FOCUS ON BUSINESS
Changing Attitudes in the Post-Covid World
It’s time to consider more in-person visits.
Are we in the post-Covid world yet? That simple question will ignite both outrage and debate in many parts of the world. Yet in other places people are ripping off their masks and starting to resume normal life. This disconnect has significant implications for electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies and their marketing strategies. It also has implications for people not wishing to transition from temporary work-at-home settings.

I live in Texas, and our governor has made mask mandates illegal, so I have had a preview of the psychological changes that hit when people who have been masking up and hunkering down for over a year suddenly don’t have to do that anymore. I’m fully vaccinated and am choosing not to wear a mask. Once the mask mandate was lifted, stores switched to encouraging those not vaccinated to continue to wear masks, but that choice is left to patrons. The first week I went shopping without a mask, I was in the minority. Three weeks later, the aisles are full of maskless people. Even store employees are ripping off their masks. In short, attitudes on masking shift quickly once unmasking starts and case numbers continue to drop.

“From a sales standpoint,
home offices aren’t a new thing.
However, if the work-at-home
scenario was related to
Covid-driven policies,
consider returning to the office
as soon as allowed.”
In the EMS industry today, business travel is still limited. OEMs continue scheduling virtual tours. Salespeople are selling via Zoom or Teams calls. Trade shows are happening, but many companies are reluctant to exhibit, fearing low traffic. That creates both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is low traffic at shows is likely to be a reality as long as varying levels of restrictions (and vaccination levels) are in place. However, we are approaching a time when trade shows will return to normal, and exhibitors at those shows will get better than usual value. Early 2022 will definitely be in that zone. Shows in Fall 2021 may be as well. Shows that have moved into unattractive time slots late in the year may not do as well, as people are likely to focus on holiday activities and gatherings they couldn’t have last year.

One of the big drivers of trade show attendance in normal times is market uncertainty. Material constraints and shifts in demand typically increase attendance as people go to shows to network and see what others think about market challenges. We have materials constraints, demand spikes, logistics challenges and potentially an infusion of government money into infrastructure that will drive even more demand across a broad range of industries. And just as the trickle of maskless folks in my local stores shifted to a surge as people got comfortable with a return to normal, I think the business travel shift will be equally fast. From my observations, people who have traveled in the past for their jobs seem to be getting vaccinated. So, the beginnings of a return to discretionary business travel are in place. Since vacation travel doesn’t seem to be causing super spreader events, it’s likely that corporate travel policies will start to relax fairly quickly.

Consequently, start picking the shows that will likely have the best networking attendees. Shows with strong conferences or that have been target industry networking hotspots in the past are good options. An interim strategy with low risk is walking industry shows to view traffic patterns. Another way to gauge potential attendee mindset is to have sales team members ask prospects about their company’s trade show attendance plans.

On the sales side, consider more in-person visits. This timing needs to be customer-driven, since their policies will dictate when face-to-face meetings start. However, it is time to ask about customer preferences for telecom or in-person meetings. In-person meetings build better relationships, and once people accept the idea of a return to normal, there seems to be an affinity for like-minded people. Consequently, if your team is setting up Zoom calls and your competitor’s team is buying a prospect lunch or dinner, they may have the inside track on that fear-free interaction. That said, if a prospect prefers teleconferences, don’t push. People with a shelter-in-place mindset won’t like pressure to change.

The final area I see as concerning is employment. Many sales and marketing teams have been working from home. From a sales standpoint, home offices aren’t a new thing. Many salespeople worked remotely pre-Covid because a large part of the job involved travel to a regional customer base. If that was the case pre-Covid, there is no downside to continuing to work from home. However, if the work-at-home scenario was related to Covid-driven policies, consider returning to the office as soon as allowed. There is discussion about a “great resignation” period as people who like working at home switch to employers that will enable that lifestyle, but I honestly think those who make a job change this summer to continue to work from home will be blindsided by the speed at which the market shifts back to normal expectations for work environments. Work-at-home employees are easier to lay off because they aren’t getting the same level of face time as those in the office. In some cases, those jobs will also be easier to shift to automation as artificial intelligence (AI) tools improve. In short, make career decisions after the return to normal, not to avoid the return to normal.

In today’s changing world, the best tool is common sense. I masked up and social distanced when there were few protections from Covid and my age group was high risk. I rolled the dice on vaccination (and it is not without risk) because I saw that as the best way to protect myself and get back to normal. Everyone will make these adjustments differently. Some will do it independently; others will wait until a majority of people they interact with make the change. The one element of certainty is that shift is underway. Start thinking about what a return to normal looks like for your business now and you’ll be adequately prepared.

Susan Mucha Portrait
Susan Mucha
is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (powell-muchaconsulting.com), a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; smucha@powell-muchaconsulting.com.