The future has come crashing down unexpectedly in 2020. It feels like just a preview of what could happen to the world in the decades to come. Rolling out at a rapid pace, the pandemic has launched a kind of unscheduled, global heavy stress-test for all economies, industries, and strategies simultaneously. And most organizations, as well as individuals, seem unprepared for such a future.
The past two decades have been a litmus test for all levels of governance and management worldwide trying to address wallowing global challenges of the new century. We saw examples of how inept some institutions were in their belated or clumsy actions and policies. Similarly ambiguous are their current decisions. This scary mix of pandemic and economic recession could be a key trigger for a long-anticipated transition to what is hopefully a more sustainable version of the future, which some thinkers and entrepreneurs have predicted. However, very few people are actually ready for the turbulence that goes along with it.
When a downturn occurs approximately every 10 or 12 years, it’s typical for most managers to stop, postpone, shrink, cut, and just try to survive. In reality, this is a very good time to adapt your business and navigate confidently both through tough times and the opportunities that follow.
So what are some smart adaptations to make to avoid decline during this massive quarantine and severe economic crisis? If you’re ready to tackle the challenges and take advantage of the newly emerging reality, here are some useful exercises worth trying in order to prosper in the new normal.
1. Adjust your product portfolio quickly
Consumer behavior changes with lightning speed, and so should your product offering. Mass consumer groups become more price-sensitive and some low-cost products become more welcome. Depending on your industry, it may be something as simple as changing pricing plans or using smaller packages to fit within shrinking budgets. If you run a web hosting business, you may try to boost sales and gain market share by offering very trimmed plans with fewer features for a fraction of a standard cost. Be proactive to find your new equilibrium point of price and demand, where you can attain maximum profit.
Also, some product niches are experiencing a higher demand now. If you’re lucky enough to have an increase in sales for some of your products, you should further explore that opportunity. Find out who is buying and their incentive to do so, and consider adding more options or rolling out a wider variety for these well-demanded items. You should also be sure to support the new offering by refocusing your promo campaigns accordingly. Talk to your customers, discover the trends, experiment on the go.
2. Retarget on industries that show significant growth
There are plenty of sectors that have improved, or at least seem to be recession-neutral. If you have B2B customers, identify your capabilities that can satisfy the demands of those in telemedicine, online education, delivery services, pharmacy and healthcare, eCommerce, on-demand leisure, gaming, consulting, investment, recession-friendly startups, or any other online services. If you can quickly come up with some new well-targeted products or add new relevant features to your existing ones, results may be worthwhile. I have heard of booming demand for some customized chat-bots - this is just one quick example of a direction that a small software company could explore. Redirect your sales and promo efforts to niches where customers are spending these days.
Although don’t give up completely on agonizing industries. There are probably two types of travel-related businesses or restaurant chains now: ones that get creative to survive and use this pause to digitize or accelerate their operations, and ones that will not open again. Judge the panic level accordingly and choose the appropriate next special offer.
3. Think of adding offshore team members to get more for less
If you continue to work on your products intensively, there are some options to increase the pace cost-effectively. Try growing your team by adding fully remote employees from other countries, where wages are significantly less. Doing this individually in an unknown destination may not be the best idea. However, going through a capable service provider may turn what seems like complexities into a very streamlined process. It is usually referred to as staff augmentation, personnel leasing, or outstaffing. You simply widen your existing team with dedicated professionals working from a more cost-effective location. They work full-time on your project and you manage them directly, while your service provider supports you with all kinds of administrative issues. Recruiting, legal, payroll, training, infrastructure, none of these will be a headache for you anymore.
Let’s take IT product development as an example. There are skilled software developers and graphic designers somewhere in Ukraine or in Baltic countries, where a QPR is high and the talent pool is recognized as impressive. Actually, you can quickly gather even whole product teams of highly-qualified engineers now. Some industry giants are putting their projects on hold and thousands of great talents are becoming temporarily available. This gives you the chance to assemble a great and dedicated team to work on your product.
Think of getting creative marketing talents to develop your promo campaign somewhere from Portugal or Brazil via Upwork. Everything is remote now anyway, so it doesn’t matter where your employees actually are. All that is happening these days will train us to be more efficient in a fully remote collaboration environment. Some of these outsourcing geeks may eventually become your magic wand for years ahead. It is a largely useful benefit of the new digital economy - you don’t have to inflate your office space, staff size, or increase the CapEx to get things done. Just like with equipment leasing or car-sharing, there is no need to own everything anymore. Let someone else care about all that administrative headache, you have the opportunity to completely focus on your core business.
