FREE SUBSCRIPTION Includes: The Advisor Daily eBlast + Exclusive Content + Professional Network Membership: JOIN NOW LOGIN
Skip Navigation LinksHome / Articles / Read Article


Business Lessons from Lockdown

Date: Apr 29, 2021 @ 05:00 AM
Filed Under: Business Planning

If you had asked 100 leaders in December 2019 what the business landscape would look like six, 12 or 18 months out, you would have gotten 100 different answers. And, probably, none of them would have been even close to correct.

In life, in business, in everything, things change. Sometimes, as 2020 taught us, they change a lot, and in ways you’d never expect. And through that change, some businesses survive; some even thrive. Why? What is it about some businesses that have allowed them to successfully navigate the earthshaking changes of the past year or so and come out fighting on the other side?

In this article, we’ll look at what changed in the way we do things, what stayed the same and what will carry through into a business landscape that will never again look like it did before last year.

It all started in March 2020, when we shut out the lights in our offices nationwide, headed home and asked: What’s next?

Things You Ask When the World Hits Pause

Once we had taken the necessary steps to protect the safety and wellbeing of more than 500 employees spread across the country, the next thing we did was what any company would do: We took stock. What do we have? What do we need? What needs to change?

The answers we received to these questions guided us successfully through the extraordinary challenges that came later. And, we believe, many of the changes we made in 2020 will be key to continuing to move the company forward in the months and years ahead.

What does this mean in terms of a practical approach other businesses can use to succeed now? While the specific tactics we’ve used may not work for your company, we’ve learned some lessons that should be applicable to a wide variety of businesses, particularly when it comes to partner relationship management in a post-pandemic world.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s talk about creating digital experiences that rise above the noise to engage customers across channels and devices and provide partners with the resources needed to succeed in today’s marketplace.

Connecting with Audiences, One Screen at a Time

As the events of last year made clear, digital experiences matter more than ever. To stand out, companies of all kinds depend on a strong online presence and engaging digital experiences across every device – especially now, when digital is often the primary or even only way audiences connect with a company.

Sure, the digital revolution has been in progress for quite a while. We were definitely headed in this direction, and faster than some would have liked. But then the pandemic came along, this hit the accelerator. And there’s no going back.

In our business, it wasn’t long after we transitioned to remote work that we realized we needed to make some changes to keep connected to customers. The sales journey was changing too. Already largely self-directed, the journey from prospect to customer to repeat customer was in danger of losing the consultative element that adds so much value and allows companies to bring a highly differentiated experience to the marketplace.

With a screen suddenly everyone’s main interface to the world, digital experiences need to seamlessly connect with customers across devices and throughout the journey to give them the right message in the right place and at the right time. Delivering that kind of experience depends on having the right technology in place. And there are degrees of personalization and interactivity that are possible only with a fairly advanced marketing technology stack. So, investing in these technologies will be critical to staying competitive going forward.

But what often gets neglected in a rush to update technology is the messaging and content. After all, you can have the biggest bullhorn in the world, but if you’re not saying the right things and meeting customers and partners where they are now, it’s just noise. And wow, did it get noisy as the pandemic continued. As it turns out, getting the technology right, though it can be challenging, is often easier than developing a content strategy that connects. But it’s essential to digital experiences that stand out and drive action.

What does this mean in practical terms? While the specifics depend on your goals, on a universal level, it means communications that are less about selling and more about enabling customers to do whatever it is they want or need to do – with your help. It means a digital experience that’s less transactional and more consultative.

Really, it’s about sitting on the same side of the table as your customers, instead of across from them. And that thinking doesn’t just apply to customers. You also must ask yourself: What do our partners need us to be for them, at this time, in this environment?

We've found that extensive market research is the best path to understanding customers' and partners' pain points and goals. They're saying lately that they need new tools and resources to navigate and succeed in a dramatically changed business environment.

Ideally, a company will already offer these kinds of resources to partners and customers. But in this environment, it’s important to place an even heavier emphasis on sharing your own approaches to things like relationship management, sales enablement, communicating across channels and so on. After all, what works for you may work for your partners and customers. You succeed when they succeed. So why not share what you know?

We’ve found it works best to keep your vendor- and customer-facing content engaging and easily digestible. The best way to make it available is with customized online landing pages and portals with a highly visual, streamlined experience that helps audiences find what they need quickly on any of their favorite devices. This has proven to be a huge hit with our audiences and a tremendous value add that has further strengthened our partner relationships. But now that we’re all finally finding our way past the pandemic, won’t this kind of remote approach to serving partners and strengthening relationships fade into the background once again? We don’t think so.

The Surprising Thing About Long-distance Relationships

Every company’s biggest asset is its people, especially when those people are extremely good at relationships, both within the company and with partners, customers and the industry at large.

Being good at relationships means being great at communication. Part of being great at communication is knowing what channel to communicate with and when. Past success can take you only so far. Once the pandemic hit and so many companies began to work remotely, what used to work suddenly didn’t work as well. It was time for a rethink.

Before the pandemic, our own approach to partner relationship management relied heavily on in-person encounters between multiple levels of our organization and those of our partners. In some cases, members of our team were even embedded in the same building as the partners we served, so communicating was as easy as rolling back your chair and poking your head into the next cubicle.

March 2020 put a stop to that. But it wasn’t the disaster we all feared it would be. In fact, thanks to Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other communications technology, many companies find they’re talking more than ever. So rather than losing ground in long-established relationships, they’re strengthening them.

For our part, we’re in front of partners more frequently than we ever were, staying in better touch with their evolving needs and providing ideas, resources and creative finance options to help them solve problems and drive revenue. Our sales team has benefitted, too. These days, they spend more time face-to-face via Microsoft Teams than they did when we were all traveling across the country.

Now that businesses are finally headed back to the workplace, most of us are definitely looking forward to the time when we can resume in-person meetings with our partners. But because meeting remotely has proven to have such compelling benefits, it will continue to be a staple of our partner relationship management approach. We think it will be valuable to any business moving forward.
What’s Next for Your Business?

What will the business landscape look like six months from now? That’s harder to predict than it’s ever been. But it’s clear that many of the changes made during the pandemic will stick. Remote business is here to stay. The companies that thrive in the months and years to come will do more than just learn to live with it – like their customers and partners, they’ll embrace it to build engaging digital experiences and relationships that are more intertwined, collaborative and profitable than ever before.

Michelle Speranza
SVP, Chief Marketing Officer | LEAF Commercial Capital
Michelle Speranza, LEAF Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, has been with the company since 2005, where she leverages extensive expertise in creating results-driven marketing and public relations campaigns with a strong emphasis on brand building, lead generation and customer retention. A strategic leader with deep experience developing omnichannel campaigns for diverse target audiences, Speranza was a marketing professional for the Walt Disney Company prior to joining LEAF. A graduate of Gwynedd-Mercy College, she is a former chair and current member of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Communications Committee, she also serves on the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Women’s Council and the Monitor Daily Editorial Board.
Comments From Our Members

You must be an Equipment Finance Advisor member to post comments. Login or Join Now.