As we prepare for business change in the second half of one of the strangest years of our lives, most of us have transitioned from reactive mode and are making our way to a more proactive mode of doing business. No doubt the landscape of business has changed, but the big question is for how long. According to BCG’s information in, Restarting and Winning the Fight in the new COVID-19 World, this next phase of business is the Fight Phase and is expected to last 12-24 months. Even before things drastically changed, the business planning cycle had been condensed from 3-5 years to 18 months.
Regardless of which expert you listen to, most businesses are looking at a full business cycle. What we are now putting into place is no longer a temporary shelter but a structure that will last for at least 18 months. As business leaders, we are making some tough decisions on whether to stay the course, pivot, or shift.
Dr. Deena Brown explains in Crisis Leadership, that there is a key different between pivoting and shifting. She explains it as a pivot being something that anchors you to the spot where you are and you are looking around to the various directions in order to change your direction. A shift requires you to take a step to move, and when you move into that new space it open up a whole new paradigm of opportunity.
If you are scratching your head wondering if you should shift or pivot or try a triple backwards flip, take a moment to go back to the basics. Start with the three key components of business change:
What you sell
How you sell it
Who you are selling it to
What you sell
This is pretty simple on the surface. What changes can be made to the products and services you are currently selling? This can range from selling something completely different to changing the mix of what you sell and how you bundle it. The answer may be obvious or may take some creativity.
For some it may involve starting from scratch and asking customers how their business has changed and what they will be needing over the next year. One President of a restaurant supplier put together roundtable calls early on with his client base. Together they discussed what their business will look like once they were allowed to re-open, how they would be adjusting, and what types of supplies they would need. This resulted in a new item list specific to their future needs.
In most cases, it has been a matter of adjusting the mix of what is sold. Seth Avergon, interim Chief Marketing Officer, talks about how one of his clients did just this. Seth shares, “They had 70% of their business focused on an area that is not really viable right now and 30% doing something else that is much more interesting right now. So, we’re flipping the mix completely. They’re still selling the products they were selling before, but all the energy, the effort, the marketing dollars have all pivoted over to the other side of the boat at this point.” Another example is promotional supplies companies. Their core competencies are customizing products and distribution. By leveraging those, they pivoted from putting logos on give-away handbags and pens to PPE supplies.
How you sell it
You can no longer show up to someone’s office. You can’t deliver a batch of cookies or even send a gift basket to be shared amongst the team. How you have sold your products or services is no longer an option. This is where you need to decide on a pivot or a shift.
One example of a pivot is the pharmaceutical industry. This industry has one of the most relationship driven sales roles – the pharmaceutical rep. The article, “COVID-19 and Pharma’s In-Person Sales Model”, sums it up as, “Same job, different approach.” They are pivoting their sales approach from the doctor to a marketing approach focused directly on the end consumer.
Pete Todd, interim Sales Executive feels strongly that pivoting in the current environment is requiring a different mindset in how companies sell. He says, “It’s really going to force a different set of behaviors and a different go-to-market plan that will involve really close collaboration with marketing and other stakeholders within the company, IT, etc. So the pivot, not necessarily from a strategy standpoint, but from a customer standpoint, has to be one where you need a team of excellent communicators with focus that really understand their customer needs and what’s happening at the customer level for a number of reasons. This is not a time right now for a sales team of road warriors that aren’t excellent communicators, that don’t understand their customers. Those people really can’t thrive in this environment.”
There is also an opportunity for a shift in how we sell. John Morris, CEO advisor, talks about the change in sales forces from regional to customer based. He points out that historically, companies would hire salespeople regionally so they had close proximity to the clients. With the expansion of virtual business development and sales techniques, companies can now put the best people with the best customers candidates. This gives the opportunity to align the right sales people with the correct customers – rather than solely by region.
Who you are selling it to
Our audience is either expanding, contracting, or changing its customer base. Jenn Henrickson, interim Sales & Marketing executive shares a client story. She is working with a client in the food and beverage space with a digital platform. They have traditionally targeted millennials and gen Z. What’s happening now is the audience is expanding and they are able to expand their target market. Generations who were not previously tech savvy have been forced to change how they buy and are now an increasing group of adopters of technology platforms for everyday living.
After assessing your situation, a combination of a pivot and a shift may be called for. A website development company that has always sold website services such as design and development to marketing personnel may need to adjust what they are selling and who they are selling it to. With the extent of the remote workforce, the need for online training has become one of the biggest pain points for companies. The same company has an opportunity to expand its product offering to online training portals and knowledge databases. They can also pivot to selling to business managers or human resources.
Whether it is a pivot or a business change, it can’t be done solely at the top. It requires 360 degrees of involvement from customers, leadership, and front-line employees.
Involve your customers
It starts with your customers and what their needs are now. Russ Brown, interim Operations executive, emphasizes, “Staying in touch with . . . customers is [the] key aspect. Making sure they understand we’re still here and make sure they understand we want to support them. What can we do to help them (and their families) and support them? Allow that to lead them to coming up with different solutions and different value-add equations in the process mapping chain. Make sure that you’re open and accountable to your customers to listen and to . . . pay attention and to ask and make sure you’re doing everything you can to support them. And then if they’re pivoting, be flexible enough to consider pivoting with them or making sure that if you can’t pivot fast enough, come up with alternatives that you can provide them [with], which may include others in that conversation as well.”
Involve your leadership
As we consider what kind of a shift or pivot we need to make and to what extent, Seth Avergon offers this advice, “I think a lot of CEOs might be taking on that decision alone and you really should be bringing in your directors and your managers. We call this mission change, right? When you were doing “X” and now you’re going to have to be doing something completely different. That is a decision at the leadership level. You want to socialize it with your people and share and get their input on what they’re seeing, as well, before you just decide to take the entire company and go a different direction with it.”
There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. The same can be said about building a company. The CEO or business owner owns the struggles and challenges of surviving or thriving in the current environment. But, they do not need to have all of the solutions. A blend of internal and external resources such as executive experts who are available on a part-time or short-term basis may be the best solution during these times.
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