4. Create your own horizontal escalator for growth
Remember those moving walkways in the airports? When you get on them you pick up speed and everyone else walking normally quickly lags behind. It is quite difficult to outperform the competition when everything is blooming. And when the recession comes it takes a lot of braveness to invest in growth. Most companies make cuts, layoffs, and try to get their bloated systems back into a viable condition. So it is your golden time to invest in long-term things. Strategic marketing efforts done now may bring you steady results in the future. Some new products are easier to launch and the R&D costs less - many contractors are now more willing to accommodate your pay rates. HR and talent acquisition can benefit from an impressive number of skilled employees that you weren’t able to hire before but suddenly many of them become available and are now also more grounded.
Other strategic moves may include an upgrade to financial or operational systems and processes, as well as being more proactive with new partner alliances (yes, now is a good time to help each other). Consider also taking some M&A investment steps. Plenty of young but promising startups will probably settle for a much lower check for their survival in the summer of 2020 than they would have just six months ago. So if you have an investment capability now, use it in full. The best ROI starts when everyone is right at the bottom and here you are with your cash. Focus on long-term instruments for growth, shying away in confusion can easily burn your money during tough times.
5. Gain long-term loyalty through superior customer service
What is the key to loyalty and being recommended? Number one is to exceed overall expectations and make every point of the customer journey pleasurable. The worst thing a customer can hear from a representative sounds like "unfortunately I cannot do anything". Right now is an awesome time to rethink your customer service and reflect with your team about customer feedback and areas to improve. Teach your support team to help the customer as if it is their best friend messaging or calling. Be personalized, be open, be creative.
It’s all very simple - just try to imagine how you would like to be treated and put yourself into the customer's shoes. People lack empathy and kindness now, so give them hope for a better future by showing them the best version of you, a helping hand, addressing all their issues. Feel their pains and concerns, then act accordingly. Add a few months of your subscription service for free, suggest a bonus upgrade, issue a valuable certificate, offer an additional warranty, send them a free sample or a small present. If your company cannot provide the service the customers need, refer them to someone who can. Do something nice they don’t expect. Show them that you’re a person who really cares, not a faceless algorithm-addicted bureaucrat.
If you are a C-level executive, spend some time talking to your customers and ask your best people to do the same. Try to solve clients' requests in a way that inspires them to love your company and come back to you again. Be sure to ask them for feedback about your products, talk about the features they would love to see in the future. You will definitely get valuable insights and ideas for improvement.
6. Get some external advice
Regardless of how good you are, experienced consultants can bring some valuable pieces that your puzzle lacks. If you want to protect your business for the next few years of growth after the recession, attract some outside professionals. Ask for their outside perspective, let them highlight every bottleneck of your processes. Maybe there’s something that you just didn’t notice in your tunnel vision. Find what you were missing and see what can be done this year to outperform your competitors in the future.
Strong managers intentionally challenge themselves from time to time with the best experts available. It helps to stay objective, bring fresh ideas from other industries, and innovate more. Remember that quite often a local seasoned entrepreneur doing boutique business consulting may bring significant value with insights, so it is not always about paying for those bespoke suits of the big-4 league stars.
7. Finally, do your marketing homework
This period of decreased activity can be used to catch up on those long-delayed tasks. Some of you now finally have the time to put together all those ideas to revamp your outdated website. Or maybe create a useful mobile app that you’ve been thinking about for over a year (everyone has them now, right?). Check the marketing or operations backlogs, I’m sure there is something that you haven’t gotten your hands on for a while. Think of new features for your core product, at last. Implement those that your nimble competitors have already launched. Discuss ideas with your staff to keep them motivated, engaged, and on-board. Most likely, some new brilliant ideas will follow.
There are several more exercises that successful entrepreneurs and CEOs do when everybody else stagnates. However, let's wrap up at this point and keep enough energy for actions. Treat the quarantine and downturn difficulties like bullets in slow motion from a Matrix movie scene. Just sneak in between them and neutralize the toughest ones. Unleash your entrepreneurial energy, passion, and creativity to make some smart moves that look like incredibly successful decisions when the world gets back to normal.
This is a unique chance for confident and rationally ambitious managers to show their mastery and go full throttle contrary to common panic. Cheer up and may good luck be with you during global stormy weather. Remember, the sun always comes out and shines again at some point, it is just a natural state of things.
Alexander Pastukh, CSO @ DOIT Software | 06/24/2020
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