If you can’t sell right now, you may as well be generous

Coronavirus has frozen your business in place. Nobody’s buying. Nobody’s even able to buy. What should you do?

Be generous. Give stuff away to your customers.

It’s simple. The only real asset you still have is customer relationships. You also have workers — unless you’ve let them go — and those workers are used to serving customers. Why not let them do their jobs? The only thing missing is the part where you get paid. And, as you’re about to find out, for a little while, that’s not the important part.

What does this look like?

It looks like dozens of public speakers doing webinars and “office hours” to maintain a connection with their audience. That connection will pay off when the speaking circuit picks back up again. And if my own experience is any guide, you actually learn things from that audience — things that will be valuable for you when things restart.

It looks like McDonald’s UK and Burger King France publishing recipes for how to make their signature foods while quarantined at home.

It looks like PlanetFitness suggesting you connect with its free exercise app.

It’s HBO opening up streaming access to everybody for a month.

Or Delta extending your frequent flyer status by an entire year.

Or the New England Patriots using their private jet to fly in N95 masks from China for the medical professionals that need them.

This is what Shel Israel calls “Lethal Generosity” — giving great stuff away as a competitive strategy. But things have changed. When Shel wrote that, lethal generosity was one promising strategy. Now, for most companies, it is the only strategy.

You could try and grub a few bucks out of the last remaining customers who forgot to turn off their automated subscriptions.

But it’s going to be a few months until you can go back to the old, exploitive, repetitive, unimaginative marketing techniques that used to work with some people. The government is literally ready to pay you to keep your business operating. So what are going to do with that time and energy?

Give your customers something they need. Keep that relationship going. You may as well be nice.

Who knows, you might find it’s a worthwhile strategy even after things go back to something like the way they were.

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