How to deal with Covid-19 on an operational level

Ideas on how different operational teams can adapt to a crisis to ensure your business stays resilient during turbulent times

During a crisis, it’s natural to focus on the main line of defence: managing your cash and extending the runway. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about optimising your business in other areas. We’d like to give you some ideas on how each operational team can adapt to this situation and help your business stay resilient during these turbulent times.

Let’s start.


How should you deal with the current situation?

Media budget: If you cut your marketing budget, don’t cut it for all activities. Try to de-average instead.

  • Carefully analyse the marginal benefit per activity — ideally on the campaign level.
  • If you can’t get this kind of data, cut your upper-funnel budget first.
  • Retain lower-funnel activities as long as possible because they’re closer to the transaction

Lead generation: Events such as conferences and trade shows are all being cancelled and this is obviously bad for lead generation — especially B2B.

To continue generating leads, try the following online alternatives:

  • Content marketing and webinars.
  • Lower-funnel activities such as search engine advertising and retargeting
  • Account-Based Marketing — this is about to become cheaper than ever.

What are some potential opportunities?

New channels opening up: During the last financial crisis, TV advertising became more affordable for startups. We expect similar opportunities to show up this time.

  • Monitor click prices in the channels that are relevant to you.
  • Click prices are likely about to drop — with more people spending time online and lots of companies cutting marketing budgets, and it might be just the right time to scale your campaigns or test new channels.

Sales & Marketing alignment: This is a common issue in most B2B companies. With less pressure on the pipeline, take some time to do the following:

  • Review your process management between marketing and sales departments,
  • Tidy up your sales CRM and marketing automation flows.

MarTech Stack: Now is a good time to review your marketing tech infrastructure. On the one hand, you might be able to get rid of certain tools and license costs, on the other hand, it can be beneficial to prepare for after the crisis.

  • Get rid of technical debt in your marketing and tracking tools and build the infrastructure your team needs to scale again.


How should you deal with the current situation?

Budget cuts/customers less likely to invest: At the moment, no one knows how long this crisis is going to last.

As long as this uncertainty remains, decision-makers will struggle to commit to large/long-term contracts.

Companies will be looking for fast and measurable ROI, so keep the following points in mind:

  • Come prepared with arguments on why your product saves them money.
  • Think about how you can adapt your offering for an easier point of entry, such as offering “light versions” or early cancellation terms.
  • Show that you understand everyone’s situation by being as empathic and flexible as you can.

Fewer or no personal meetings and fairs: We can expect business travel to be very limited for at least the next few quarters. This will create substantial challenges, especially if you are selling to more old-fashioned industries.

  • Make sure you adapt your sales stack to allow for virtual meetings.
  • Prioritize video calls, otherwise use the phone, or email if you must.
  • If you’re going to use video to keep the human element, make sure you test for technical difficulties (e.g. firewalls, installation requirements, etc) before you roll out these solutions to your team.
  • Lead generation will most likely move online for now — we have more tips on that later.

Team attrition (uncertainty, low commissions): Some sales reps might be looking for other opportunities if their commission outlook deteriorates. This is especially true for top-performers.

  • Consider reducing their working time (“Kurzarbeit”) but increasing incentives to keep them happy whilst managing cash.

What are some potential opportunities?

The talent shortage might improve: Finding and hiring great salespeople has been one of the key challenges over the last years. This time might now come to end. With many companies having to go through headcount reductions, employee availability is likely to increase. Think about how much a vacant position costs you vs. hiring a top-notch sales rep a few months too early. Quality over quantity remains as important as ever, of course!

  • Use the quieter time to streamline processes and/or CRM (possibly introduce new CRM ) — the stuff you never had time for
  • Enablement: Use the time for sales training, coaching, role-plays and personal development. This might also help to keep the top talent you cannot lose.


What are some potential opportunities?

