goofy image of pigeon carrying message under wing
PHOTO: fotomaster

Last year was a year of enormous transition as companies moved operations online and closed their offices. From a purely business perspective (setting aside the challenges of childcare, schooling and health management), most companies did reasonably well. Employees adapted to working from home, managing teams remotely, and swapping videoconferencing for in-person meetings. We celebrated those early successes, the lack of a commute, and working in sweatpants.  As the year wore on, we missed our in-person interactions, started talking about Zoom fatigue and exhaustion in general.

After almost of year of working remotely and living our work, social and educational lives on videoconference, we begin year two of the pandemic hopeful that we’ll all get vaccinated sooner rather than later, and that we’ll see some semblance of a return to normal within this year. At the same time, many of us are exhausted and worried about what normal will actually look like.

With this as a backdrop, we need to think about how we engage with our prospects and customers through another uncertain year.

5 Ways to Mix Up Your Customer Communication Tactics

As we move into year two, it’s time to change it up:

1. Find alternatives to hosting a webinar

Pre-pandemic, a webinar was a welcome break in the day — something different. Today it is just another video conference. It’s easy to see why webinar attendance is dropping off: most of the webinars I now attend have less than 20 attendees instead of the 75 or more pre-pandemic.

Related Article: Ideas for Marketers to Combat Webinar Fatigue

2. If you need to communicate with a prospect or customer, schedule the minimum time needed on their calendar

Try scheduling a phone call rather than a videoconference. If you are on a videoconference — don’t try and do other work at the same time. Trust me the other person sees you clicking around and your eyes moving all over the place. Let’s not bring bad habits from in-person meetings to the digital realm. Be present!

3. Personal, authentic connections are more important than ever

We’ve all gotten used to seeing each other informally dressed and sitting at our kitchen tables. The boundary between our business self and personal self is disappearing and in most cases that’s a good thing. The days of pretending I didn’t have children are gone — our lives are messy and we’re sharing that. This past year has heightened empathy and produced a sense that we’re all in this together.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion related to the differences in B2B and B2C marketing, Jorge Garcia of Akamai, posed the question “Aren’t we now really just H2H (human to human)?” The answer is so clearly yes and that’s a good thing. Connecting on a personal level leads to more trust, a better working relationship, and a much better understanding of what our customers need and want from us. As you approach your prospects, customers and colleagues take a moment to think about what you can do to make their lives a little easier or add something good to their day. I like the idea of booking a coffee meeting with a coffee gift card (this works really well if you are booking a catch-up or informational call — using this approach for a hard pitch is disingenuous). My son who is in sales has started including links to his favorite recipes in his email signature. This started when I made the infamous “reddit soup” over the holidays and he was inspired to try making it himself. Including recipes in his business emails has led to some great conversations. 

Related Article: Customer Experience Needs Empathy Now More Than Ever

4. Be helpful

Driving the customer journey, sales funnel and marketing automation are all critical to success but they can also lead to a highly structured and rigid set of parameters around customer engagement. Keep all of this in place but loosen up where you can in the spirit of “we’re all in this together.” Find ways to be helpful to your prospects and customers outside of these boundaries. 

Early in the pandemic we ran a LinkedIn campaign targeted at CMOs. The campaign itself failed miserably due to bad timing and the wrong messaging but it did trigger new LI connections, many of whom reached out to my co-founder just to chat about their career challenges or being laid off due to the pandemic. My co-founder, Sheryl, engaged with everyone who reached out knowing full well there was no business there. She had some wonderful conversations, and made some great contacts. Nine months later, those connections are reaching back out and this time there is a business opportunity. Sheryl’s initial motivation was just to be helpful and supportive in a difficult time — she had no expectation of any of these contacts turning into prospects. Over the last nine months we’ve accumulated many anecdotes about things we did that were outside the norm for us but ended up paying huge dividends in the end.

That old saying is true — you reap what you sow.

5. Switch up messaging

Now’s the time to double-down on “we save you time” if that is one of your core value-propositions. Besides health, time is the most precious resource we all have at the moment. If your product can make someone’s life easier or save them time, you should be all-in on that messaging. I very rarely write product reviews or comment on any particular technology but this month I felt compelled to do so. I wrote about my experience with Tugboat Logic, a platform that makes it easy to manage your security policies, process and respond to security requirements from enterprise customers. In the last two weeks we had a number of incoming requests for security information. As anyone selling to the enterprise knows, these requests usually involve very large questionnaires. For the first time, I took advantage of all that Tugboat has to offer and not only did it make responding to requests easy it saved me a ton of time. I got back an entire day that I’d allocated to this process.

Related Article: Marketing in a Time of Crises

Pandemic 2.0 = Innovation 2.0

The upside of hard-times is they tend to fuel innovation. We are starting to see that in martech, which is really exciting. Some examples:

Rethink your webinar experience

As noted above, webinars aren’t what they used to be, they are now just lost in a sea of video conference meetings. Existing companies are working to improve the experience and new companies are emerging to support delivering a more professional and engaging webinar and virtual conference experience. Check out ExperienceWelcome as an example.

Audio is hot!

Podcasts are well suited to our current environment and are great entertainment on a daily walk. But just like everything else, not everyone needs to produce a podcast. If there are already a number of great podcasts in your industry don’t start your own unless you have something really unique to bring to the table.  Instead, work to become a guest on podcasts that already exist.

New platforms are entering the market that go beyond the one-way communication of the podcast and enable users to essentially create their own “talk radio” shows. Capiche.fm is a great example. To see it in action check-out the MO Pros show. Clubhouse takes this one step further and wraps community around audio content. I’m excited to see both these platforms fully launch.

Direct mail is back in the mix

Suitable for both B2B and B2C, direct mail has come a long way since the days of shipping 10,000 pieces of identical material at one time. Today, new platforms make it possible to send small quantities and personalized mail on demand. GiftGoat is a new entrant in this space. With GiftGoat you can send a personalized handwritten note with the option to include a gift-card (see item 3 above).

Snackable content reigns

With time a precious commodity, snackable content reigns. This is not the time to write a book and expect that a prospect or customer will read it. This is the time to get creative with short bursts of meaningful content, consider short videos using a tool like Powtoon or create a web story (a new content format) with a tool like MakeStories.io.

We’re all still operating in a rapidly transforming environment. Though we may not know what lies ahead we can celebrate the innovations that help us make connections and can enjoy experimenting with new ways to engage and nurture our professional relationships.