How to adapt your usual business style to work in unusual times
The year 2020 will be forever remembered as the ceaseless dumpster fire that upended virtually every aspect of our lives. A worldwide pandemic. Massive job loss. Months of nationwide protests. Highly divisive politics. Raging fires. Murder hornets. I’ll say that one again—MURDER HORNETS.
Prior to helping businesses to grow and thrive, I spent 20 years in behavioral profiling and have extensive experience with identifying and dealing with trauma responses. Who knew these two areas of expertise would intersect so critically in 2020?
Drawing from both disciplines, this article was written to help you deliver what your clients need during difficult times, so their businesses—and yours—can pivot and endure.
Nothing about this year is normal. So, it makes sense that your normal way of engaging with clients may not be working. Priorities have shifted. Emotions are intense. The only constant is uncertainty.
These are huge challenges, no doubt. But they’re not insurmountable if you learn to:
- Understand what’s going on
- Recognize how and why people’s behaviors change as a result
- Adapt your communication style and business approach accordingly
What we’re dealing with
This global viral pandemic has affected absolutely everyone’s lives, whether they’ve gotten sick or not. And there hasn’t been an end in sight for almost a year. Pair that with all the other impacts of the last year, from the unstable economy to politics to social unrest, and you’ve got yourself what we in the industry call a collective and cumulative trauma.
Unlike an isolated disaster, which impacts a localized group and has a foreseeable end (think hurricane or God forbid a school shooting), a collective trauma forces the wounded to help the wounded (think a battlefield during a World War). As the damage becomes more widespread, it gets harder for the physically, emotionally, and financially wounded to get the help they need—leading to more stress and more negative effects of that stress.
As if the collective disaster wasn’t enough, we’re experiencing the cumulative effects of having so many crises happening one on top of the other, with little to no breaks between them. Our bodies and minds were built to withstand single incidents of major stress, but when there is no time to process and recover from one crisis to the next we definitely don’t cope so well. When the daily news is so negative that consuming it regularly is known as “doomscrolling,” you know we’ve reached a new level of not good.
Ways people respond to trauma
We all respond to crisis in our own ways, exhibiting behaviors that fall within one of three reaction categories (queue middle school science class flashback).
I’m willing to bet we’ve all experienced the physical and emotional manifestations of flight, fight, and freeze reactions in 2020. Because 2020 is a special kind of nightmare, they’re likely happening on a loop, with new triggering events layering on and causing different responses.
Different types of events can trigger different responses for different people. Something that sends one person into fight mode might make another person withdraw. What leads one person to stop eating and to feel nervous might spark excessive drinking and emotional outbursts for someone else.
Complicating things even more, a crisis that inspires one person to rise to the challenge in a positive way can drop that same person into a dark place if the crisis is prolonged.
That’s part of what makes this pandemic so incredibly difficult for so many of us. Having to endure unpredictable stress and hardship month after month is incredibly exhausting. And when we’re exhausted, we’re more vulnerable to spiraling emotionally. This is why it’s so important during these times to pay attention to those around us and to reach out if they seem uncharacteristically off.
Okay, so now you know what’s going on, BUT you’re likely wondering “what the heck do I do about it?!”
Spoiler alert: Customers are people, too
Juuust kidding. OF COURSE you know customers are people. But, as we struggle during this crisis to keep up business as usual, it’s easy to forget that customers are going through the same difficulties we are and are personally experiencing the same range of reactions. That can create an impossible disconnect between what you’re offering to clients and what they’re emotionally and perhaps financially capable of considering.
To understand how to appeal to your clients during these trying times, you need to recognize what factors are motivating their decision making. According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, our actions are motivated by five categories of needs within a hierarchy, starting with the most basic physiological needs at the bottom.
You can see from the graphic how the layers gradually transition to more emotionally driven needs and ultimately to self-actualization at the very top. When any of the lower levels aren’t being met, it causes anxiety and preoccupation with filling the gap, making it nearly impossible to focus on the next layer up, whatever that may be.
Case in point: toilet paper hoarding. Remember that weirdness? A highly contagious respiratory virus circulated through our communities and we responded with a Supermarket Sweep run on toilet paper that led to stores having to limit rolls per customer. What the crap was that all about?
See level one of the pyramid—excretion. People need to poo. And when a perceived (then manufactured) shortage of toilet paper threatened that need, they were motivated to act. At that moment, those people weren’t focused on making friends or having sex or being respected. Instead, they focused on meeting that basic need. So, trying to sell them the secret to eternal beauty in that moment would have been a colossal failure.
The same principle applies to how you appeal to customers. To be successful, you have to talk to people based on where they are in the pyramid. Conversations about things at the top of the pyramid will fall on deaf ears with customers whose basic needs aren’t being met.
For example, a client who is worried about keeping the lights on (level 2) won’t be receptive to big, outside the box ideas geared toward business and even personal and spiritual growth. Once they’ve shifted to survival mode, you need to shift your approach and conversation to provide consistency and predictability and give them the NEXT SAFE STEP. That means leading them through a journey of baby steps that make them comfortable with progressing to the next level.
That said, you also need to recognize when a client simply is not in the brain space to move forward with your services. Consider it temporary. Move your focus to clients who are.
Strategies to adapt your business style
Whether your clients are in trauma-induced flight (aren’t responding), fight (are extra demanding), or freeze (won’t pull the trigger on projects) modes, these approaches will help you close the deal and experience consistent work and cash flow in your business.
- Stick to shorter contracts or projects—These uncertain times make long-term planning difficult and scary. Customers will be far more open to commitments of 2 to 4 weeks than ones that extend further into an unpredictable future.
- Propose recurring fees, not big price jumps—Now is not the time to upsell. Even customers who know your value may struggle to accept it right now. Don’t take it personally, IT’S NOT YOU. It’s 2020. Expected, recurring fees will seem more reasonable budget-wise and offer your clients much-needed predictability.
- Chunk out your services—Even if customers for whatever reason don’t recognize your true value, YOU SHOULD. So, avoid discounting your services, especially now. Instead, offer the total package at your normal rate, then, if necessary, determine what services you can subtract to get to a price that works for everyone.
- Diversify your services—Ideally, you do all the work and get paid accordingly (the done-for-you model). If that’s too much, try offering a done-WITH-you model in the form of coaching or live group courses. If even that model is too much, then consider building a DIY option like an eCourse that has the added benefit of allowing you fill out your funnel by offering the new educational content to other clients.
- Provide direction, not options—If your plane was going down, would you want the flight attendant to give you a bunch of options for what to do? No, you wouldn’t. You’d want them to tell you what to do because your decision-making abilities would be temporarily stunted. Your customers may be in a similar crisis mode now. If they feel overwhelmed with options, it could cause them to freeze and do nothing (aka say no). Instead, just tell them what they need to do next. You’re the expert. Guide them.
Don’t forget to check in with yourself and make time to process your own trauma responses. Your business is important. But your health and well-being are everything. If you’re not showing up as your best, your business will suffer.
If you’re not experiencing the same conversion and level of sales that you have in the past or your team isn’t performing as cohesively as they used to, complete this short assessment and then we’ll connect to see how I might be able to help you.