Phases of pandemic recovery: Insights from the CMA B2B Council

Recently, a CMA thought leadership discussion introduced the notion that COVID-19 recovery phases might help Canadian marketers develop their COVID-19 recovery strategy. In late March, Nike announced its plan of four recovery phases, defining what they would be doing in each: 

  1. Containment 
  2. Recovery 
  3. Normalization 
  4. Return to Growth 

For most businesses, the key component of the Containment phase was work-from-home. But, the pandemic has affected businesses differently, which means phasing needs to be your own -- either in definition or in timing.  

We asked the CMA B2B Council members for their take on how recovery phasing may apply to their business, or that of their clients: 

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We found our contact centre business was less affected by the pandemic than expected. Our Containment phase was WFH, which was a technology challenge even though we have been slowly working on that capability for two previous years. 

We’re in a second phase now that I would call ‘Experiment towards Normal’. For us, it’s a gradual move back to working in our sites and all the new protocols and processes associated with that. What we’ve gained is operational and organizational agility, making any future recovery much easier.  

Phase three will be more like ‘Recalibration’, where the new normal can be defined. We can plan for phase four from there. 

Bob Wyatt 
Optima Communications International 

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I recently attended a webinar that showcased an IDC study called Analyze the Future. The study noted that during the initial phase of COVID, companies focused on their continuity plans which included remote working, safety and keeping their businesses open. 

The next phase was cost optimization due to slower revenue and cash flows. The third phase was an unexpected but prolonged decline in revenue which focused on building business resiliency as we head into an economic recession. Government funding is slowing down, but many are still concerned about going to work. 

The fourth phase will see an increase in revenue as the wheels of the economy start moving, which will allow moderate to highly aggressive investment plans. Lastly, as businesses stabilize into a new normal, many will move towards a digital model. However, financial institutions are an essential service, so access to physical locations for those transactions that cannot be fulfilled digitally will be crucial. 

Dhaval Vediya 
CIBC 

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The initial phase was focused on the safety of our people. We got as many employees functioning at home as quickly as possible. At the same time, we were servicing and communicating frequently with our clients. Maintaining a visible, virtual, presence with our clients was key.  

Once we had our footing, we came together to adapt our priorities and define a 90-day deliverable plan. Improving digital delivery given the new environment was of paramount importance.  

Team members whose workloads had greatly diminished as a result of the pandemic were redeployed across the organization where demand was greater. 

As we see provinces and businesses start to open again, we are beginning to understand what the new norm may look like. “Cautious optimism” is now the theme. We'll take a slow, methodical, conscientious approach to return to office, returning only a small percentage of employees until greater confidence in the future is gained.  

Amanda Fickling 
Canada Life 

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At first, we thought the best approach was to focus on existing customers, because we assumed that new business was going to come to a halt. But we found we could still win new business, too. We discovered that the B2B industry experienced resilience during the pandemic, as it became clear that 70% of the economy was still running. We invested heavily at the start with clients who wanted to double-down on marketing, but now as we return to growth, as an agency, we are planning to double-down on winning new business. 

Part of the return phase means finding new ways to get in front of potential customers. For our clients, with tradeshows postponed until at least 2021, our conversations are focused on taking the investment clients make in tradeshows and applying that to new ways of driving new business. This challenge to us will help us gain a competitive advantage when it comes to winning new business. 

Steve Lendt
Motum B2B

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For our agency, work from home was already part of our culture, so we were very lucky to have the systems in place to allow us to quickly transition out of the office with minimal disruption to our staff or clients.   

For our clients, the communications approach was tailored to the level of impact COVID-19 had on each industry and organization. Some went through distinct phases of containment and damage analysis before redirection, reallocation and recovery. For some clients, a thoughtful shift in focus identified areas of their business where they could really add value for their customers – as a result, some became even busier than before.    

We’ve had many conversations internally, and with our clients, about “how you know” when you’ve reached a new phase, and there is no universal response. While an obvious answer might be return to baseline revenue, return to growth or a return to the office, there are less tangible markers for when it’s ok to run new promotions, launch a new product or open a new facility. For these clients, a number of economic, market sentiment, employee survey or government policy data points may be taken into consideration before deciding they have moved into a new “phase”. 

Janine Allen
Kaiser Lachance

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As the pandemic continues, three key imperatives remain: keeping our employees safe, keeping our customers connected, and driving the right priorities and investments as the economy slowly opens up. 

One area of success was the ability to pivot from one area of the business and focusing on accelerating others, particularly investing more digital-first capabilities to improve our customer experience end to end, including virtual tech support, contactless customer service. 

We continue to adapt and find new ways of operating our business with the three imperatives guiding us through this extraordinary time.  

Karen Nguyen 
Rogers 

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Tags: B2B, pandemic, recovery, business to business