Navigating a Brave New World

Mark L. Johnson / May 2020

By now you’ve seen a gazillion “we’re here to help” articles, emails and social media posts. Sorry for contributing one more to the pile. The ideas below, however, offer practical help at this time of drastic business change.

Succeed in Online Negotiations
If you’re negotiating deals online—on FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Skype or Zoom—the research says you are less likely to reach good business deals that way versus negotiating face-to-face. Why not? It’s hard to read the nuances of human communication, such as body language and the subtleties of eye contact. It’s just easier to end up at an impasse and lose trust during the interchange. Likely, you’ll leave money on the table in a videoconference.
    
What can you do? Get your adversary to agree to the process before beginning negotiations. Know when and how to take breaks to ease tensions, regain composure and recalibrate. Checkout the FastCompany article, “5 Practical Ways to Ace a Virtual Negotiation,” by Leigh Thompson, professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.

Use Zoom for Training
These days, you’ll have to do some safety and skills training online. Use Zoom for that. It’s the easiest video-sharing platform out there. Just be sure to use passwords and to limit who gets to share their screens.
    
Mohanbir Sawhney, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, has some helpful advice in the article, “Best Practices for Online Teaching with Zoom” on LinkedIn Pulse: Use dual monitors, high-quality Bluetooth headsets, put on a show, exaggerate your gestures and more.
    
“Look at the camera and not at your notes,” Sawhney says. “Think of the camera as your favorite student.”
    
Help your trainees to feel involved. Try to elevate their experience through regular virtual training sessions. It will be exciting for crews on different job sites to see one another.

Reboot Your Marketing Plan
Likely, your marketing plan is tied to your fiscal calendar. That makes sense, since sales and marketing campaigns need to match the pace of your work. Well, that pace has changed. Time to reboot.
    
Ask yourself, What are your goals in a world of commerce arrested by a pandemic? What messaging will make an impression in this context? What do people need as projects are being delayed and material and labor supplies are choked by stay-at-home restrictions?
    
Reboot your strategy, tactics and budgets. Decide which programs to cut. Invest in the tactics that you believe will work.
    
If I were you, I would focus on social media posting and on producing short videos. One of my building industry clients saw a 20 percent increase in new users and a 32 percent increase in pageviews just in the month of March—COVID-19 month. They followed a program of weekly emails and social postings. They also had a 132 percent increase in followers accessing their social media platforms in February and March over the prior two-month period.
    
Whatever you do, remember: You must continue to engage prospects and existing customers. Don’t slash your marketing budgets too heavily!

Make Better Decisions
We’re looking at a recession. But it may not be so dire.
    
FMI Corp. reviewed the forecasts from IHS Markit, Dodge, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and NAHB, which show a U.S. GDP drop of between 0.5 percent and 3.8 percent this year. Total engineering and construction spending for the United States will be down 1 percent in 2020, FMI projects.
    
However, FMI’s second quarter 2020 Nonresidential Construction Index at 53.2 remains optimistic. Others, too, are positive about the future. One consultant, Keith Prather with Pioneer IQ in Olathe, Kan., believes business will be “back to normal across the country by mid-May,” according to Construction Dive.
    
Even so, it’s hard to plan ahead. The danger exists that you become paralyzed in making decisions. Or, the opposite could occur: You run on pure gut instinct and on notions that are no longer relevant in this COVID-19 climate.
    
What can you do? Build three, maybe five forecast scenarios. Watch this FMI YouTube video to see what I’m talking about: youtu.be/3zajvYigE9g.
    
These are not easy times. So, get in control of what you can.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the walls and ceilings industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.