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The post-COVID playbook: A new future for infection control

14 October 2020

JOSEPH COX looks at how technology can be used to help businesses in the cleaning and infection control sectors to anticipate trends and plan for the ‘new’ future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an unprecedented demand for cleaning products and infection control services, resulting in the sector having to both respond to this growth, while also adapting their services and products to comply with evolving customer needs and changing rules and regulations. As the UK starts to revert to a certain degree of ‘normality’, with schools returning, hospitality venues opening and many employees returning to their places of work, this demand shows no sign of declining – particularly as we head into the winter months.  

The infection and hygiene control sector is understandably one of the few that has seen significant growth since the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed on the UK in March 2020. Hand sanitiser and other antibacterial products are now common sights in any public area – from restaurants to theme parks to schools and offices – and have become a ‘don’t leave the house without it’ item for the general consumer.  

Although we have passed the days of panic buying following the initial outbreak of the pandemic – where figures from Kantar reported a 255% increase in demand for hand sanitiser – the reopening of many sectors of the economy, the return of full-time education, and the planned resumption of bigger events such as trade shows and allowing fans back into sports stadiums means the challenge of maintaining effective cleaning practices will be more crucial than ever. 

This is why now is an important time for cleaning products manufacturers and distributors, as they seek to both retain the gains they have made since the start of the crisis, and also use the learnings to anticipate where new or increased demand could come from.  

In a fast-moving and ever-evolving situation, planning for the future – particularly for SMEs in the sector – can be difficult when much of the time is spent reacting and responding to customer needs.  However, there are several ways sales-enablement software can help to better anticipate the ‘shelf life’ of new patterns of customer demand. 

What is sales-enablement software?

Hosted entirely in the cloud and accessible 24/7 from a laptop, tablet or smartphone with or without an internet connection, sales enablement software, such as the sales-i platform, gives users complete visibility into the inner workings of their business and customer base via a series of easy to digest dashboards. 

These detail up to the minute analytics on a wide range of customer sales metrics, allowing users to easily identify sales trends like top customers and best and worst selling product lines and anticipate opportunities to cross and up sell. 

What are the benefits? 
Unlike many sectors – which saw sales teams being pared back to the minimum during lockdown – the cleaning and hygiene sector has had to find ways respond to increased demand. 

Here, increased tech adoption can help to lighten the load. There is a particular benefit for smaller players, many of whom simply haven’t had the time or resources to make any sense of the huge amounts of customer data they hold – let alone proactively interpret it to drive better sales. Given the increased demand across the sector, sales enablement software will be a particularly compelling proposition for many given its ease of adoption and ability to deliver actionable customer sales insights from day one.

For example, it can be used to facilitate data-driven conversations with customers, ultimately helping the sales team to sell better and forge stronger client relationships.  The benefits are compelling – typically, we find that the average business using our software can expect to enjoy an increase in total sales volume of as much as 20 per cent or more, alongside increases in average invoice value and the number of spending customers. 

Understand your data
In the cleaning sector, where product lines can run into the many hundreds, sellers can typically accumulate a mass of sales and purchasing data, yet all too frequently, either don’t capture it effectively or understand it fully to derive any meaningful insights to inform their future plans. With cleaning and sanitation products in such demand, there is now a golden opportunity for sales teams to deep dive into their client’s purchasing data to gain actionable insights and anticipate likely future trends. 

Data holds the key to unlocking improved performance and customer understanding in so many ways, but too many businesses are still struggling with effective data capture and are a long way off using it strategically to inform better business practice. This is where sales enablement software can be such a powerful tool, particularly where there is a significant amount of customer data to analyse. 

Pre-COVID, while the majority of sectors will have had some need for cleaning products and services, the now permanent requirement for products such as hand sanitiser, as well as an increased volume of cleaning, means that there will be new opportunities for manufacturers and distributors to target.  All sectors will have to comply with new rules and regulations to keep workers and the public safe.  

Keeping a close eye on your sales data will quickly identify where demand is growing, as well as where it may be tailing off. Some new markets may be temporary, while others could be here to stay permanently. It is important to have the visibility of buying patterns to better anticipate your long-term customers, while also maximising temporary spikes in demand.  

Out with the old…
During times of increased demand from new customers, it can be easy to forget to focus on the existing customer base. However, this can often be a huge mistake – it is no use securing new customers if existing ones end up moving to a competitor.

One of the greatest lessons to learn from the crisis so far is just how important loyal customers are to a business – particularly those at the smaller end of the scale.  The use of technology can be particularly beneficial when it comes to looking at the buying habits of existing customers.  For example, a sales enablement software platform can effectively give organisations full visibility of their customer relationships through a comprehensive range of metrics that enable the user to spot trends and identify opportunities to cross and upsell.  It is a win-win - the customer is offered new product ranges that meet their specific needs, and your business secures incremental revenue.

Anticipate future pricing and product mix strategies
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, some areas of the cleaning and hygiene sector faced criticism for over-inflating prices as demand for products such as disinfectant and hand sanitiser grew. Therefore, adopting an informed approach to supply and demand dynamics will continue to be one of the greatest challenges of the crisis. 

For the foreseeable future – particularly as we head into the winter months – considerations around product availability and stocking will undoubtedly be a key concern, including how and where to store unsold items through to how to fulfil what could be potentially deep fluctuations in customer demand. 

Key milestones such as the return of larger events, theatre and arts venues reopening, and Christmas will also have a significant impact. Sales teams should consider their product mixes and how flexible they could become in what promises to be a continued period of unpredictable demand over the weeks and months ahead. 

Planning for the ‘new’ future
Looking ahead, the thing we can be certain of is more uncertainty. And, while cleaning and hygiene has been one of the growth sectors, this means it has also attracted new, and bigger players into the market.  For example, chemicals company Ineos is one business that sees its future in the hand sanitiser market, saying it will play a key part of its planned Ineos Hygienics subsidiary, and many others have followed suit.

While the COVID-19 crisis has placed a significant demand on the sector, the next stage will be how cleaning products manufacturers and distributors can retain their customer base, ringfence any new business won, while anticipating where the next growth area is going to come from. 

As the situation continually evolves, there will no doubt be a need for the sector to further adapt to new ‘hotspots’ of demand.  Therefore, those organisations where systems are optimised to capture and interpret customer data to make informed and actionable decisions stand to be at a significant advantage to their competitors in the ‘new normal’.

Joseph Cox is UK sales manager at sales enablement software provider, sales-i