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> Stay the course or full speed ahead – what ship are you the captain of?

Executive Commentary, The Representor, Fall 2020

All of us want to be recognized as ‘the company’ that continues to get things done despite COVID and have others ask: ‘How do they do it?’

Walter E. Tobin, ERA CEO
wtobin@era.org
T: 617-901-4088

by Walter E. Tobin, ERA CEO

By now all of us want to emerge from our basements, bedrooms, attics, family rooms, kitchens — our so-called offices since early March — to get back to our normal, pre-COVID-19 lives. We dream of putting on business clothes, perhaps a collared shirt, maybe even a tie (Do I even remember how to tie a tie; full Windsor or half-Windsor knot?). We dream of wearing a suit … Gosh, no! I do not even remember where my suits are! But just think how good would it feel to put on our work attire, get in our car, stop at Starbucks, walk-in and order our favorite drink (no face mask) and head to the airport to fly somewhere to visit someone to talk about something …

Did we ever think we would miss the small and mundane things that we used to dread or even complained about? Do we miss being the Road Warrior who set out to win the day for our company, to bring in a new customer, to win a new design, to book an order, or just to see an old business friend/customer?

I never thought I would miss it — the action, the thrill of the hunt, the back and forth bartering and bantering, the satisfaction we get when we book the order, get an appointment, get our products approved for a new design, meet a new procurement professional, meet the new design engineer, sign that new line — all to make sure that our company is positioned to stay ahead of our competition. This is all while providing a living for our employees and our families.

So, what has really changed? Certainly, clothing!

We find ourselves living in a much more casual environment, sometimes perhaps too casual. We are meeting with folks now on Zoom and Teams calls, still face to face, just not in person.

Many of us have worked hard since March to develop a cadence with our customers, our manufacturers, our rep/channel partners and our own teams to keep us all aligned and connected. We are all to be applauded for being able to pivot to this “new abnormal” world.

What is it that we cannot do today? Not much. All the tools are in place for us to conduct business in this virtual world with others who are also in their own virtual world. They, too, are working hard to maintain their relationships with the U.S. on behalf of their companies; sometimes we forget that.

A major challenge that all of us are perhaps struggling with is how to find new customers, or new personnel at our existing customers, to get new products designed in, to get samples delivered, to get our new products approved. Those folks and companies who figure this out will be the winners. And others may be telling themselves that this is simply not possible without an in-person meeting, that this cannot be done today, only after we get out from under the restrictions of COVID-19.

So, it seems to me that we have only two choices. The first choice is STAY THE COURSE. Do what we can to maintain our book of business. Convince our principals that “we are doing all we can and working hard to grow, but the darn pandemic is just not allowing us to do our jobs!” After all, “we are best when we are out in front of the customer … hard for us to find new customers without being out and about … how can you expect me to grow your customer base when I cannot go and visit them?”

The second choice is FULL SPEED AHEAD. Accept that this “new abnormal” will be here for a while; perhaps another year! We can accept the restrictions of travel, customer visitations and that one-on-one, in-person interactions are way off. We can embrace the notion that a Zoom/Teams face-to-face call is the same as an in-person visit. We can learn how to do a virtual call correctly. We can plan for them like we would an in-person visit. We can make sure that we have up-to-date equipment and sufficient bandwidth to not get thrown off the air. We can try to have a professional venue in our home office to conduct business free from interruptions by other family members (the dog barking or the kids interrupting is no longer funny) and do this with professional and agnostic backgrounds to not polarize the other party. And then to bring these new skills into the post-COVID world, whenever that may be.

Our customers are also learning these new ways of doing business. Some may even embrace the video face-to-face call as the same as an in-person visit. They may not want you to visit as often or perhaps at all when that becomes possible. What would their reaction be if we insist on going back to the pre-COVID ways? You may risk losing a customer, a principle, or a key employee. Remember, your employees are looking to YOU as leaders to guide them, to teach them new tricks, to provide them with the latest and best IT tools, to empower them and to hold them accountable to their goals.

Our principles will not accept missed design goals, bookings and billings goals, funnel updates, etc., just because of COVID. All of us want to be recognized as “the company” that continues to get things done despite COVID and have others ask: “How do they do it?”

So, the choice is yours. Stay the course, be safe, do not rock the boat. The pandemic will end soon and we will be back in business.

OR … embrace the new world. Learn new ways of doing business; get good at it, practice, upgrade your tools, take your game to the next level. If you don’t, I guarantee that your competition is. Do not get left behind. Now is the time to accept that we will be in this for a lot longer than any of us had expected or wanted.

Hop on board, full speed ahead!

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