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BMC COVID webinar number 8: Listen to your Customers.

In recent BMC COVID19 webinars, we’ve heard about the need to focus on helping customers through the crisis. Helping is in, selling is out.

This week’s webinar built on that theme, with four amazing speakers. Professor Malcolm McDonald of Cranfield School of Management joined client-side marketers Oyinda Bishi, Head of EMEA Marketing at Crown Worldwide Group and Andrew Ainsworth, Marketing Strategy Manager at Cirium. Our final speaker, John Riley, Financial services practice lead at CLEAR, gave a consultant’s perspective.

Each had unique insights to share, but all talked about the importance of listening to customers in these challenging times.

Here are my own takeout’s from the conversation.

Focus on your core markets and core customers

The first speaker, Professor McDonald, urged businesses to double down on their core markets and primary customers and avoid spreading themselves too thinly.

He reminded us of the need to understand our markets and customer segments in-depth. In good times and bad, the most successful companies are those that act in their customer’s interests. The most profitable companies research their customers to understand their issues and problems and analyse the gaps in people's needs. This helps them identify propositions which will create value for customers and differentiate their brand.

“Value is what customers need, not what you’re trying to sell them. And profit is the result of doing something your customers value”

Adapt your Proposition and Portfolio

With 2020 business plans shelved, businesses are having to rapidly review the product portfolio and identify which propositions still have relevance and which do not.

For some business streams, where customer segments are in shutdown, it’s simply a case of no demand. In other areas, facing operational issues and restrictions, the method of delivery needs a re-think.

The good news is that there are opportunities, too. Needs have changed, and if you can figure out what will help customers in the short-term and adapt your offer meet their new situation, there are some quick wins to be made, but again, you need to listen to customers to know what will help them.

Oyinda explained that, as a global logistics business, Crown had started to feel the impact of the virus as early as January. They realised that there were some services that were no longer relevant - relocations for example - but that, instead, clients needed help getting staff overseas repatriated. Crown worked to repackage services as digital offerings, so they are still able to offer clients some form of support.

Put the customer at the heart of everything you do

Both Oyinda and Andrew, our client-side speakers, emphasised the importance of being sensitive to clients, especially those in hard-hit industries.

As a supplier of data to the aviation industry, many of Cirium’s clients are struggling for survival. Andrew stressed the need to be respectful to the situation. Cirium knows their clients are not able to spend but still need insights to help them manage the crisis, so they are giving daily updates free of charge. Likewise, Crown is offering free consulting to clients in the museum sector, asking only for a donation to charity.

Both companies are playing a long game. They believe hard-pressed customers will remember the support they have given when better times come.

As Oyinda says: “We’re here to help, the customer is at the heart of everything we do”

Adapt your messaging and style of communication

Q2 marketing plans are largely redundant, with events cancelled, and messages no longer relevant. Webinars, LinkedIn, video and Zoom are in, but how do you get the messages and the tone right?

It’s important to humanize the brand and be empathetic, but there’s a danger of seeming insincere if you get the tone wrong. John pointed to the glut of consumer ads which are already becoming cliched with their ‘sad piano music’.

He advises: “Go to the heart of the value that you provide, the purpose that your organisation has, to talk about the value that you can provide in this crisis that’s unique to you”

And both client-side speakers returned to the theme of listening, especially when it comes to social. Crown commissioned research to find out what matters to customers, and what they want to hear, while Cirium has trained salespeople to use their LinkedIn pages to listen to customers.

As Andrew says: “It’s never been more important for us to listen to our customer base. Listen to your market. Hear what their challenges are.”

Angela Richmond, Managing Partner at RedFox Research Limited.

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