Clean-up your reporting landscape: As easy as it is to spin up another Tableau / Looker etc. report for each stakeholder request, the harder it gets to ensure all reports are maintained, updated and relevant.

  • This might be an ideal time to look at report usage statistics and determine what to kill and what to keep. This will make it easier for users to navigate your reporting tool.
  • Too often, we see end-users being overwhelmed by the abundance of available reports — make sure to guide them to the data they actually need.

Deep-dive analyses: With operational workload slowing down (e.g. in marketing) this can be a unique opportunity for you to fully understand meaningful relationships in your data.

  • Find out which campaign actually drives loyal clients, which product feature really improves conversion rate or which operational process has been a bottleneck for way too long.
  • Form deep-dive teams who combine domain knowledge and statistical expertise to derive impactful insights from your data that will set you up for post-corona success.

Server-side tracking: Everybody knows that web cookies are soon a thing of the past — yet somehow, only a few of us are actively preparing for this situation.

  • Use this difficult time to build a “server-side tracking” taskforce who can start logging and analysing web server requests and help reduce your dependency on third-party conversion and analytics tracking.
  • We’ve done a pilot on this internally and are happy to get you started.

Rethink data infrastructure: Time to get rid of the technical debt that you’ve been carrying with you far too long.

  • Take the time to strategically think about a scalable data infrastructure that actually fits your business’ needs —
  • Think about the systems you use for loading, storing, transforming, reporting, scheduling, documenting, and integrating your data.
  • To prepare for future scale, make a conscious decision to remove or add the relevant parts.

Product Management

How should you deal with the current situation?

The current situation will affect the main KPIs like sales, usage volumes, etc. Depending on the branch you are in, this might lead to an increase or decrease in business.

  • Rethink: Review your current roadmap and take the effect of reduced marketing activities into account. Reassess whether certain features are still feasible in this situation.
  • Ideate: Adapt your product development to the current situation. Look for opportunities to help users with your product, to inform them about crisis management activities, or to support those activities directly.
  • Reorganize: Adapt your IT development processes to remote working and conduct all your regular meetings remotely. Of course, communication is harder when it’s not face to face but there are many resources online there that can help — e.g. this video from Aula
  • Clean-Up: If you can’t think of activities help to bring in business right now, it might be a good time to:
    a) Do deep-dive data analyses (e.g. with Data-Teams).
    b) Build the assets for your product that daily business doesn’t usually allow.
    c) Clean-up all the unpolished details in your product.

What are some potential opportunities?

To build the features that matter the most, it’s crucial to listen to your users’ needs and worries.

  • Get feedback from your users as well as your customer service and operational teams. Find out what causes complaints or uncertainties and ideate on how to address these topics.
  • This might be as simple as creating a landing-page, updating FAQs or making other smaller adaptations to your product. Or you can make larger changes such as building growth-relevant features or making major modifications that help operations, marketing or brand teams.
  • Review and reprioritize your backlog. Some features might not be so relevant anymore so it can be a good time to build features that help in the crisis or prepare for the time after the crisis — e.g. by trying out innovative ideas or building new platforms.


How should you deal with the current situation?

Design teams will be impacted by changes to the roadmap and marketing strategy, and by special communication requirements.

  • Marketing Materials / New Features: Due to changes in the roadmap, design teams will have to work fast build up new marketing materials and keep up with adapted specifications for new features.
  • Build up: If time allows, it’s a good opportunity to: 
    a) Build up or clean up the design libraries and components.
    b) Extend the asset libraries.
    c) Redo the brand materials.
  • Love for the details: It’s also a good chance to review the status quo of your current product and focus on UI/UX details, devise new micro-interactions or boost your UIs with extra animations.

What are some potential opportunities?

If your product needs an upgrade, make sure that you take advantage of your design team’s creativity to better serve your customers’ needs.

  • Conduct design sprints to solve hard problems or build growth features.
  • Look for options to build landing pages that answer most customers’ most pressing questions.
  • Try to remove any uncertainty your customers might have about your product.

