Carat's Megha Ahuja argues out that despite the gloom over India's economic outlook, SMBs are now getting serious about digital transformation thanks to COVID-19 and therein lies an opportunity for B2B marketers.  

In a world deluged by a health crisis, it has become increasingly difficult for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to stay afloat, let alone transform. Small business owners do not have the luxury of planning a digital transformation for their business as this is a reality that has been forced upon them without any warning.

Managing resources, supply and scouting new business has been a big challenge and these coupled with managing a home with little help makes it harder. Unfortunately, history gives no discounts. When the future of how industries operate is being decided, out there daily, business owners who are busy battling yesterday’s problem, will have to face consequences.

Chaos often makes people do things that Order does not

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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A survey report by Mckinsey & Company, on the Indian B2B decision maker’s response to COVID-19, found that India is the most optimistic country compared to other countries in APAC, Europe or Americas. A stark contrast to global rating agencies, who have not been optimistic about India’s growth. Moody’s has cut India’s growth projections in FY21 to 0% and Fitch has warned of a downward revision in India’s sovereign rating given the deterioration of the fiscal outlook for the market.

The Mckinsey report talks about Indian B2B company budgets and near term spends declining faster than the rest of APAC, with 70% of Indian companies reducing their marketing spend.

However, preference for digital is now 1.4x more than traditional sales interactions and remote selling is now the norm, with 70% of decision-makers believing it is as effective if not more so than pre-COVID-19 scenarios. And what is more encouraging is almost 56% are very likely to sustain these shifts in their sales model. Also, the revenue generated from the e-commerce channel for most B2B companies is up by nearly 15%.

Further, a study by SMB Group on the impact of COVID-19 on SMBs cited that online cloud-based business applications, web/video conferencing solutions, remote IT and access solutions, and real-time collaboration as providing the most value to SMBs in helping them to weather the storm.

Making it count in what is the new normal

Our present “new normal” is an uncertain period with nobody knowing when this will end and predicting the future is a fool’s game at best. However, there are some educated measures every business can take analysing the current trends and learning from past crises.

Contextual grouping > Segmentation

With the crisis affecting every industry differently, mere segmentation will not help. Enterprises offering solutions to SMB owners need to get into micro segmentations. They need to understand the customers and their dynamic needs. And businesses that can go a step further and get into refreshing their perspective regularly and grouping customers in groups based on changing contexts and arising needs will do better.

Being useful and relevant > Concept of thought leadership

Thought leadership seems a little lofty in terms of its ambition in the current times, as businesses are looking at partners that can keep things uncomplicated, less didactic and more empathetic in their messaging. Businesses that spend pedalling one size fits all solution to clients will be out of favour. The need of the hour will be to develop new and relevant solutions for new client groups and be flexible to modify them. Further, rapid prototyping will ensure first movers reap huge benefits.

Investing in businesses > Short-term incentives

With the flattening/declining demand curve, disrupted supply chains and uncertain policies, small business owners will need all the help they can get to transform or survive. Enterprises that offer an ecosystem that these business owners could tap into for knowledge and resources will see more business loyalty in the time to come. Incentives and Offers can only help in the short run and will ensure the relationship remains transactional instead of earning a long-term business partner.

Thoughtful connections > Aggressive marketing

A change in approach is much required where businesses will need to be lot more purposeful in their interactions which can be done by adopting a consultative approach in offering help and support to help businesses pivot and realign to the changes around them.