our primaeval response to fear and danger is pre-programmed. When feeling threatened we will literally ‘go to ground’ to seek shelter and a safe environment. How many people do you know that have gone ‘radio silent’ recently?
“Our primaeval response to fear and danger is pre-programmed”
You can see this normal behaviour being exhibited in everyday life. When learning to ski most beginners are naturally nervous and so fix their vision directly at the ground to feel safe. Likewise, new car drivers are accident prone as they fail to anticipate hazards early enough; their vision is fixed on the car directly in-front of their bonnet. Driving and ski instructors teach their pupils confidence by lifting their vision; looking into the distance and planning as far ahead as possible.
Add value by giving your customers’ the confidence to lift their vision.
3. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Maslow serves to explain current behaviour such as the period of panic buying. Covid-19 threatens the three fundamental layers of Maslow’s pyramid; the physiological needs of air, water, food and shelter. The second of safety; our needs of personal security, employment, health. And thirdly; our need for love and belonging – the sense of connection with family, friends and work colleagues.
This explains why threats and the fear of loss have always been a far greater motivator than the promise of gain. It follows that businesses will focus on protection rather than acquisition.
This means safeguarding existing relationships by wrapping arms round your customers to protect existing revenue in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. Together we are stronger.
It’s time to focus on protecting existing business relationships.
Arming for battle. Leveraging the power of account based marketing
If you feel in uncharted territory, then think again. Never has there a been a better time to adopt an ABM strategy:
1. Insight for empathy
It is impossible to show empathy without fully understanding your customers’ grief; their specific fears, challenges and pain. As an insight driven approach, a fundamental tenant of ABM is the process to gather the insight to inform future client sensitive communications. By aligning your organisation’s resources, skills and experience to the customer you’ll be able to anticipate and propose tangible solutions to their recent pain.
2. Increasing the value of relationships
ABM drives higher value relationships. Through building greater trust (shared empathy) ABM will help you reposition and elevate the status of your relationship as a strategic and trusted partner. Marketing can add enormous value to your business operations by enabling customer facing teams deliver greater real value at a most sensitive and critical time.
3. ABM is not just a new business demand gen programme
I have always promoted the key virtue of ABM is to protect and grow existing accounts. Marketing is so often pre-occupied with net new business that they mistakenly believe ABM just another form of demand gen programme. ABM can deliver much greater value into existing accounts, one which delivers considerably higher, sustainable ROI. That’s probably the medicine your business needs right now.