Update brand materials/asset libraries by talking to all departments that communicate now.

  • Ask them which assets and templates they need.
  • Use the time to review the UI and UX of your Homepage, App or Platform.
  • Check that the design is on-brand, the wording is correct and meaningful, and that user flows are smooth.
  • Check to see where micro-interactions can be applied, and where illustrations and videos can help to explain things in a better way.

Brand and Communications

How should you deal with the current situation?

Positioning: Successful brands (and business models) reflect people’s needs, which are currently changing dramatically in many aspects. In order to stay relevant, short- and long-term, B2C, as well as B2B brands, need to address these changes carefully yet decisively.

Tone & Behaviour: For almost all brands Covid-19 is immediately a matter of tone and behaviour. It’s crucial not to appear opportunistic or even try to cash-in on the crisis. Brands should rather act as good corporate citizens and communicate in a cool-headed yet relaxed manner.

Media: In times of lockdowns, out-of-home is maybe not the media of choice. Hence budgets should be shifted to digital media, linear TV or radio. Especially the latter are currently becoming more and more important due to their “real-time” dynamic or „Gleichzeitigkeit“ that somehow unifies the nation.

Production: Since shooting photos and videos in the real world isn’t really possible at the moment, it’s getting more difficult to produce marketing assets. Alternatives such as stock images, illustrations, typo-campaigns, animations or motion designs have to be explored.

What are some potential opportunities?

If a brand successfully addresses these changing needs and shows that it can be brave and helpful, that it can contribute to the public good and collaborate, that it can listen to its customers and to society in general, that it can react and communicate in an appropriate way, then this brand will most probably become stronger during the crisis. And this is as crucial since strong brands recovered 9 times faster than weaker brands following the financial crisis of 2008 (cf. BrandZ). So, keep investing in your brand and it will help you come back!

Human Resources

How should you deal with the current situation?

Remote skills: The current situation places more emphasis on skills like self-management and self-motivation. Also, you might need to support your leadership team more and help them figure out how to organize their teams remotely, how to sustain staff productivity and how to communicate effectively given the lack of personal contact.

Team cohesion: Now that there’s no small talk and personal contact, the relationships within your company might decay, especially between different teams. This has an impact on your company culture and staff commitment. Your HR and leadership team should come up with ways to foster these connections remotely.

Talent Acquisition

How should you deal with the current situation?

Uncertainty in hiring plans: If you’re not sure how well your company will navigate through the crisis and if you think you might need a change of direction anyway, you might want to consider working with externals instead of hiring permanent staff. It might seem more expensive to use externals rather than using your own employees, but they allow for lower staff deployment and more flexibility because you can increase or decrease headcount when needed.

No entry permit or visa problems: Due to entry bans and the closure of many German embassies, start dates for new employees could be delayed for an indefinite period of time. Try to keep your talent by hiring them on a freelance basis and onboarding them remotely.

No personal recruiting and networking events: Face-to-face events such as meetups will be very limited and will move online for the next few months. Think about different formats (video, podcasts) and use online channels more often to present your employer brand and attract talent.

What are some potential opportunities?

Focus on online recruiting: Due to the reduction of recruiting events and meetups, the focus is now even more on online channels and social networks. In addition, people currently spend a lot of time at home and in front of their laptops. Even if you’re already doing it, extend your online recruiting, address potential candidates directly and draw attention to your company.

Target affected industries: As a lot of businesses face financial challenges, we expect that many companies will be forced to downsize staff. Consequently, employee availability is likely to increase. Keep yourself updated on affected industries and companies then actively approach the relevant talent.

Stay safe out there

We know that some items on this list are common sense, and you might be acting on them already. But hopefully we’ve inspired you to do at least one extra thing that you weren’t considering.

Whatever you decide to do, we hope you and your families stay healthy and that you’re managing to find a way through this extraordinary situation.