For companies in industries hard-hit by COVID-19 like auto sales, maintaining client relationships and boosting morale are key to future success.
As other companies scrambled to implement work from home policies, fully remote companies appeared one step ahead of the game. But even for work-from-home veterans, the transition has not been completely seamless. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt every part of our daily lives, not just the working day. With kids home from school and the US economy slowing down, “working from home” is beginning to feel like unfamiliar territory.
AutoSalesVelocity, an inventory management software company for the automotive industry, has been fully remote for several years. But as COVID-19 spread across the globe, juggling work, family life, and the stress of a global health and economic crisis presents a challenge unlike any other. We spoke to Sean Benderly, Columbia University alumnus and AutoSalesVelocity co-founder, about maintaining client relationships and cultivating a supportive company culture during a pandemic.
Serving the Automotive Industry — When No One Is Buying Cars
Since its founding 15 years ago, AutoSalesVelocity’s unique business concept has helped drive the company to new heights of success. “We collect customer demand data for new vehicles, and we use that to help automotive dealerships figure out what options and colors they should keep in stock in any given market,” Benderly explains. The innovative company is the brainchild of David Smith, an industry veteran with 30 years’ experience at Ford Motor Company, and three co-founders with varied consulting and programming experience.
Although the company has carved out a niche space in the automotive industry, ASV is feeling the impact of COVID-19 on automotive sales. According to BCG’s Center for Macroeconomics, new auto sales are likely to decline by 20 to 40 percent in 2020. “Our standard business is essentially nonexistent at this point,” Benderly says. “Car dealerships are shut down or working virtually.”
Without their usual client work, the ASV team has been looking internally, updating its algorithm and streamlining operations. “We’re lucky in that we were already at the beginning of a new algorithm project before any of this hit, so we’ve just repurposed anyone who wasn’t originally working on that to help out, as well,” Benderly says.
In addition to focusing on internal work, ASV has been proactive in finding ways to maintain client relationships. “We managed to weather the 2008 financial crisis, but we almost went under — I think because we were very passive in how we dealt with the situation,” Benderly explains. “This time, we reached out to all of our clients immediately with a reduction in fees, waiving our monthly minimum. That way, they know they won’t have to fire us, and we can just pick back up when this passes.”
Supporting Colleagues and Their Families Through a Crisis
It’s not just clients who need extra flexibility and understanding in the ongoing crisis — ASV employees do, too. Though the Denver-based company has worked remotely for years, relying on tools like Zoom, Trello, Slack, and Airtable to keep in constant contact, the pandemic has uncovered a whole new set of needs and challenges.
“Almost everyone at our company has kids, and juggling work and family life has been a huge adjustment,” Benderly says. “We used to have set schedules in terms of everyone working remotely but for the same hours. Now it’s much more spread out because people are having to homeschool their kids.”
As parents now balancing childcare with work, Benderly and his wife — an ASV co-founder — have been squeezing in work hours at night after their children have gone to bed. “I’m just getting by right now, work-wise,” Benderly says. “I’m trying to keep perspective; I’m healthy, I’m in my own house, I have a yard, I’m spending time with my kids. But this is hard, and if my job suffers a little right now because of it, that’s not the end of the world.”
Benderly is also trying to extend the same understanding to the rest of his team. “We’re focusing on ensuring everyone on our team knows that they are valuable, and that we need them,” he says. “Our goal is to avoid layoffs at all costs, and we’re making sure everyone knows that.”