Estimated read time: 8 minutes
The reality of the crisis for your SMB customers, and what you can do.
COVID-19 is changing the landscape for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in ways that none of them have experienced before. Most are already struggling, and many will have a tough time surviving. Here are a few examples from among the many small businesses that I personally know:
- A retail store closed and temporarily laid off most of its staff
- A contractor’s projects all came to a complete stop
- A professional services firm is already dealing with an increase in late client payments
- All of a wholesaler/importer’s outstanding orders were cancelled
- An IT firm is OK for now, but fears lost business as clients look to reduce non-critical expenses.
As the crisis continues, most SMBs will be affected in some or all of the following ways:
- Significant declines in revenue
- Dwindling cash (most small businesses do not have reserves or access to significant credit lines)
- Struggles to maintain revenue and productivity while working remotely, which is new to most companies.
While the CARES Act and other government programs will make an impact, almost all SMBs are looking to trim expenses and stem cash outflows, and many have taken significant measures already.
What this means for B2SMB brands
Brands that market and sell to SMBs are in uncharted waters, as well. Most will see increased attrition among their SMB customers (some have already seen it), along with a decline in revenue, and an increase in bad debts. Most B2SMB professionals realize this, but I have spoken with several recently and found there is a lot of uncertainty regarding what to do and say.
As someone who has worked with SMBs for almost 30 years and B2SMB brands for more than 15 years, I understand the SMB mindset better than most. Here are some goals you should keep in mind:
- Do what you can to help these businesses weather the storm. Please do not take this opportunity and responsibility lightly. Regardless of what industry you are in, you have an opportunity to help save businesses and jobs.
- Focus on retention. What this means will vary for brands, based on how mission-critical their products and services are to SMBs. For example, an accounting SaaS company which offers an essential service might focus on ways for strapped companies to continue to afford its product. On the other hand, a social media marketing firm with a service that’s less mission-critical right now might propose a new lower-priced tier to keep SMBs on board.
- Position your company for post-crisis recovery. This goes beyond customer retention and includes plans to leverage any goodwill created during the crisis.
- Be direct. For example, some B2SMB professionals have told me they are hesitant to specifically refer to the crisis at the risk of seeming opportunistic. This is a mistake. SMBs always appreciate straight talk, so don’t be afraid of talking about the crisis. As always, if you focus on helping SMBs, you will be adding value and not wasting time that they do not have.
I hope you can get at least one actionable takeaway for achieving these objectives from the following list of ideas.
Content and communications
Failure to proactively acknowledge the impact COVID-19 is making on SMBs will make your brand seem out of touch. Review your communications to ensure that the products and content you are promoting make sense in the current environment, and that your messages are tailored to the times. For example, very few SMBs are in growth mode now, so messaging around “growing your business” is unlikely to engage and will certainly seem out of place.
Here are some ideas for what you should communicate and publish:
- Share stories of how some of your SMB customers are coping, to inspire others. Also provide examples of how customers are using your products effectively now.
- Continue to post how-to/best practices and other content to help SMBs with the challenges they’re facing. It is more critical than ever to leverage SMB subject matter experts (SMEs) who are in the trenches helping SMBs weather the storm.
- Publish product-aligned content that explains how your product can help with current challenges, such as remote workforce productivity and collaboration, or process automation.
It’s OK to continue to publish other business-as-usual content that’s already in your pipeline, but carefully consider what you push out in your email and social posts. Now is the time to emphasize content that helps SMBs overcome challenges and navigate tough times over business-as-usual topics like “growing your business” or “hiring effectively.”
Products and promotion
- This is a great time for special offers for products and services that are especially helpful for SMBs right now. For example, SaaS, telecom, and hardware solutions provide products and services that enhance remote workforce collaboration and productivity. Banks and other financial services offer as well as mobile accessibility, and so on.
Delivery and support
- Explain current delivery options, including re-routing shipments for remote workers.
- Communicate the support options that are available, how they may have changed, and the different ways to access them. Be clear about expected delays.
Offers and terms
- Consider offering more liberal credit terms and payment options, longer trials, and discounts. Of course, credit risk must factor into these decisions. However, brands with high gross margins can afford to be more generous, given both the risk/reward ratio and the goodwill they will generate. (I have recently seen a few really good special offers go viral.)
- Your business has vendors that are SMBs. Appreciate the pressure they’re under. Pay them earlier if possible and certainly avoid cutting them off. If possible, ease the procurement process for new vendors whose services you need now.
I realize that brands serving small businesses provide services at different points in the mission-critical spectrum and every small business has its own unique situation. And of course, different B2SMB companies have different priorities. However, the key message to communicate is that we are in this together and that your brand has your customers’ backs.
Business owners are a tough lot. From putting up their homes as part of personal guarantees for business loans to reaching into their own pocket to make payroll, they demonstrate unbelievable optimism, grit and ingenuity. Most will find a way to survive this. Your brand could do much to help. Now is a great time to be an SMB champion at your company.
In the spirit of the above, if you are unsure what to do to help your SMB customers weather the storm, reach out to me. Whether or not you have worked with RSL Media before, I will do my best to help. My hope is that our conversation leads to your brand being able to help SMBs in some way during this challenging time.