For years, "growth" has been the holy word in the business world – from tiny scale-ups right through to giant multinationals, growth was the primary goal, often even ahead of profit. And then, the world changed.
We have seen the Covid-19 pandemic jolt us into a new, and often hard reality. It's no wonder that in this new environment, growth is a tricky topic to broach. With so many UK businesses facing unprecedented challenges from lockdowns and social distancing, many feel that survival, not growth, is the word of the day.
When urgently switching focus to strategies for survival, it's easy to become absorbed in short-term thinking and to forget the fact that the decisions made amid a crisis can have lasting effects — positive or negative — on the path back to growth. As Britain looks towards loosening lockdown measures, how can businesses navigate this uncertainty, while still keeping growth in mind?
Step one: Focus on the customer
Customers are often more sensitive to the types of interactions they have with business during a crisis. They'll remember who heard from too often, and those they didn't hear from enough. They'll remember companies that were empathetic and helpful, and those that were just looking to make sales. And they'll remember who supported and helped them when they needed it.
Businesses that support their customers' crises can nurture loyalty that will last into the future and help them swiftly return to growth once conditions improve. It's for this reason that sales, marketing, and service teams in particular need to push back against quick fixes and short-term solutions and firmly focus on the customer. This isn't only the right thing to do, it's the most effective way to protect key business metrics in a sustainable way, through times good and bad.
Step two: Sell, but wisely
When challenges arise and growth stalls, sales teams are naturally inclined towards ramping up outreach to prospects in the hope of quickly closing new deals. But during times of economic uncertainty, prospects are likely to be reducing budgets and taking a more cautious approach to purchasing decisions. How can businesses answer this conundrum?
One approach is a renewed focus on email marketing, as many UK firms have already done. HubSpot data reveals that sales outreach peaked when the British government's first social distancing advice was announced in mid-March, and that since then there has been roughly a 50 per cent increase in the average amount of sales emails sent compared to pre-Covid. With so much noise, there needs to be a focus on thoughtful and well-targeted outreach: sales teams should sharpen their focus on the immediate needs of their prospects and strive to build relationships that'll last through considered contact.
But with UK entrepreneurs warning that generations of small businesses are at risk, it is essential to remember that any outreach needs to be empathetic and understanding. It's vital to re-evaluate target markets based on how the pandemic has affected different sectors and demographics, and adjust forecasts to reflect the challenging economic conditions. This approach is not only more effective for closing deals, but it can be a powerful tool for laying the foundations for future business relationships too.
Step three: Don't neglect marketing!
Marketing teams have a tough time of it during a crisis. As we've seen in the current pandemic, even the best campaigns, creative concepts and communications plans that were once the perfect fit become out of date, or even worse, insensitive. These have to quickly be scrapped, but that doesn't mean that marketing teams should rest on their laurels. In the face of uncertainty, marketers still need to ask themselves what they can do to help both their business and their customers.
That could mean sending fewer emails to customers with an informative and reassuring message instead of offers and sales. For others, it could mean creating entirely new resources that deliver something tangibly useful and informative to customers. Ultimately, the purpose of marketing is to appeal to your customers and deliver growth – in situations like the current pandemic, having no contact with your customers, or continuing to communicate them as if nothing was happening will be sure to stunt this growth.
Step four: Service is everything
Sudden spikes in customer queries during a crisis can put a major strain on service teams. While the natural temptation may be to try to increase effort and working hours to manage the higher volume, this could lead to employee burnout, a lower-quality of service, and longer-than-expected wait times for customers.
According to HubSpot data, businesses in EMEA are experiencing a 25 per cent increase in customer-initiated conversations, showing that there's a clear need for pressure to be taken off service teams.
One of the best ways of doing this is by using chatbots. Often powered by machine learning, they allow customers to self-serve and get quick answers to common questions, while also freeing up staff to spend more time working on more complex queries. Service and marketing teams should also collaboratively create relevant educational content that proactively addresses anticipated customer issues.
Businesses that successfully respond to this surge in demand as a result of Covid by deploying new sustainable service strategies will be well-placed to support their customers both during business-as-usual and during future crises.
Grow better: a message for these times
Growth is still the word of the day for businesses, but often it's seen as taboo to discuss at times like this. That shouldn't be the case, because successful businesses don't aim for growth at all costs.
Of course, it's challenging – every business will need to make changes of some sort, and many will need to make tough decisions to survive, but that doesn't mean we need to stop thinking and talking about growth.
By placing customers at the centre of every decision across sales, marketing, and service, businesses give themselves their best chance of successfully navigating uncharted waters, and hopefully improving their offering in the long run. Not only that, but they also position themselves for renewed growth as the economy stabilises and new opportunities emerge.
"Grow better" has always been HubSpot's way, so while it has felt awkward to talk about growth in recent weeks, we need to keep it as our north star to help us through this crisis.
Christian Kinnear, EMEA Managing Director, HubSpot