The 2019 novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus that had not been previously identified in humans. It was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. While most initial transmission appeared to be zoonotic, person-to-person transmission is the most important common mode of transmission currently.
Today, infection has topped 2.6m, with deaths in excess of 181,000 worldwide. In Nigeria, we have over 1000 infections and over 30 deaths. It has spread to over 26 states with epicentres in Lagos, Abuja (and maybe Kano).
The outlook is uncertain in Nigeria – this will be eventually determined by the scope and depth of community infection. As of now, it appears we are at the take-off stage of the very dangerous community spread of infection.
The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting millions of people. It is also having a growing impact on individual businesses, as well as national, regional and the global economy. As at the time of this writing, Lagos, Ogun and Abuja are in a lockdown, as ordered by the federal government.
Overall, the 36 states are in various forms of lockdown and restriction of movement, with its profound negative effects on businesses and personal lives.
This is a totally new experience for us all. Below are suggestions and ideas on how businesses can survive this situation:
Observe measures to protect your staff and customers as well as to contain the spread of the virus
A. If the business is still fully or partially open, then be obsessive about hygiene. The best way for business owners and employers to ensure that employees and customers are protected from COVID-19 infection is to:
i. Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. 65% alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a viable alternative.
ii.Encourage employees to cough or sneeze into a tissue, or into their elbow (if no tissue is available).
iii. Clean and disinfect surfaces and premises at a minimum of once daily.
iv. Mandate unwell employees to stay at home and observe their symptoms.
v. Avoid crowding, and crowded places
B. Stop the spread of the virus by following these health and safety tips from the NCDC:
i. Maintain social distancing. No handshakes: Use a non-contact method for greetings.
ii. Try not to touch your mouth, eyes and nose. Remind employees to do the same.
iii. Constantly and regularly disinfect surfaces, including doorknobs, handrails, the POS system, tables and desks.
iv. Keep your employees and your customers safe by being as proactive as possible about cleanliness.
v. Taking care of staff is paramount
Give employees flexibility as a means of caring. Allow and enable them to work from home, as much as is possible.
Reduce meetings and travels. Meetings are the platform for managers to work, take decisions, make deliberations, ad communicate. But it encourages crowding, heavy personal contacts and use of shard space and facilities/equipment. This is a veritable means of COVID-19 transmission. So, physical meetings should be heavily reduced, if not totally axed.
Teleconferencing is the current trend. Reps should be restricted to their bases, to help reduce transmission and infection.
Indicate that personal safety of employees is important and should be taken care of in all circumstances. Sales representatives and other field staff should be encouraged to obey lockdowns and other measures and directives by the authorities, without taking unnecessary risks.
They should also be provided with proper ID and authorisation documents as may be necessary for movement as may be prescribed by authorities
Proactively provide clarity and security for employees. Company-wide memo and communications should be should be crafted top communicate (a) to (d) above and more, including working week, working hours, expense and cost management, expected reporting mode/timing, etc.
Communicate what will (or might happen to) wages and salary. A special issue to be communicated is about compensation. It is a bit difficult to make any guarantee in this respect, and there is no general pattern. Some companies can afford to keep paying (full or in part) for a fairly long time, while others don’t have that scope.
Whatever is the situation, it is much better to be clear about what will (or what may happen) to salary, wages and capped field force expense (float) within the scope of the crisis and immediately after. Same goes for security of positions and jobs. These can be addressed even as situations evolve.
Taking care of your business
Keep access open. We are in the healthcare industry and our products and services are critical to some patients, customers and institutions. So, as much as possible, we should enable and design processes to make them available despite the constraints. Sales have to continue in order to generate income for running expenses (there will always be running expenses for any on-going concern and for operations immediately after COVID-19).
Focus on collection, building relationship and demand- generation. Collection do not often need physical presence as payments can be done online. But reps need to ask and, in some instances, may need to do “banking” for customers. Waiting till the end of the pandemic to demand for your money is risky and may bring financial grief.
The least is to put your company on the front burner by getting a payment plan effective in the first few weeks, post-crisis. The other planks include focusing on demand generation within the available resources, opportunities and reachable healthcare professionals, as well as creating and building relationship with customers, distributors, KOLs – after all they have more time in their hands. In this regard, phone calls, WhatsApp, teleconferencing, etc., are important.
Communicate transparently with your customers.
Everyone is facing this crisis together; so be transparent about what your business is going through. Customers can empathise with brands facing a crisis, as long as you communicate with them properly.
As Harvard Business Review reports, “When customers are separated from the work that’s being done behind the scenes to serve them, they appreciate the service less and then they value the service less.” Describe the steps you’re taking to mitigate risk and give them insight into the steps you’re taking to help the community.
Shift your sales strategy online. One major characteristic of the crisis is severe restriction of movement. It then becomes obvious to move ordering, communication, tracking, awareness creation, report/reporting, meeting, briefing, etc. into the cyberspace.
Assess your product portfolio. While the depth and duration of the impact of this crisis on the economy and individual lives is difficult to forecast, it is smart to start recovery planning ahead of time.
This could mean recalibrating your product line or rebalancing to increase focus on new opportunities and changing your channel strategy to be digitally-led. Companies with all products from India/China, products that are bulky, products with low margins are suffering, low stock-holding will more negatively affected.
Figure out where the opportunity lies. Like in every crisis, opportunities abound for those with well-tuned antennae and perspicacity. The starting point is to ask, what are the lessons to be learnt from this crisis that we were most unprepared for?
How is the environment reacting or likely to react? I predict that government and individuals will pay more attention to our very weak health system. How will you, your region and your company benefit from this? I expect immunity-building and supplements/nutraceuticals segments to grow as COVID-19 has exposed the limitations of orthodox medicine and therapy.
Clean up parts of your business that you’ve been neglecting or haven’t had time for. Control what you can control. Rather than focusing on how bad it is, focus on how you can use this time to connect with your future customers. This is also a good time to clean up all the little messes every small business has. Everyone has things they wish they could re-do. Now is the time to make those changes.
Tunde Oyeniran, a Sales/Marketing Strategist, Selling/Sales Management Trainer and Personal Coach (Sales Management) is the Lead Consultant, Ekini White Tulip Consulting Limited, Lagos. Feedback Channels: 080-2960-6103 (SMS/WhatsApp) /firstname.lastname@example.org or check https://fb.me/EkiniWhiteTulipConsulting