Maintaining Business Growth in Times of Crisis

It’s a great time to reflect and act upon whether you will or have evolved, and are you ready for whatever the next normal is? - IMAGE: Kris Cole via GettyImages.com

It’s a great time to reflect and act upon whether you will or have evolved, and are you ready for whatever the next normal is?

IMAGE: Kris Cole via GettyImages.com

Planning for crisis situations is something that is often overlooked. When times are good, we expect them to just keep getting better. It can be hard to predict the unforeseen. Crisis management planning seems like a foreboding and thankless task to many business owners and managers. It’s an assignment that frequently gets put off or pushed to the side. 

It’s a great time to reflect and act upon whether you will or have evolved, and are you ready for whatever the next normal is?

But 2020 taught us that we all need a crisis management plan. We also need to be vigilant, bullish, and creative with ways to maintain and grow a business when unprecedented events occur, including pandemics, natural disasters and more. 

Globally and in the U.S., the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are immense and unmatched by anything in recent history. In the automotive industry, we have seen many retailers who have had to shutter their doors for a month or more. Businesses are working remote; some are working with skeleton crews. While there is a major demand for vehicles, inventory is limited due to slowed manufacturing of parts, and the implications go on and on. This pandemic has turned the auto sales industry inside out. For both dealers and their customers, the experience of buying a vehicle may never be the same. 

The business environment and economy are under duress. It may feel impossible to achieve business growth during challenging times. Regardless of obstacles, however, there are ways to continue to maintain and grow a business. It’s important to recognize that opportunities will always present themselves for businesses that have compelling products and a well-executed approach to help close deals.

Most business owners don’t have excess cash that will help fund them through six months or more of operating expenses. It’s critical to pursue a contingency plan to move your business forward. During this pandemic, we have seen that people take to online channels, including social networks, to stay connected. Times of crisis force businesses to reexamine the way they are operating and effectuate change. Adaptability and evolution are the keys to survival. Dealers and vehicle manufacturers are investing in new digital sales tools to meet customer demand for online, personalized services. By adopting digital ways of doing business, a business can meet the needs of consumers wherever they are, whether it be on a mobile device, through social media channels or online technology platforms. Creating a digital footprint is an absolute necessity. 

This has been a positive turning point for digital from which there is no turning back. Once you’re established as a digital business, you need to remain watchful and stay current. Technology and platforms will continue to advance, and your audience can shift gears. Your crisis management plan will need to continue to evolve and not be placed on a back burner. Annual reassessments should be completed. 

Understanding the perspectives of your customers is of paramount importance in how you will communicate with them. A prerequisite is that you reach them in channels that they are utilizing, address their concerns and current needs, and keep their point of view top of mind. Businesses that move ahead on a path to understanding customer needs and behaviors will take on the next crisis far better than the rest. 

Bring (and keep) your organization up to speed on virtual selling skills. Training is essential for things like video calls and making sure your brand is represented in the way you intend, assuring seamless communication. Making sure your staff is proactive and offering relevant solutions to your customers can be challenging, but it can be accomplished with good training.  

It’s imperative to be authentic and transparent with your customers and staff. Create a clear communication strategy that addresses changes you have made due to the current crisis. People need to understand what they can expect. 

Navigating a Crisis

Top processes that can help navigate a crisis include:

  • Managing a business and maintaining growth can be fueled extensively by ensuring strong leadership. Highly visible leaders with a solid vision are vital for navigating hard times.
  • Put in place a crisis management plan by assembling a diversified team that provides representation for all aspects of your business (finance, sales, legal, marketing, etc.) with varying viewpoints. This is the way to cover all your bases. 
  • Evolve your business focusing on customer needs and proactively train your employees. Going to an online sales model has proved effective and profitable in today’s environment, so innovate with technology where appropriate and keep your staff abreast of how to effectively use it.
  • Provide exceptional customer service and build on those relationships. Be creative and drive loyalty with your customers, while also maintaining a good brand image by stepping up to support your community during a time of crisis. Your show of support can help you expand and grow even during tough times. 
  • Show support for your employees and be transparent in the plans you are undertaking to overcome challenges. Empathy goes a long way in fostering team spirit.
  • Downsize expenses by taking a hard look at expenditures and reducing excesses. Spend wisely and only in areas where you see the highest rate of return or where you will be able to interact with your customers and sell products.
  • Take advantage of any government bailout packages you are eligible for, including grants and loans. These can make the difference in staying afloat or having to downsize, cut staff, or close a business. Pursue these and make note of deadlines to get your information in and meet the requirements.
  • Stay positive and persevere, infuse those sentiments into your business culture and help your team to rally together to get through it. 

Establishing clear accountability and decision-making is essential to drive success. You will need to act quickly if your business is underperforming and look to implement innovative strategies that help you to reinvent and reimagine engaging with your customers. 

Recognize that this a time for innovation. Again, focus on digital channels, communication, and selling online and through mobile devices. Use video communications that are easy for consumers and your staff to access and use.  The automotive industry was behind the curve in digital adoption and has had to accelerate and rise to the occasion implementing processes to accommodate remote selling models. Incorporating a customer-centric, user-friendly online experience can be the pivotal to growing your business. The consensus is that digital retailing is here to stay and will be an integral part of the new normal for our industry. No one can predict when the next crisis will occur or what obstacles we will face, but digital has proven to be an effective method to maintaining and even growing a business during challenging times. 

Dealers can look to recurring revenue streams, like F&I products, that bring in additional revenue and should expand on these types of opportunities as they can be indispensable in making inroads towards the loss of income. Including initial sales of vehicle service contracts during good times should help guide how to promote them to get through bad times. Consider vehicle service contracts that are turnkey and zero risk. These include marketing to customers who have expiring OEM coverage or are cycling out of existing service contracts. You can provide your customers with protection against vehicle breakdown costs during difficult times and the revenue helps drive your business through commissions and service drive appointments. 

Listen to customers and staff and be authentic and transparent in all of your communications. Be cognizant of their circumstances and show empathy. Help them realize that you value them and are an invested partner in their well-being.  

As reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many types of businesses have thrived during this crisis, including used car sales. With mass transit being avoided, it makes sense that people have invested in lower-cost cars. For new and used, online sales remain strong and are even described as booming, with usage of online tools spiking rapidly. Inventory at the present time remains a problem because of issues in the supply chain, but that certainly isn’t going to last forever. 

The vehicle retailer who provides processes where customers can easily and effectively buy online will own the customer experience and benefit from online, store shoppers, and referrals now and in the future. This crisis has created opportunities to pursue new avenues to advance your business. It’s a great time to reflect and act upon whether you will or have evolved, and are you ready for whatever the next normal is?

Brandie Linfante is Spectrum Automotive Holdings’ chief marketing officer.

Originally posted on Agent Entrepreneur

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