Gary Specter of Adobe: Empathy for Customers is Vital in Post Corona Economy

In response to the ongoing crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, many technology vendors small and midsize businesses depend for growing their businesses in good times are providing them with additional support in what may be the toughest time ever.  One of those vendors is Adobe, who recently announced a set of initiatives to help SMBs that include free use of some their platforms for three months, as well as free digital training opportunities.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to do a LinkedIn Live conversation with Gary Specter, Vice President of Global Commercial Business at Adobe, to learn more about the program, and to hear his thoughts on how SMBs can better position themselves for what will likely end up being a much different business environment and set of customer expectations once the country opens back up for business.

Below is an edited transcript from our conversation.  To hear the full interview watch the video or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

Gary Specter: I would really bucket the types of customers and prospects that we’re talking to on the commerce side in three different ways. The first is we see organizations that have business models that relied exclusively on in-person selling or in-person customer transactions. And obviously the reaction that they’re having is, how do I move to a digital strategy sooner than later, right? And then you’ve got another subset that were pretty well established, they had a good digital strategy and they’re looking to accelerate that strategy, and think about ways of expanding that. And then you had really a third type, in my mind, where they had capital and existing websites and they were aggressively ramping their digital marketing and advertising and now they want to accelerate that. And we’re sort of seeing that in all three areas.

What I think is interesting is that these companies are thinking about it in two different ways, which is, what do I do now? How do I get through the current situation? And I think that’s a little hard because we don’t know how long it’s going to last. And I think it varies from region to region. But I think a lot of them are starting to say, what am I going to do after? Because I’m pretty sure that business isn’t going to go back to the way we did in December, January. The pandemic here I think is going to leave a mark, and it’s going to change the way SMB businesses, one, interact with their clients. It’s going to change the way they think about their route to market. And it’s going to change the way they invest. And so most of the companies that we’re talking to are thinking not just short term, what do I do? But long-term, once I get through this, what do I do to ramp and get my revenue back up to where it was and beyond knowing that the business model’s going to change?

Small Business Trends: One of the things that I’ve been noticing, and even as a consumer here, and doing things like contactless delivery or a contactless service. Even shopping for groceries online. A lot of people before this happened, you could have shopped for groceries online, but you just didn’t because a lot of folks were like, why would I shop for groceries online? I could go out to the store. I don’t have to do this online. But then you have a situation like what we’re facing now, where a lot of instances you can’t get out to the store, you don’t want to get out. You don’t even feel safe. And so you start to do online shopping for groceries.

Do you see, once we do get past the pandemic that, hey, maybe there’s some folks who said, I never thought about doing it before, but now that they had to do it during the pandemic, once the pandemic is over the say ‘Hey, this online grocery shopping ain’t bad. Maybe I’ll stick to this’.

Gary Specter: Yeah, I don’t know exactly what I would call it, but I think it’s consumer confidence. So people are going to do things online now that they didn’t either have the confidence or the interest in doing before. There was always this, well, will it work? And grocery shopping is a prime example. My wife shops at a grocery store online and a farm online, where she goes and the farm says what it has available every night. She can place an order and either have it delivered or she can go pick it up. They give her a slot, a time. They say be here between seven and eight, text this number and we will bring your order out to your car. Or she can just have it delivered. And that’s just one example. I’m seeing, there are sporting good companies that are changing the way that people think about buying sporting goods.

I mean, it’s across the board from education to healthcare, hard goods, services. I think there is going to be this comfort level that, you know what, I can do these things online. I don’t need to go to a physical store. And I do think that’s going to leave a mark. And I think that if I was an SMB company today, I would be rethinking my digital strategy, not just on the commerce side. But, how do I provide information or market to specific segments that I know their behaviors have now changed, right? And I think most people would say, my parents, for example, have a hard time shopping online.

They just didn’t grow up with the internet. And both my mom and my dad have had an education now in a digital world. And I think that they have realized that this actually makes their world easier. They’re a little bit older and getting in the car and going to the grocery store is not so easy from my mom. And I think she’s now discovered that she doesn’t have to. So I think you need to fit the demographics of the people that were leveraging technology or digital footprint before and realize that that’s going to change. And I think change is permanently. Maybe not completely, but it certainly does change the curve.

Small Business Trends: Business in general I think is going to have to reshape and take into consideration the things that are going to change permanently and how they can fit their business model to take the most advantage of those changes. But in the meantime, what is Adobe doing to help your SMB customers in the middle of the crisis to help them get to the other side?

Gary Specter: So we moved, what I think was fairly fast, within the first week and a half, two weeks of really the lockdown starting. We did two things from a licensing perspective. We released two programs both for Magento and Marketo where we allowed people to buy Magento cloud or Marketo. And we provided the first three months of the license for free. We also built launch packages for Marketo and Magento where we could get a site up and running in 14 days. Was a very low cost of entry. And then a launch package on the Marketo side. In addition, we also enabled people to take free training for both Magento and Marketo. So not only could you have access to the software, get a site up and running. Or on the Marketo side, get an instant setup and start doing some marketing automation.

