A 60-day Crisis Communication Plan

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How do you communicate to customers and prospects during a time of severe societal and economic distress? Many will say there is no communication playbook for handling a crisis at the level of COVID-19. Well, they’re right…and wrong.

While Coronavirus takes on a severity unprecedented on any level, communicating through times of crisis and even panic is not new. In the last 25 years alone, we’ve seen a tech bubble burst, Y2K, massive disruption in energy markets, 9/11, war, and a financial crisis paralleled only by the Great Depression. Here is a simple 60-day communication plan to help your customers build confidence in you for the road ahead.

(Please note this does not apply to 7(a) lenders at this time. Those lenders are faced with an entirely different set of challenges we’ll be writing about in the next week or so).

Day 1: Communication 1: Empathy and Confidence First

Your customers are somewhere between severely disrupted and on fire. They need to be reassured of your strength and that this is not a crisis of financial infrastructure. Most of you have never been stronger and more capable withstanding adverse conditions than you are today. Next, your audience needs to understand your approach to helping—whether it’s existing customers or prospects. It is critical not to appear like you are ‘selling into a crisis”. We’ve seen too many communications take on the tone of “act now for low-cost refinancing” or “now is the time to seek funding outside your bank.” These are not great messages right now. Let them know you are healthy, have programs to help when the time is right, and until then, we are all in this together. Encourage conversations, not applications.

Day 14: Communication 2: Financial Implications of a COVID Economy

The CARES Act offers many of your customers access to emergency funding as a way to preserve basic operations and payroll. It’s important to quickly address the Paycheck Protection Program and link to those resources. If you don’t, you may get inundated with requests for funding your team doesn’t offer. Next, let them know you can help as they face urgent business decisions, like:

  • Invest in new technologies required to support the rapid shift to work-from-home and no-touch, limited interaction environments.
  • Clean up your revolving line of credit and increase availability by pulling fixed assets sitting in your line of credit into a low-payment equipment finance vehicle that fits into your cash flows
  • Acquire the equipment needed to rapidly increase the production of assets and supplies required by healthcare providers quickly and while maintaining cash flow levels

Speak to their business problems, and with a quick conversation, you are here to help when the time is right. Until then, they should stay safe and take care of their employees. Closing with continued empathy is critical throughout this plan.

Day 30: Communication 3: The Financial Implications of a COVID-19 Economy

Get a little more specific about how equipment financing can be a resource to drive cash and manage cash flow with ideas like:

  • Refinance or SLB of unencumbered assets to much-needed working capital
  • Deferred payment structures that allow the acquisition of technology now without the worry of payment while cash is most under pressure
  • Acquiring much needed WFH technologies at scale, simply and quickly with an equipment line of credit.

These solutions help solve urgent and pressing problems.  Go light on the over-promotion of the company, just reinforce that you are strong and here to help.

Day 45: Communication 4: The Slow Climb Back

Businesses will need to find a way forward, but with new ideas and new thinking around almost every aspect of what they do. Use this communication as a way to introduce concepts like operating leasing and other creative structures, driving equipment sales through vendor payment promotions, etc. It’s less about each idea applying to everyone in receipt of the communication and more about your delivery of ideas to help them when they need it most. Finally, close the email with an optimistic view and even challenge them to think about the climb back and the capital they’ll need to get there.

Day 60: Communication 5: Get moving

Whether we are returning to normal or have firmly established a new normal, businesses will have had to reimagine the way forward. Now is the time to remind them that during the financial crisis, the companies that planned for growth even during the downward slide of GDP, emerged far stronger on the other side. You can help them ‘gear up’ for those growth plans, while capital and cash flows are still under pressure. Then, ask for a meeting.

Depending on your audience, there are apparent nuances to be employed. Vendor, Small Ticket, Middle Market, Large Corp, Syndications—all should carry their flavor of this plan, but by using these five messages, you can add value, show the market a way forward and keep sales moving without looking like you are selling into the crisis.

Sawbux is a marketing firm that specializes in commercial finance. If you ever want to talk about this topic or anything like it, give us a holler.

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