COVID-19 has created a fundamental shift in how businesses interact with customers, forcing even the most traditional brick-and-mortar establishments to pivot to online tools in order to stay operational. And while some businesses like Trader Joe’s have stuck to their guns on staying offline, the majority of businesses have either adopted e-commerce practices or relied more on their existing systems than ever before.
However, your e-commerce portal is only effective if prospective customers can find you online.
Businesses should ensure that they’re easy to find online by building their online presence through a responsive website, search engine optimization (SEO), and proper online marketing practices that are most relevant to their team’s capabilities and their customers’ needs. They should then have the systems in place to manage those customers and enable their team to serve them.
Building Your Online Presence
It’s a basic requirement for a business to have a website these days. And websites are being stress tested as we all physically distance and look for content to consume from the comfort of our homes. This creates an opportunity for businesses to leverage these captive audiences through engaging content, value-add experiences, and buying opportunities.
An important website element is its searchability in Google, Bing, and other major platforms. If you don’t have and submit a Site Map, Google might not even know you exist.
Consider SEO best practices and tap into thought leaders in this space like Backlinko, Neil Patel, Moz, Ahrefs, Yoast, and Search Engine Land. Your website should be optimized for desktop and mobile viewing, as well as be fast to load, easy to navigate, and guided by a realistic and consistent content strategy to attract new and existing users.
Businesses can subsidize their on-page SEO by attracting visitors to the site from elsewhere on the internet. Build up your social media presence and post a variety of engaging content, some of which will link back to your site. Work on “backlinks,” which are links on other websites back to yours. Consider paid advertisements to build momentum with website viewership; focus these ads on your buyers’ intentions and giving them value based on what they care about most, or answer their burning questions as they relate to your industry. This will show your credibility, while opening the door for potential sales.
Creating an Online Storefront to Engage Your Customers
We’ve discussed ways you can improve traffic to your website and engage your users. However, what about making sales online? For businesses that traditionally sold offline, the shift to online sales can seem daunting.
Fortunately, there are several “plug-and-play” tools out there that businesses can complement their existing site with. A few options businesses should evaluate include Shopify, WooCommerce, Squarespace, and Wix. Some of these tools satisfy businesses’ needs for a complete website solution, while others will supplement existing websites as an add-on or new division of their site.
Organizing What Matters Most with a CRM Tool
While e-commerce is one important aspect, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can help your team stay aligned, collaborative, and consistent in a remote working environment. A CRM tool allows businesses to embed best practices, corporate data, and processes into one collaborative tool.
These tools are highly customizable and many integrate well with other essential business tools, like e-commerce portals, financial software, and project management tools. Conversely, CRMs can be sophisticated enough to replace those tools entirely, instead having all info under one platform, avoiding siloed data across multiple tools.
CRM platforms vary significantly from one another in terms of pricing, feature sets, specializations, and customizability. HubSpot CRM is a great free option with paid upgrades, while Microsoft Dynamics is ideal for businesses deeply invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem, Zoho CRM for their value-based low cost offerings and large suite of subproducts, and Salesforce for those that prefer the most customization and integration options due to their majority market share.
Whichever option you decide on, ensure you spend the time to plan your implementation and don’t rush the design. If you need help determining which CRM is right for you and how to implement it, drop us a line. We’re happy to help.
Supercharging Marketing with Automation & Personalization
CRMs and e-commerce portals work well together to feed each other information about customers’ buying patterns. A Marketing Automation tool will allow you to improve communication with your leads and customers to build trust and capture buying opportunities.
They automate a lot of what many marketers needed to do manually in the past and ensure those touch points are personalized and relevant to where that particular lead or customer is in the buying cycle.
HubSpot Marketing Hub, Adobe’s Marketo, and Salesforce’s Pardot are some of the top players in this space. Each tool has its own strengths based on your business’ size, utilized marketing channels, required sophistication, and whether you are B2B or B2C. Most marketing automation platforms offer features to supercharge your event, content, landing page, email, and social media marketing activities. The flagship offerings will also integrate with your CRM, however it’s worth investigating if this is a paid integration add-on or part of the core package you’re paying for upon engagement.
Training Grants to Upskill Employees
Implementing any of these tools will be an adjustment for your team. They’ll need the proper training required to make the most out of it. Whether it’s an online storefront, sales CRM, or a project management software, it’s important to enable your workforce to use it effectively and evolve the system alongside your business. The popular Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG) can cover eligible third-party training costs for employees looking to upskill and improve their knowledge of best practices and methodologies.
The training grant covers up to 50 to 83% of eligible third-party trainer costs to a maximum of $10,000 to $15,000 per trainee. Employers must apply and be approved before commencing training or issuing payment to the trainer.
Leveraging Export Marketing Grants to Fuel Outreach
One of the most popular Canadian government funding grants for export marketing is CanExport. Businesses targeting new international markets should strongly consider this program, as it covers up to 75% of eligible export marketing expenses.
Traditionally, this would involve trade show and travel-related costs, however due to COVID-19, applications are pivoting towards online marketing initiatives that are sensitive to that region’s unique culture and preferences. This includes SEO activities, marketing asset creation, website content translation, and country-specific website variants.
CanExport is stating they will review applications within 60 business days of submission, so it’s encouraged to submit an application as soon as possible. Applicants need to hold off on incurring expenses in their application’s budget until their application is reviewed. Our clients are leveraging this program to help their export sales and prepare for their recovery strategy, post-COVID-19.
Agri-Businesses: Funding for E-Commerce & CRM
The Ontario government has announced the Place to Grow stream, Agri-Food Open for E-Business (EDIT May 25, 2020: This program is now on pause). This is a targeted intake of the popular Ontario provincial agri-grant program that supports the adoption of online storefronts and digital tools to assist businesses in building their online presence, adopting collaborative digital tools, and selling their products online.
There are currently two streams of this program available:
- Bring Your Business Online: Provides a grant of up to $5,000 to eligible organizations/businesses to help establish an online presence.
- Develop Online Business Opportunities: Provides cost-share funding for up to 90 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum of $75,000 to develop e-business opportunities on a larger scale.
To be eligible, agri-businesses must be located and incorporated in Ontario and be committed to contribute cash towards the project, which must start on or after April 24, 2020. This is an ideal tool for businesses looking to adopt an online storefront, a CRM tool, a Marketing Automation System, and/or build their online presence; it will cover both the labour and contractor costs, as well as the licensing and software costs. Funding is expected to be allocated quickly. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about this program and we can help confirm your eligibility.
Prioritize the Highest Impact Activities
Every business is experiencing the effects of COVID-19 differently. Of all the possible changes you can make to your business, focus on what matters most to your business’ top needs. For brick-and-mortar stores dedicated to serving their customers online, that might be an e-commerce portal. For B2B corporations with long, complicated buying cycles, a CRM might be the largest game-changer.
Whichever you choose, please keep an eye on our COVID-19 Business Support Resources and subscribe to our Weekly Funding Newsletter to stay informed of possible Canadian government funding to support these key strategic investments.