Author: Margit Kaluza-Baumruker
Bio: Margit has extensive experience in the local search space as the former Marketing Director at Herold and as a Siinda Board Member. She continues to support Siinda with Content and Advisory Services
Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to speed up long-overdue change. This is the impression we are left with when talking to CEOs and General Managers from all over Europe and Asia. This blog is a cumulation of the Siinda CEO panel discussions that took place during LOCALCOMM Virtual 2020. CEO’s from top companies talked about how their companies navigated the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Forced by COVID-19 lockdowns they quickly had to adapt their ways of doing business. Ways that provided challenges but also opportunities and that will probably stay with us in post-pandemic-times.
(€) Watch our first CEO Panel here with FCR Media Group, MüllerMedien, EDSA, and Swsscom Directories;
(€) Watch our second CEO Panel here with Nobel Digital, MEDIATEL CZ s.r.o., Digitale Medier 1881, and FCR Media Ireland;
(€) Watch the ALSMA and Siinda CEO Panel here with FCR Media Group, Yellow New Zealand, Adaan Digital Services, EDSA, Spotzer, MüllerMedien, and Clickmedia.com.
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In the Virtual World, Communication is King
In the middle of March, the lockdown came out of the blue and took everybody by surprise. Within a few hours, companies had to get accustomed to home offices and how to serve customers from a distance. Those who were already working in the cloud had an advantage. Jon Martinsen, CEO of FCR Media Group, for example, noted that he had already profited from shifting to cloud-based working, some time ago, thus giving him an advantage.
Others embraced this change a an opportunity, although the shift was not that easy. In companies that were not prepared, employees had to take their PCs home and to quickly adjust to their new working environment at home.
John Goddard, CDO of EDSA and at that time also CEO of HEROLD Business Data, remarked that strong teams mattered more than ever before in those confusing times. He pointed out, that clear communication, strong management-team and leadership as well as loyalty were key success-factors to quickly adapting to the new way of working.
Bernhard Lüders, CEO of Sutter Media GmbH, added that tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom strongly supported internal and external communication. However, he noted there is room for improvement regarding the use of other MS office tools to make distant working easier,.
While internal communication could be managed the interaction with customers was much more challenging. In many countries, business owners were used to discussing their marketing strategies during personal visits at their offices. Video-calls proved to be quite a change for them. It took some adjustment, but after a while, sales-persons and customers got used to these new communication channels. Geir Egedius, Product and Marketing Director of Opplysningen 1881 in Norway, said creativity was key as they created cool backgrounds for their video-calls with employees and customers to provide a more professional look.
For those customers who simply could not get used to virtual communication a solution was also found: Hannes Scheiflinger, sales-manager of HEROLD in Austria, recalled a cute little story of a sales-colleague who drove to a customer´s office, put a contract in his mail-box in front of the house and returned to the car. The customer took the contract, signed it, placed it on the mail-box and went back to the office. This way the sales-rep could obtain the contract without harming his or the customer´s health.
Except for a few workarounds, virtual communication proved to be a great alternative to doing business face to face – both internally and externally. In many cases, home office meant less distraction and more focus and saved time. It did increase sales efficiency, even with the occasional dog or five-year-old that wanting to be in on the action.
Loyal customers are vital – especially in times of crisis
All panellists in both CEO sessions were in complete agreement regarding existing and new customers. Everybody confirmed a significant decline in new sales and the importance of existing customers for continued business.
In many countries, existing customers secured the cash flow. For example, Stefano Santinelli, CEO of localsearch.ch.in Switzerland, realized with great relief that bills were being paid on-time since localsearch.ch was not eligible for government support. Kristina Tukk, Partner at Nobel Digital/Creative/People OÜ in Estonia, as well as Geir Egedius of Opplysningen 1881 in Norway but stated that they carefully monitored cash flow with a strong focus on incoming cash.
But although existing customers were the easiest to deal with it did not mean it was easy,
In some business segments such as tourism, it was nearly impossible to talk to a customer. Max Eggenberger, CSO of localsearch.ch, recalled that in less affected market segments it was even easier to reach customers by phone and to discuss possible solutions than it was in the segments that were heavily impacted. But in Switzerland as well as in other countries, clients showed a higher interest in short-term contracts. There were other challenges also, Lubos Cipera , CEO at MEDIATEL CZ, s.r.o, had to deal with requests for payment-postponements and price-decreases. There was one common thread when it came to customer inquiries, nearly everybody confirmed that the focus of most sales-calls was on giving advice, being supportive and patiently listening to the client’s concerns.
The crisis clearly showed that in difficult times loyal customers and subscriptions are a strong pillar for businesses.
Products in times of COVID-19
When it came to products almost everyone reacted to the crisis by introducing new or special products. At FCR Media Group, for example, Corona packages were created with prolonged payment deadlines. A new online portal was launched with a ranking policy based on regular updates of company information and customer-reviews.
But not all products were successful in all countries. In Switzerland, such a new portal launch was not entirely successful, because there were not enough profiles published to have a market impact. Instead, localsearch.ch quickly reworked the product portfolio pausing campaigns for online-booking and focussing on e-commerce products. These products launched slightly before the pandemic turned out to be the right offering at the right time and were a great success.
Similar experiences were reported from other countries: Nearly everybody launched products with better payment conditions and put a special focus on digital products.
Although everybody agreed that Corona increased the need for digitalization there was a dispute regarding presence and performance products. Based on his thorough analysis of Swiss customers´ demands localsearch.ch-CEO Stefano Santinelli saw less of an opportunity for presence products and more opportunities for performance products. John Goddard , not supporting this idea said that success was dependent product explanations and companies have to better explain the value of their products – presence or performance better. He emphasized that customers should buy because they are convinced of the value not because they are fond of the sales rep. A view Darren Linton from New Zealand shared as well. His experiences were that customers want to understand better a product´s value before buying.
Regardless if it is presence or performance – the future products have to be digital with a focus on reputation management, e-commerce and IYP. Geir Egedius noted that they are also looking into a price-comparison portal.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Michael Oschmann, CEO of Mueller Medien in Germany, did a perfect summary regarding possible learnings from COVID-19 crisis: he recommended not to fall in love with the success in surviving the COVID crisis, but to keep the spirit and the attitude of these difficult times for the future.
All agreed that the way we are now working, part of it is here to stay, working in the office 5 days a week seems to be history. Personal sales-calls can be substituted by phone or video calls dramatically increasing sales-efficiency.
All also. Agreed that companies have to be highly agile today to respond to their customer’s needs. This crisis has also demonstrated that customers are also more agile than we thought.
Clear communication, is also a must with easy to understand-products and lean processes, this is the now and the future.
Most importantly – loyal customers and loyal employees are key to survive difficult times.