A year in, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the lives of people throughout the world and disrupt every industry. And while this pandemic is novel in many ways, humankind has experienced similar circumstances throughout its history. So, what can learn from the past year as we look to future-proof our businesses for the next disruption?
The world has, and always will have, a high degree of volatility and uncertainty. Let’s look at what we face today and may face in the coming decades.
Technological change is accelerating
Developing technology has long disrupted business. Today, we must confront not only a public pandemic crisis and government lockdown regulations, but also technological innovation that is accelerating at an ever-faster pace.
Rapidly evolving technology means that product life cycles are shrinking just as quickly. In 2020, 50 percent of annual company revenues across a range of industries were derived from new products that came to market within the past three years, says supply chain optimization specialist INFORM. Companies simply have no other choice than to innovate continuously and to pivot at the first sight of opportunity.
As information is increasingly digitized, customers and competitors are progressively better informed than ever before about company offerings. Transparency is a double-edged sword: it has its benefits among customers, but it also allows competitors to monitor and potentially copy or even outperform your products, services, and business processes or strategies. That means the companies that come out on top are simply those that adapt most quickly and continuously.
Build the conditions for a successful pivot
Primarily, companies must be open to change if a pivot is to be successful. This requirement is not just regarding processes and resources. It is about having an adaptive mindset. Businesses must not be tied to the current strategic plan. Following a strategy developed from data of yesteryear will cost any company.
Often, the initial change can be small. There is rarely a need for a complete about-face. A well-executed pivot of 90 degrees will serve any company better than an ill-prepared 180 degree change in approach. If the limited changes to the business bear fruit, the company can always decide to scale up later.
Trystar, a major supplier of portable power solutions, demonstrated a properly executed limited pivot amid the pandemic. Public events made up a large share of the company’s customer base. When all public events were cancelled due to the pandemic, Trystar’s rental business could have plummeted. Yet the company was ambitious and flexible enough to start making its solutions available to an emerging market, mobile healthcare, and testing stations. The business strategy did not alter drastically, but there was a change of market and focus.
Businesses also need a go-to market strategy for the desired pivot. And companies may not be properly equipped to approach this uncharted territory alone.
For example, Forecast 3D—a provider of a full spectrum of 3D Printing, Rapid Machining, and quick-turn tooling solutions—manufactured products for companies that were shut down or reduced their operations during the pandemic. The company pivoted to printing nasal swabs, a product that was suddenly in short supply. Forecast 3D was able to conduct this pivot because of its core capability – rapid manufacturing – as well as its partnership with HP and others in the industry on the product design and approvals. Working with the right partner—a supplier, designer, distributor, consultant, or influencer—to help fulfill the pivot and fill gaps is as critical as the decision to pivot itself.
Finally, it is important that the entire team—across all functions—have a clear picture of the current and future state of the market. While sales can often bring important insights to the table that can help make data-driven decisions, sales numbers can be a lagging indicator. The companies that best perform pivots often take an initiative before the sales data confirms what is already clear through other sources.
The bottom line
There are powerful trends driving a need for companies to innovate, and even pivot, in today’s environment and in the future. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of successful pivots to emulate. Companies that perform their pivots methodically—with a multifunctional team collecting and analyzing data and acting in an agile way to adjust to their environments—will succeed.
Dawn Werry is a Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading fractional CMO firm focused on mid-size company growth. She works with industrial and B2B companies to discover untapped growth opportunities, using insights to develop and launch products that meet emerging market needs.
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