But we provided training online for free so that people could make sure that they’ve got their resources are learning how to leverage and utilize the technology. So those were some of the things that we did right off the bat. I think that there’s things I’m already thinking about for the next step. Again, depending on how long this lasts. I’d like my SMB, our partners, our clients, as well as our prospects, to know we’re in it with them. And I think that SMB is probably hit particularly hard by this virus just by the nature of the fact that they are smaller.

So we’ve got to be very, very creative in helping find positive outcomes for our clients. And one of the things that I love about Adobe is the creativity that they’ve allowed us in an effort to continue to think through ways that we can help these people. But that’s where we started, and I’m certain it’s not where we’ll end. I think as this thing continues to evolve in different regions, we’ll look at different ways of trying to help our SMB clients and partners and prospects in different ways.

Small Business Trends: What do you think are some of the more important things for SMBs to pick up, learn in this particular timeframe that’ll help them once we’re able to get past the current crisis and get back to business as usual? Well business maybe as a new usual.

Gary Specter: Right. I’ll sort of state the obvious first, which is obviously we’re in uncharted territory. I can’t think of any… Well definitely not in my lifetime have I ever experienced anything like this. And I think that the biggest thing or the most important thing, again, I’ll state the obvious. Which is, everybody I think, there’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in the world right now. And I think having empathy and trying to understand what people are going through is really important. Putting yourself in the shoes of the buyer, which is what I’m trying to do with our buyers. And it’s what I would tell SMB companies to do, is put yourself in the shoes of the people that you’re trying to serve. And understand with a little bit of empathy what they’re going through and then try to figure out how you can help them as they work through this.

I think, obviously everybody has to take a look at how they operationalize, how they message to their target audience. How you reward loyal customers. And really how you operate in this new reality. And the thing that makes it more unique to me than anything else is it’s going to continue to evolve. I mean, maybe it ends in two weeks and we flatten the curve and everybody goes back to work in June and July. And if that happens, and that’s my hope, and I’m sure everybody else’s hope as well, it still changes the way that we’re going to operate. We will never operate like we did in January or December of last year. So really those are the things that I would work on. I think that continue to build trust, provide accurate information and be transparent about what it is that you’re trying to do as a business and how best to help your clients.

And really, again, I just think being open and honest about the services, the products that you’re trying to deliver and how you’re going to go about that so that you’re setting the right expectations going forward. If I was an SMB commerce retailer, I would be focusing on usability versus design. Prioritizing the overall site performance on mobile. I know that a lot of the shopping that I’m doing now is on mobile. Web experiences that ensure the basics of being able to browse and buy. Focus on your data and your fundamentals, because you’re pointing out something that’s incredibly important, 30% of these people had never shopped online.

And it’s interesting I saw a report of the types of products that have completely just, like health equipment, gym equipment, has seen a 300% increase online. Bread makers went up 300%, right? So the things that people had not previously purchased online, everything’s moving to that. Which leads you to the last piece of this, I’d sure be optimizing my buy online pickup in store right now. Again, to your point in what we’ve said here a couple of times is, when we come out of this, I think behaviors are going to change. And the expectation of just how powerful commerce in a digital format is.

The potential is unlimited. So I would focus on those things. Usability, data and fundamentals, and making sure that you are able to transact in a way that people would expect, including buy online, pickup in store, buy online, ship to store, all of those things.

Small Business Trends: It seemed like there was already a convergence of B2B and B2C before this pandemic hit. Do you see an acceleration of that convergence because of this?

Gary Specter: I do. I think businesses are going to change the way they act particularly, and I don’t want to say the changes in SMB will be different than enterprise, I guess is the best way to say it. And I think the expectations will be different. And in the B2B world, I think now people are going to realize you can do B2B business online. And maybe I don’t need to meet face-to-face as often with the businesses that I’m choosing to do business with as a B2B business. And so I think there’s an opportunity here to accelerate those capabilities and take advantage of this situation, if you will, to be better future prepared and future-proof the way that you run your business. Who’s to say this doesn’t happen again in a year and a half or two years. And if you’ve already transitioned to a digital world and you’ve created a great digital strategy and enabled the ability to run your business digitally, you’re probably in a safer, better place.

Small Business Trends: I agree with all of that. And I also think maybe it gives people time to think about changing their business model from being transaction-centric to actually fully relationship-centric. Because a lot of companies before all of this, it seemed to me were really focused on the transaction. We all have to make money, totally understand that. But when at times like this, if your transaction focused and not relationship focused, there’s no reason for a customer to want to do business with you if all they felt you looked at them at was, is if you were just a wallet. As opposed to real people with real problems and needing a partner, not just somebody who wants me to swipe my credit card at the end of the day.

Gary Specter: Yeah, for sure. And it goes back to what I said earlier is, I think that empathy and loyalty, right? I’d mentioned, I said loyalty I think it’s going to become much more important. And I really think it is. I mean, people remember, who was able to help me when I needed the help, right? The grocery stores in which I was able to buy most of the groceries that I wanted. I’m not going to forget them tomorrow. I should say my wife will, she may continue to deal with them when this is all of a sudden gone, as opposed to the one that’s right down the street that wasn’t able to help us. So again, I think loyalty and empathy are incredibly important right now. And those are some of the things that I would be thinking about in terms of retaining my customer base. Because it’s your customer base that’s going to get you through this. It’s not your net new customers that are going to get you through this.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

More in:

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.