Commerce and business in general has been effectively shut down throughout the world as the result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Many businesses in retail, business to business, and hospitality have been forced to close for an indefinite period, because of the virus. Some of the hardest hit are the self-employed those in the travel sector and restaurant business.
The task of the chief executive officer (CEO) is to keep the business in being, by the use of capital reserves, loans, or government assistance for what is hopefully a short term period. For any CEO, the situation is bad enough, necessitating the marshalling of all resources while minimising all costs both fixed and variable, which invariably means reducing the wage bill. The laying off employees may reduce costs in the short term, but the fact is that employees are the most important asset that a business has, as they have the essential skills, experience and knowledge of the customer base. If a business is to revive quickly after the end of the shutdown, it will need its experienced workforce to generate income to replenish the coffers. Retaining as much of the work force as possible during the shutdown, with Government aid and or reduced salaries should be a priority in order to keep the business in being, ready to resume operations.
The problem is different for the commercial manager, who is responsible for producing a sustainable stream of profitable income for the long term future of the business. The commercial manager has to maintain an active market presence, so that when the commercial lockdown ends and demand returns, there is the opportunity to renew sales and the revenue stream. The present situation with the corona virus has not produced a manageable, gradual or rapid decline in business as in a conventional recession, but a sudden, immediate and complete cession of normal commercial activity, resulting in a serious reduction or complete cession of income, which is potentially disastrous for the organisation.
So what can the commercial manager do in this unprecedented situation?
Unfortunately there are no magic answers, but there are opportunities which may be considered.
* Where the organisation produces or supplies products, business may be maintained perhaps on a lower scale through mail order. Most organisations and shops now have an on-line business, so that provided products and distribution services are available, customers and service may still be maintained.
* Quickly diversifying into a different but allied product or service may provide an answer to maintaining business through other means. A small specialist manufacturer and installer of bespoke kitchen units in Bristol, lost 90 per cent of his business through cancellations resulting from the corona virus shut down. While putting the installation workforce into furlough, paid by the Government, he has successfully produced and is selling flat pack self-assembly desks for people who are currently forced to home work and home school.
* Many large companies will maintain their advertising schedule throughout the shut-down, but this is an expensive option, which other smaller businesses will find hard to maintain. If normal business has been curtailed because of a shut-down, communication with the market must be maintained by other means.
* Regular use of e-mail, social media, podcasts and webinars are cost effective ways of maintaining engagement with the customer base and the market in general, showing that the organisation is operating, and ready to supply customer requirements through their on-line system, or as soon as circumstances allow.
* Companies providing services need to maintain good communications with their market and customer base. In some market sectors, services can be maintained by on-line transactions, but in other sectors, such as travel, and hospitality, there is little opportunity for on-line business that will produce immediate revenue. In such circumstances, it is important to maintain the business profile in front of the market place. E-mails direct to the customer base can help to maintain the relationship. Social media can also provide an opportunity to display the business to the wider market and can direct interest to a web-site, where up to date information may be displayed. The advantage of this is that while general advertising may have to be curtailed for reasons of essential economy, web-sites, and social media can maintain customer and market communications, cost effectively.
While these are seriously testing times for businesses large and small, commercial managers can still make a difference by maintaining their customer base and market presence, so that when restrictions are eased, they will be able to resume satisfying customers and producing profitable income for the future of the business.