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The Art of Sensitive Selling

5 thoughtful tips on marketing your small business during a crisis.

Being a small business owner is a big responsibility at the best of times, but in times of crisis, it can seem especially daunting. No matter the crisis your business is facing—whether it’s tied to public health, the environment, the economy, or anything else—it can be hard to know how to respond.

Your business might do phenomenally well because of a sudden change in external circumstance. Or you might struggle to make a sale. You may even have to close shop temporarily. Regardless of how your business is impacted, a crisis can put your sales and marketing strategy to the test.

When your business needs to navigate a crisis situation—short- or long-term—there are some guidelines you can follow to ensure that you are marketing and selling in a way that’s sensitive and respectful to your customers.

Create an honest, human connection

In our closely connected world, a crisis in another city or country can quickly impact your own local community, and you’ll want to connect with your customers on a more personal level. Smaller companies are uniquely positioned to be more agile than larger entities with crisis messaging. As a business owner, you have an opportunity to talk openly with your audience about how the situation is affecting you, your employees, and your operations.

If you’re struggling to communicate with a tone that feels natural, take pointers from the businesses that you think are doing it well. Everyone knows how jarring an ill-timed email or marketing message can feel. Studying both good and bad examples from other companies will help you avoid this mistake.

Selling isn’t always shouting from the rooftops about your products and services. It’s about creating and maintaining connections.

Build community and positivity

In times of crisis, business owners and marketers need to be more thoughtful than ever about their tone. A global pandemic is probably not the time to be snarky or sarcastic. Instead, focus on showing your customers a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy.

Or, think about creative ways to provide a bit of distraction, entertainment, and positivity. Can you use laughter or light-hearted messaging to create a bond? Consider your tone on a message-by-message basis to make sure you’re being appropriate in light of the circumstances.

You may want to support the communities or market segments impacted by a particular crisis, either with financial assistance or by volunteering. While you shouldn’t use your charitable work as a marketing tactic, do share any work you are doing within the community. Demonstrating that the ethics of your company are more than just about making money will resonate with your customers. It also provides an opportunity to partner with other businesses or community members to help make the world a better place, which can create goodwill that persists when the crisis has passed.

Ramp up customer service and support

A crisis is an important time to really listen to what your customers need. Take action only after identifying customer issues and determining how you can best help. The more problems your business can solve during the crisis, the better placed you will be later when it might be a more appropriate time for targeted marketing. The focus now should be about demonstrating genuine concern and providing support.

When it comes to answering client questions, don’t rush to answer without being fully informed. Send a holding message and think about the right response. Sit with it for a bit. If your initial response still seems correct and on-point when you return to it, press send.

Revisit the fundamentals, adapt as necessary

During a crisis might be a good time to revisit your business mission and the audience that you serve. Your customers’ behavior may have changed, but even during a crisis, there are still opportunities for businesses to sell and grow. By analyzing customer behavior alongside your original business mission, you might discover new opportunities to innovate and serve your audience in a different way.

It may be the case that selling your particular service or product during a crisis is not appropriate. In which case, how else can you keep customers engaged until it becomes a suitable time to sell again? Can you use this as an opportunity to do some preparation for what might be ahead? Be wary of the reactive impulse to offer discounts and freebies. Equally, be mindful about communicating too much, too quickly. It’s about setting a pace that is thoughtful and sustainable. You want to connect with your audience, not overwhelm them.

Focus on your customers

At the core, effective marketing and communications plans align with your business goals. While this won’t change during a crisis, how you engage with your audience should. The fundamentals of sensitive selling are not just in how sales and marketing materials are written but also how a company acts, starting from the top down. Ensure that you and your business are genuine, approachable, and focused on your customers.

Ultimately, the art of sensitive selling is not just about getting your business through a particular crisis. It’s about deepening relationships with your audience, aligning sales and marketing strategies with new business realities, and strengthening your company for the future.

Written for Mailchimp by Lucy Werner, author of business bestseller Hype Yourself and founder of The Wern, an official Mailchimp partner. Learn more about The Wern in our Experts Directory.

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