In the coming weeks and months, many entrepreneurs will struggle to survive as they try to place themselves in a new reality. Around the world, governments are promising financial support, but how will you keep your business if you are not eligible for such support or if it’s simply insufficient?
· You may be a retailer whose outlets have closed – do you know how to quickly launch and increase online sales?
· Maybe you are a manufacturer who has previously sold through a distribution network – do you know how to reach your customers directly, as well as how to change your logistics to suit?
· What if you are a distributor, wholesaler – will you be able to provide your customers with safe shopping and professional advice online?
· In any (and every) case… what will you do if the crisis lasts longer and has a lasting impact on consumer behaviour?
Here, I want to explore these problems and your options for moving forward.
The Nature of Epidemics
The economic changes resulting from the epidemic have, in spite of appearances, become part of the picture of the 21st century. We’ve seeing such events practically every year, at least in some corner of the world. It’s a reality we need to be prepared for.
Most of us recognise the names of those with the most severe effects – such as SARS, MERS, Zika or Ebola. Each epidemic had a significant impact on the lives of societies and their habits, as well as on the economic situation in the given region.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, consumers were afraid to go outside and purchased everything online, driving the local e-commerce market. Even after the short-lived crisis, this became the default shopping channel for many, paving the way for global players, such as Alibaba.
So far, successful business models are now insufficient for long-term survival (especially for small and medium-sized organizations), yet along growth. Many are choosing a defensive strategy, waiting for the crisis to be over.
However, this only works if the business has sufficient cash resources and can quickly restructure itself on the cost side. The vast majority of those in the small to medium category don’t have this option. Instead, they either need to give up, or choose an offensive strategy. The latter involves taking advantage of the crisis situation to speed up their digital transformation, moving the business to where it can run more effectively.
On the Offensive Against the Crisis
In times of economic slowdown, entrepreneurs are reluctant to decide on offensive strategies, believing they require large investments and serious workloads over time.
This is wrong.
Nowadays, the digitalization of business, especially sales channels, can be carried out effectively and with a relatively small budget and time frame. This is due to the abundance of advanced and proven solutions, including those available in the cloud or via SaaS (Software As A Service). Using these options significantly shortens the time of building and implementing an appropriate system. For example, an e-commerce platform can up and running in several days, not several months.
This way, instead of the typically large, singular investment budget at the start, we can use more reasonable monthly costs. Of course, SaaS platforms have their own drawbacks, such as limited possibilities for adapting the software to specific needs, but these disadvantages quickly lose importance in the reality of the current crisis.
Basics First, Expansion Second
Looking to the mid-term time frame, you can make compromises now and, later on, decide to implement dedicated solutions to take your business to the next level. Alternatively, you could also use ready-made solutions in the free software segment (i.e open-source) and adapt it for your needs. This would still implement a new model but also remove some the technological expense.
With either approach, when time counts and every day is a threat to the company’s wellbeing, agile system development methodologies come to the rescue. Here, the supplier and the customer focus primarily on getting the base MVP (Minimum Viable Product) working, with the least possible effort and cost, extending with additional features in subsequent iterations.
Act to Survive
Let’s consider the current situation of 4 quite typical forms of business in today’s economy. I want to discuss how they can effectively accelerate their transformation and, in just a few days, even move their key operations (whether wholly or in part) to digital channels.
These companies suffer most from restrictions on movement, as well as the closure of a significant number of commercial facilities. Whether typical or luxury products, the solution is to quickly move sales to the Internet. Auction platforms are one such option but, for reputable businesses with an existing group of loyal customers, it’s better to open an online store under your own brand. If a company hasn’t done this before, a few things are necessary:
· You need to prepare product descriptions and photographs.
· The internal work organization also needs to be adapted, such as a separate warehouse space for preparing shipments.
· You may need to sign contracts for additional services, such as forwarding, shipping and payment operations.
The online store itself can be launched even in a few days with open-source software, such as Magento, or an SaaS platform like Shopify. Specialized IT companies can really help here, as they have the experience and necessary resources to implement the store efficiently, as well as provide essential support after launch.
Spreading the shop’s offers on the Internet can be handled by employees of marketing and promotion departments in a given company, assuming they change their focus. If resources allow, it’s possible to alternatively use the services of advertising agencies specializing in so-called e-marketing.
