The global pandemic brought us disruption, heightened anxiety, and a permeating uncertainty no one saw coming. However, there have been silver linings: new ways of working, more time with family, and a true pause to reflect on how we do business in this brave new digital world.
The pandemic also ushered in something unexpected: the ability to connect on a more human level. It created space for empathy for one another and our range of challenging circumstances. Every day we meet with colleagues and clients over video conferencing and gain a window into their world. We see their kids’ artwork on the walls, we see those kids climbing on their lap, peering curiously at strangers on the screen. We see their homes and lives. We see people struggling and juggling competing demands—personal and professional. We see their complete lives close-up.
It represents one of the great ironies of the business-to-business (B2B) world. It’s easy to forget no matter how big the companies you are marketing to, no matter how many billions or trillions their market cap is worth, no matter how many offices and employees they have—you’re still marketing and selling to individuals. People. In a world full of automation, with unprecedented amounts of data and intel, it’s tempting to rely on predictive insights to generate pipeline and revenue. That’s the incomplete approach. People are uncertain, nervous, and a better path forward is to invest and build your relationships during these nerve-racking times.
The B2B companies that thrived throughout this pandemic are those that prioritized relationships over their revenue and became trusted confidants during this crisis. Even with the pandemic end in sight, we can’t go back to a mindset solely focused on revenue.
1. (Actually) Listen; Hear How the People You Care About Have Been Impacted
We should always be working to understand our customers and their problems. It’s even more important during difficult days. But don’t stop at professional points. Ask yourself: does my customer have a family? If so, how is working freedom at home impacting them? As some companies debate whether to return to the office and the old way of working, many workers are concerned. Truly put yourselves in their shoes and try to understand their daily concerns.
Then take it a step further: call them unexpectedly to discuss how the current state of things is impacting them. Listen and create space for them. Make it your mission to fully understand the issues they’re facing and how they’re tackling them. Share the challenges you’ve faced, too. Vulnerability can strengthen a relationship and build an authentic connection. You’ll come out of these meetings with a better perspective, your customer will feel heard, and your relationship will deepen.
2. Define Success Differently
We’ve come a long way since April 2020, and it appears much of the economy is out of the woods of the pandemic. But there is still uncertainty caused by the Delta variant, and we could be in for a second, long COVID-19 winter. That can put the brakes on the recovery.
The knee-jerk reaction to a downturn is to crank up sales and try to sell more as some customers churn or potential buyers lose interest. But if a new variant causes another dip, then that is not the time to be an aggressive salesperson. It’s an opportunity to become a customer confidant and understand what success is for the individual. Ask yourself: what does your customer want to achieve in their career, short and long term? How can I help them achieve those goals? Orient your objectives and center on how your customer achieves their goals, rather than focusing on your internal relationship metrics.
We all have Marketing Qualified Leads, sales quotas, and KPIs to meet. But the leaders who can prioritize how their customers become successful over those hard metrics are going to become long-term, trusted advisors that customers can rely on.
Think about simple metrics you can include in your KPIs, such as how many of your customers achieved their goal because of you (personal or professional). Here’s a great example: One of my colleagues, after speaking with a customer who was struggling to find daycare in a new town, spent a few hours researching and assembling options and sent them to the client. That’s the right thing to do. But it’s also the kind of meaningful action that can build brand loyalty and set companies up for long-term success.
Talk to your team about new metrics for qualitative engagement and interaction with customers—and make sure you’re all accountable for these new relationship-based KPIs.
3. Foster a Culture of Empathetic Leadership
So many lines have been blurred during the pandemic. It’s hard to separate the personal from the professional. Work used to be a place where we only presented one side of ourselves, but that is no longer the case after the pandemic. The best leaders are learning more about their employees and their needs; they’re creating a culture based on empathy. Just as you do with customers, schedule time with your colleagues to understand how they’ve been impacted personally and professionally. Ask how you can make their lives easier and help them feel more supported. Ask what problems are the most concerning for them right now. Personally take action to help address them.
Employees who feel heard and who receive gratitude from their boss are more likely to be productive and produce higher-quality work. They’ll also be more receptive and empathetic to your customers, which is good for your company and your business. In fact, Harvard Business Review reported that the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10—while generating 50 percent more earnings. It’s up to leaders to adopt a relationship-centric approach, stop paying it lip service and elevate our empathy during uncertain times. It will help your business not only do good, but be good.
That’s a win-win we can all get behind.