It’s time to pivot! What does that mean? Pivoting occurs when your original business model or a particular line/facet isn’t working and the business needs to shift to remain viable. This can definitely occur in a crisis like we are experiencing with COVID-19, but can also be a tool to discover additional growth opportunities that you might otherwise have overlooked.
There are two forms of pivoting, strategic and tactical. Strategic pivots are for the long term while tactical pivots are short term actions. In relation to the COVID-19 crisis, you may need to tactically pivot fast to protect as much business as possible now and then consider the strategic pivots needed as we come out of this crisis and see that the new normal is different from the past.
Where should you pivot in your business? Should you change products, distribution, messaging, customer service, pricing, promotions, branding, signage & visibility, advertising plans, or technology? The answer may be “Yes” to more than one category. I recommend you first consider your audience. The total sum of your customers and prospects. Focusing here first will direct your pivots on the other categories.
Begin by defining your current customer's and prospect's mindset prior to the crisis. You must know who they were before the crisis to understand how they are during the crisis and who they will be after the crisis. Certainly list their demographics, but also document how their mind and actions are changing. What used to be important to them may no longer be. You need to start looking at your business through their eyes. Call and talk to some of your current customers to understand their mindset.
Next, define how the event has affected your business. What’s changed? Restaurants, for example, had full dining rooms and busy dinner rushes prior to COVID-19. Now they have closed dining rooms and limited customer access.
Now that you know what your audience’s mindset was before the COVID-19 crisis and how it’s affected your business, return to defining your audience's new mindset now that we are deep into this crisis. What’s changed for them? As Donald Miller says in his book Story Brand, our minds developed to focus on surviving and thriving. Right now the entire world is keenly aware that their survivability is being threatened. Their new pain is a viral threat to their life. Staying top of mind may be very difficult as everyone is aiming to stay healthy and avoid the virus. In light of this, there are many questions you may ask about your audience:
How is your audience now looking at your business and the problem you solve?
Has their need for you increased or decreased?
Does this crisis give you access to a new customer you haven't been serving?
Is this a good time to seek out previous customers and lure them back?
What ways can you increase customer frequency?
How can you encourage customers to buy again sooner?
How can you increase each customer's total purchase size?
As customers interact with your business and your employees how exposed are they to the virus transmission? Are there actions you can take to reduce that risk?
During the crisis, your business should be focused on tactical pivots, fast actions to maintain as many sales as possible or address customer concerns. Here are a few examples I've seen during this COVID-19 crisis.
A pet sitting business I know of has temporarily lost most of their clients because of the stay at home orders. They are pivoting by focusing on dog walking to encourage their clients to maintain their pet's social skills.
I saw a local Serve-Pro location sanitize some police vehicles because the officers encountered someone who may have had the infectious virus.
Restaurants quickly converted to take out and delivery promotions. I've even seen some offer short term deals, only valid for a few hours, to encourage impulse buying.
Insurance salesmen have switched to telephone or online appointments instead of face to face meetings.
Retailers are limiting guest access to small numbers like Sam's Club is only allowing 100 people in at a time to ensure social distancing.
Schnucks Grocery stores are requesting guests wear masks to help prevent virus transmission.
To communicate your tactical pivots, connect with your customers through your marketing and social media channels. This will help you maintain relationships with your audience. Express your empathy by showcasing how you are adapting to the situation just like them. Then, define how you are in control with a plan for your business and your customers moving forward. Don't be afraid to overcommunicate.
After your quick pivots during the crisis, you need to begin thinking about what life and business will be like after the stay at home restrictions are relaxed. A new normal will develop, but what will that be? This is where you begin to develop your strategic pivoting plans. You will define how your business will operate in the next year to five years.
Will your audience look at your business as a potential threat to their health? For example, restaurants, skating rinks, movie theaters, and malls should be considering how they address customer spacing and sanitization beyond general cleaning. How will your customer's cleanliness expectations change going forward? Will restaurant customers expect more space between tables, better sanitization of the dining room, or prefer take out or delivery over dining in? Restaurant owners may need to increase their kitchen area and decrease their dining rooms.
You will need to make some guesses about the future. Create a vision of your business and customer in the post-COVID-19 world. Don't be afraid to do it. Yes, some of your guesses will be wrong. Get started and act now. As the future becomes clearer you can refine your vision. With that vision, you can begin to develop the permanent pivots needed to keep your business viable.
By having clarity on who your audience was before the crisis, who they are now during the crisis, and an educated guess as to who they will be after the crisis you can begin making short term and long term pivots to protect your business.
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