Manufacturers have more options. Some of them are benefitting from increased demand for their products, but a large group will be affected by a drop in demand (luxury products, clothing, sports equipment, etc.).
For the latter, the solution to maintain and even increase financial turnover (in the long run) is to launch an additional distribution channel with direct access to end users – such as online sales. Activities in this channel are conducted without intermediaries and stationary retail outlets.
First of all, it will be necessary to build a high quality product database in the form of pro-consumer marketing descriptions, good quality photographs or videos. This information is necessary to start effective sales in online channels, as well as on auction platforms, marketplaces or through your own online shop, whether it’s dedicated to individual or wholesale customers. Product data is also useful for promotional activities, like social media, or in cooperation with business partners.
Furthermore, Product Information Management (PIM) solutions are used to effectively collect and manage product information. Thanks to the availability of ready-made, open-source software, such as Pimcore, it’s possible to launch a working, basic version of such a platform in just a few days. This type of implementation allows organizations to manage multidimensional product data from a singular position within a centralized system, as well as add and describe products as needed – this includes managing several services simultaneously or with many contractors consistently.
A good example of this is Tubądzin, as this manufacturer launched a PIM system and its own B2B internet sales channel before the economic slowdown.
Distribution & Wholesale
Distributors and Wholesalers have been under pressure for many years, as aggressive price competition and falling margins are reducing space for profitable operations, creating a market that has been consolidating intensively for several years now.
Apart from segment giants, such as Eurocash, SIG SA, AB SA or TIM SA, all of which have been investing in online channels for a long time, there is a large group of narrowly specialized distributors with niche, highly tailored products and services. These latter companies normally do extremely well through maintaining a rather conservative operating model.
It is worth noting, however, that the sale of such products or services requires professional advice and is often based on individual contacts of the sales and technical teams with the customer, which in the current situation is very difficult.
Here, the immediate launch of a B2B trading platform is necessary for supporting the work of commercial and technical advisors, enabling the collection of orders via the Internet, as well as their further, automatic service. Until recently, the implementation of such a project required the creation of a dedicated system or the (often imperfect) purchase of an online sales extension from an ERP system manufacturer. Fortunately, numerous cloud-based platforms are available in the SaaS model, such as the ONE platform. This solution comprehensively supports the needs of typical distribution and wholesale business in terms of sales in the omnichannel model (synergising online and offline channels), based on best practices developed on the basis of the experience of the largest players in the market.
For an example of a company which launched an online sales system in the B2B model in just a few days, via the SaaS, is Euroterm – a wholesale network offering heating technology solutions.
A sudden change in sales trends, falling margins or payment bottlenecks necessitate strict control of the business pulse. For this purpose, a quick implementation of insights that you can directly control, such as Microsoft Power BI, should be considered. This will allow you to easily create and share the necessary reports or statements within the team, whether its purchase and sale prices, offer segment marginality or the profitability of customer groups and their respective response to promotional campaigns.
Numerous service companies can still operate effectively despite the limitations. However, they have to cope with difficult contact with the customer, because the quality of service and the subsequent satisfaction of buyers will suffer. One example can be developer companies that run construction projects, as they require frequent and close contact with the individual investor.
Each of these must also continue to attract customers for premises offered in existing and new investments. The solution for this type of business is the so-called electronic customer service systems (also commonly called eBOKs), combined with a modern-looking website based on a flexible CMS system that will allow for promotional activities on the network.
The well-known Wroclaw-based developer Archicom is a good example of this – they invested in a similar solution before the crisis and can offer a comprehensive digital service via an online customer panel.
While difficult, these times will inevitably lead to the emergence of a “new standard” in which the Internet will be as natural a component for conducting business, shopping and countless more as the using the mobile phone.
Entrepreneurs who don’t want to give up in these unstable conditions should decide to face them with courage. It’s already worth having a long-term perspective before you. A key part of this should involve investing in solutions that will not only survive, but bring a lasting competitive advantage, ensure stability and even grow in the post-COVID 19 era.
If the above problems and challenges concern your business, or if you’re looking for advice and ideas to transform your company, we invite you to participate in the free educational initiatives and consultations offered by Unity Group’s experts. We’re here to help.
We’ve prepared a series of educational activities aimed at providing entrepreneurs with the necessary knowledge, ideas, and inspiration as soon as possible!
Below you will find the contact details to 3 key Unity Group experts – contact one of them and tell them about the challenges your company is facing:
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