Jon Bacon is the VP of Marketing for SureCall, a performance leader of cell phone signal boosters.
Unless you have been avoiding the news for the past couple of years, you already know the supply chain for manufacturers is a mess.
Raw material shortages are hurting everyone—businesses and consumers alike. The lack of computer chips is a global horror story. Companies are coping by adapting wherever possible, evaluating all possibilities and finding different suppliers if they can.
Supply chain issues also play out in different ways than just simple shortages. Businesses are looking a year or more down the road to try and anticipate needs, and many may increase production in anticipation. These companies can easily find themselves with sell-through issues and too much inventory on hand.
On top of all that, there’s not much a company can do to solve the underlying problem. You can have the most visionary leaders, the best product development, the savviest sales teams and the most dedicated customer service teams, but if you can’t get the materials you need, you will be stuck at the starting line.
For marketers, these challenges can leave us feeling stuck on the sidelines with no products or services to promote and no new campaigns to launch, but marketing teams have a significant role to play. Communication is key to weathering company disasters of all types, including overcoming unprecedented supply and production problems.
Your marketing team should be reaching out to three key audiences in order to keep people informed, updated and engaged with your company:
Manage Expectations With Your Customers
Communication during any kind of shortage is foundational to success. It’s important to keep people looking at your products and services while you are frantically trying to fill orders and source materials. As a marketer, it falls on you to keep your customers engaged with your company while managing expectations about availability or delivery.
Here’s something you may not find in any school textbooks but that is true nonetheless: Managing expectations is more important than hitting a deadline. We train students to believe that turning in assignments on time is virtually life-or-death, but in the real world, that’s simply not always true.
Managing expectations is a skill people ultimately learn in the workplace. It’s certainly important to be timely and deliver in a way that makes your end users happy. But your customers will often understand that you are facing challenges that are out of your control.
Crowdsourced products on websites like Kickstarter are great examples of this, and I believe they have been doing it the right way for years. Products rarely—if ever—hit their funding goals in time, and delays are almost expected. In my experience, successful creators keep communications open and let funders know what’s going on.
Marketing should take a similar proactive approach to dealing with customer expectations by communicating openly about their problems and solutions. Take advantage of the channels your customers like to use, including social media, your website and your email list.
Be Open About Challenges That Are Impacting The Company
As the lead communicators within a company, marketers should first prioritize managing expectations with senior management. Share ideas for messaging you could use within the company, with partners and to customers, and be open about what that messaging can (and can’t) accomplish with those audiences.
One of the key targets within the company is sales. Providing a clear picture of the rough seas ahead and what various groups within the organization are doing to address them will help sales manage expectations with their contacts, even if the ultimate answer is that the company can’t do much.
All of the other departments in the company will likewise appreciate proactive, honest communication. This will be especially important if the supply chain challenges result in the company needing to take drastic steps like reducing hours or worse, laying people off. Employees can manage bad news much better when they understand the background rather than when it comes out of the blue.
Although marketing won’t be responsible for making most employee-facing decisions, it will likely have the job of communicating the majority of them. Building and encouraging a culture of transparency is one of the most important things a marketing manager can do to help their team and company get through a rough patch.
Keep Your Partners In The Loop
Although your customers and employees might understand that your company is facing supply chain challenges, your partners will relate to the struggle on a completely different level. Communication will help bridge any problems that may arise.
Most of your partners will be key links in your business success, and you are likely to have long-term arrangements with at least a few of them. However, you should be nimble and willing to shift in order to keep your own doors open, which could potentially impact those foundational relationships.
As with employees, marketing has a key role to play in communicating with your partners. Transparency around your ordering and forecasting will help ensure people understand the specific challenges you are facing and put your best foot forward with new partners that are stepping in to help you fill orders. As with customers and employees alike, managing expectations now will save you headaches later.
Supply chain problems can cause significant ripples across all aspects of a business. Marketing has an important role to play in helping people understand just how those ripples are impacting your ability to deliver what people have come to expect from your company.