The “NEW” in New Normal

Human beings like things to either stay the same or return to the same after an upheaval. So, it’s only natural that as Covid wanes and business resumes its normal pace, that we’d expect to do things the way we did them pre-2020. But we won’t.

The upheaval was long

If it takes 30 days to make a new habit (or break an old one), the Covid years were more than enough to thoroughly change the way we do business—and it’s not going away. If you are expecting 2022 and beyond to look like 2018, you’re in for a disappointment.

An essay in BMJ said, “A pandemic of an airborne infection, spread easily through social contact, assails relationships by drastically altering the ways through which humans interact.” And years of that kind of altered interaction have left their mark.

Consider these points:

  • Are you leery of hand-shakes? Using the elbow bump? (Though that sounds suspect, as well, as we’ve learned to cough into them!)
  • When is the last time you hugged an acquaintance?
  • Does Zoom or any other virtual communication bother you anymore?
  • Have you been to a party that includes people outside your immediate circle lately?
  • How much do you order online, as opposed to in-person, these days?

Our society used to be very much a social experience. But locking down and isolating from each other for weeks or months on end took its toll.

We’ve forgotten how

Another point the British essayists brought up was the unfortunate term social distancing – rather than physical distancing.

“The equation of physical distance with social distance was regrettable, since only physical proximity causes viral transmission, whereas many forms of social proximity are minimal risk, and are crucial to maintaining relationships supportive of health and well-being,” they wrote.

We had no choice

We moved online during Covid as never before. It’s estimated that social media usage increased by 60% among both individuals and businesses during the pandemic because we had no choice. If we wanted to communicate, we had to interact digitally.

Live streaming used to be something only the young wanted. But 45% of small businesses pivoted towards it in order to interact with their customers and keep their services relevant. (See the column by Linley McConnell this month on using video in your communications for some tips.) We couldn’t visit each other, but we still wanted to see each other—perhaps more than ever.

Business relationships also moved online, with email, online ordering, and 24/7 communications options. Suddenly, anything and everything could be ordered online without ever interacting with a human being (unless you wanted to) and customers became comfortable ordering everything from dinner to large pieces of equipment.

An article about how Covid-19 changed business buying relationships reported the results of a recent McKinsey study. “Business-to-Business [B2B] customers are more comfortable in making large purchases and reorders online, and that shows a maturity in digital sales today. … B2B customers are willing to independently purchase new items online in excess of $50,000, and 27% of buyers are comfortable purchasing in excess of $500,000. Once a buyer experiences a simple, seamless, and satisfying online business purchase, there’s no going back to the old way. A new habit is cemented.”

And now that we can choose?

Companies across the spectrum have realized that digital is the way of the future. Even this magazine moved from print to digital in the early days of the pandemic in order to continue to bring you news and information in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Sales leaders had to move their workforce from in-person meetings to online overnight.

It had a profound effect. The same B2B article stated, “More than 80% of B2B buyers hope not to return to face-to-face interaction.”

That changes the game entirely. Whole sectors of the economy will be affected going forward if salespeople stay online, buyers find it more efficient to not sit and chat with a representative, and traveling between clients is a thing of the past.

If you like to see your sales reps, let them know!

And if you’re a sales rep, you’ll need to feel your way forward carefully. Every customer will have a different Covid experience, and some will prefer to keep you at arm’s length. It doesn’t mean the business is gone, it’s just moved to a new channel and you’d best be part of it.

Are you on or off?

A great deal of winnowing occurred due to the pandemic, and some experts estimate that up to one-third of the plants in Canada closed for good because of it. Those that are still in business are the ones that were able to be nimble when it came to switching gears. They gave their customers what they needed in the way they needed it. And the smart ones will keep that up.

How’s your tech savvy these days? After years of learning to log in, zoom over, and create online channels, you should be a pro. Going forward will not be the same as the not-so-long-ago days we all seem to be watching for. It’s the NEW part of the New Normal, and if you embrace it, maybe in a few years we’ll be calling it the Better Normal.

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