In early March, the team at Outsell held an off-site, multiday meeting to create the dealership marketing company's long-term product development road map.
There were plans for a new content management system, more product integrations and new reporting tools.
But within weeks, the situation changed. The pandemic prompted states across most of the country to order retailers to shutter showrooms, with sales and service business being slashed.
"We took that road map we had just spent weeks trying to finalize and set it completely aside," Gary Marcotte, Outsell's senior vice president of customer engagement innovation, told me.
Outsell, which automates dealership marketing messages aimed at consumers across their life cycles, shifted gears to focus instead on products that retailers would need to get through the virus-induced economic crisis. They included a new equity-mining tool to help dealers identify people in the market who might want to trade in their vehicles.
Outsell isn't the only retail technology provider that quickly changed course once the pandemic upended business. I wrote this week about how some dealership vendors accelerated products to market faster, while others spun up ideas that didn't exist before COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket in March.
Prodigy, a digital retailing provider that enables an omnichannel car-buying experience, developed a virtual showroom this spring to allow a customer to interact with a sales associate via live chat or video.
"It seemed like a very simple decision at that time that we could put other items on hold, and this would be the most critical thing that would accelerate online sales," said Elliot Kolt, Prodigy's marketing director.
What their experiences show is that responding to a crisis requires flexibility — and, sometimes, the willingness to put off other important projects to meet an immediate need.