The coronavirus scare is working its way through the economy — I’m talking about the real economy, not the stock market — even affecting CRM.
At this point some vendors are canceling events rather than taking the risk of having thousands of customers, press and analysts descend on a city, swap microbes through the air for a few days, then go home and likely further spread the microbes, some of which could be the virus.
It’s simple epidemiology but naturally, I’m beyond that aspect and wondering what the longer-term impacts might be on the tech world and beyond.
It’s highly likely there will be some lasting impacts from the coronavirus outbreak. If history is a guide, it could enable new technologies and change how we communicate. To find a useful scenario as a guide, I went back 20 years to the turn of the century and the dot-com bust.
From Flagrant to Frugal
Back then our nascent industry was highly leveraged through venture capital. Initially, vendors were spending lavishly on travel and physical goods like T-shirts. Remember those? I could wax my car every week for a year and never use the same T-shirt twice. (One vendor followed up on a briefing by sending me cheesecake.) Ahh, the good old days!
When the music stopped and the VCs turned off the money spigot, economy became the order of the day. Vendors that had been spending a fortune on travel to sit down in person with analysts reduced their costs by adopting newfangled technology that enabled them to hold video conference calls.
Just like that, the analyst tour was scrapped in favor of video briefings that could be done any time. It saved a bundle of venture capital and probably helped a few companies to persevere. It also changed how we work, and launched a small industry of companies that could supply the services.
Today we have a travel slowdown and the same market forces are in play. The difference is that now our efforts aren’t aimed at saving money but at staying healthy.
Over the last few days some technology vendors, including some in the CRM space, have begun canceling events that were to be held in March. These are hard cancellations too, because you need to rent a building a year or more in advance, so rescheduling is a problem — someone else has the space reserved later. They might cancel too, and you don’t want that slot either.
What you do if you’re a vendor in this situation is not give up. You have information to bestow on the world that’s timely and educational and you can’t expect customers to buy your latest whiz-bang without some prodding and education.
Back in the day, when travel was curtailed, vendors got smart and found order-of-magnitude better and less expensive ways to communicate through conferencing. Were conferences as good as a live meeting? Probably not, because we still have meetings.
However, conference calls became an effective way of getting a message from one person to another (or a small group) and we found that we sometimes could make up with frequency what we once did with presence.
Audio and Video Gold
Today’s need is a little different in that we need to communicate one to many the way we do at shows, and truth be told we can do it all asynchronously, so the logical technology to come to the rescue is the podcast or the videocast.
I am not a big fan of sitting and watching TV for hours on end. I don’t stream, and I don’t binge-watch. Nothing says I have nothing else to do, to me, than binge-watching — but I accept that mine is not the majority viewpoint.
It seems logical to me that whatever investment that companies have made in video capture and production, as well as simple audio podcasts, likely will be redoubled in the year ahead.
They’ll have to up their games too — because if there’s anything worse than binge-watching a season of a TV show, it’s sitting through a recording of a one-hour slideshow from the last conference.
Production values matter, and that means brevity. Can a one-hour presentation be reduced to 10 or 15 minutes? I bet it can, and the rigor will make the information pop. The key will be in hiring people already trained in the medium.
I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think so. The idea has a couple of things going for it. First — and near and dear to many hearts — is that generating podcasts is a job that’s decentralized. Many departments can do it at once.
Even better, generating a bunch of podcasts and even videocasts is far less costly than getting a bunch of people assembled in a place and time, paying for some of their travel expenses and entertainment, and hoping they take good notes.
It’s a mystery to me if trade shows actually turn a profit. My instincts say they’re priced at a breakeven point because they are a marketing exercise. Yet they’re essential to customers that need the updates and education, and to the vendor for obvious reasons.
So I look at the current virus scare as an opportunity to reorder our industry in some subtle ways and, as always, those who are first into the fray will reap the most benefits.
Good luck and stay well.