Five Observations from the Frontlines of B2B

April 2, 2020 Kyle Nations

What some prospects and customers are saying in response to the global pandemic.

As a salesperson for a global technology company, this has been a challenging time, as it has for everyone. Here's what I've noticed in my outreach to customers and prospects as they look for innovative ways to navigate a highly unusual and difficult market.

  1. Closing out a very bizarre Q1

Many companies have needed to adapt to enormous changes in their businesses this quarter including disruption of supply chains; slight to huge changes in demand, in portions or all of their portfolios; unprecedented gluts or gaps in inventories; massive increases in costs from raw materials to freight and delivery; and logistical challenges delivering products and services to distributors, dealers and end customers. I’ve heard some companies report optimism and only minor impacts to their first-quarter plans, while others suggest business could be down as much as 30% for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.  

Despite the world virtually coming to a stop due to the coronavirus, business cautiously goes on. While health and safety remain paramount concerns, most feel their annual operating plans will still need to be achieved. Shareholders can be unforgiving and have short memories. As a result, many companies I’ve spoken to are heads-down, sharpening their pencils, closing out their first quarter with unusual rigor, while planning as best they can for an uncertain Q2. 

One thing is quite common in their reporting of Q1 2020:  It seemed to be one month of great confidence and strong growth, followed by a month of growing concern and uncertainty, followed by a month most of us have not seen in our entire business careers. A common refrain:  ‘It can only go up from here.’

  1. ‘We’ve our moved offices’: Adjusting to remote work and virtual meetings

Global companies have been operating using virtual teams for years but the recent shutdown in business travel and closure of non-essential offices has pushed workers who normally commute to their offices and workspaces to a brand-new routine: working from home. 

Companies I’ve spoken with have had to adapt their IT infrastructure, expand VPNs, modify corporate policies and conduct all meetings virtually using a variety of services and processes, many of which are brand new to some users.

These modifications have been fairly routine for certain staff. However, for those with children unexpectedly at home due to school or daycare closures and/or those who do not have a home office workspace (or the option, presently, to work from a public place like a coffee shop), these changes have required big adjustments for employees and their families.

  1. ‘We regret to inform you...’: Postponing projects, rescheduling and canceling events

Some of the biggest disappointments I’ve heard from prospects and clients have been the postponements or canceling of their annual customer events, many of which were scheduled well in advance for the coming spring or summer months. I can think of at least 10 companies, including mine, who have canceled or indefinitely postponed events to ensure safety.

Events like these take months and in some cases years of preparation. They give companies an opportunity to showcase their products and services, to meet and talk with customers and partners one-on-one, and to network with industry participants face-to-face. They are superb opportunities to learn, grow and do business.

The impacts, while not permanent, present the need to consider virtual events, webinars, and remote training later in 2020 to provide customers, prospects and employees with a safe substitute venue for consuming important content.

On top of these events, projects ranging from new product introductions to major IT project launches have also been postponed until such time that some semblance of the status quo returns. In some cases, these changes are reported to be fortuitous in that they provide more time to rethink or retool project delivery, perhaps add in new features or functions and to be even more prepared to launch and manage changes when the environment is restored to normal.

  1. ‘People come first’: Monitoring impacts on employees, customers, the community

One of the most endearing observations I’ve come across is executive leadership of so many companies across all the industries we serve looking for ways to be helpful to their employees, customers, industries, and their local and global community.

We’ve all heard the stories: manufacturers scrambling to design and make ventilators and other critical equipment to battle COVID-19, companies making donations of time and money to help those in need, and employees working long hours and taking personal health risks to deliver for customers. A special thanks to our healthcare workers on the frontlines of this pandemic, putting themselves at personal risk to take care of patients and save lives. 

The human spirit is evident almost everywhere you look, and you don’t have to look too hard to find it. I’ve seen emails and postings from CEO’s of prospects and clients on LinkedIn rallying their troops, inspiring customers, conveying a voice of calm with a message of hope, an assurance that ‘we’ll get through this together.’ 

Some companies are offering free training and webinars, extended trial offers of their products and services, highly favorable terms, or, in some cases, even giving some of their product away if it is for the greater good.   

  1. Hope for a better tomorrow, and soon

Almost unanimously, companies I've talked to expect this crisis to end in the not-too-distant future. Patience, tenacity and flexibility seem to be the necessary attitudes to have in moving forward in the coming days. While no one can be certain how long this goes on, I'm hearing weeks, not months or years before companies are ready to resume projects, re-engage in capital spending and push forward with their growth initiatives.

There will undoubtedly be pent-up demand so most executives are very decisive in their desire to continue where they may have left off in February, when it is safe to do so, to stay ahead of competition and get back to ‘business as usual.’ When the ‘green flag’ is waived, the winners will want to be poised to regain or capture additional market share quickly out of the gate.

Conclusion

With unprecedented events occurring in the backdrop, we’ve witnessed such a positive response and spirit of cooperation from our business community and leaders - one which we can all emulate, with the goal of getting ourselves, our families, our companies, industries, and communities through this stronger and better than ever before. 

Hopefully, once we get through this, and we will get through it, we will have learned how to work more safely and productively, which makes us all better in the end. I’m proud to work for a great company like Zilliant, that serves so many other great companies in this time of need.

If you would like to learn more about how Zilliant helps B2B companies execute effective pricing and sales strategies even in the most uncertain of times, please reach out to me at kyle.nations@zilliant.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. And above all, please keep yourself and your family healthy and safe.

About the Author

Kyle Nations

Kyle Nations is Sales Director at Zilliant helping global B2B companies realize improved financial performance using advanced technology for optimal pricing & sales effectiveness.

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