What to do when your offerings no longer meet your customers’ disrupted needs
This year has brought forth profound and rapid change all around, and in each of us. A virus has disrupted individuals, families, organizations, and economies around the world. After months of global uncertainty and a collective pause, we have begun to find our footing in this new world. And now, simultaneously, we are experiencing a critical social justice movement, #blacklivesmatter, which is highlighting the widespread injustices and inequalities that are embedded in our political, social, and economic systems. If there was ever a time for transformation and growth, both personally and professionally, it is now.
It is safe to say that in the universe of tectonic shifts business leaders stared down entering 2020, few considered that our mindsets and behaviors would shift this dramatically, in ways that continue to change day to day, sometimes moment to moment. All previous assumptions are off. While that can seem unsettling, it is also a catalyst for positive change. With this momentous health crisis and societal reckoning comes the historic opportunity to refound the company. We call this the Great Reset. Fundamentally, leaders need to be asking different questions with a different mindset: who is their customer NOW? What do they need NOW? What are our proprietary gifts (the unique skills of the company) that will solve these new customer needs? These questions and assumptions must be rapidly re-discovered, re-validated, and re-launched to lead us to a future of reactivated growth. It should be assumed that looking at your company through this new lens will be required at nearly every level of the organization.
What should you do? Do you wait it out and hope that this changed world will recede into the distance and old customer needs will resume? Do you look for ways to graft your existing solutions onto new customer needs with updated marketing and positioning? Do you double down on aspects of the business that are doing well in the new climate and cut losses on those that are not? Do you make a few bold bets based on an old planning model mindset that reinforce innovation theater?
All of these strategies are likely to be pursued by businesses around the world. But they are all suboptimal because they cannot position your business for sustainable growth in this dramatically changed world. Going back to the way things were is going back to reinforce fatal normalcy and control biases that you had, but it is now time to expire.
Reactivating growth is the only way forward.
Depending on the situation, it is often best to start your reactivate journey by re-discovering the opportunity area your business is in and uncover near-term growth opportunities. Re-discovery takes a wide view of the space you are in to uncover, analyze, and vet the best immediate opportunities for growth, grounded in the proprietary gifts you can leverage today and the new needs of the marketplace. Re-discovery is useful for anything more than a quick adjustment of your business to better fit emerging market realities. Take for example Amazon’s decision to pivot some Whole Foods stores into “dark stores.” Amazon quickly recognized the significant uptick in online delivery grocery orders, while physical stores saw decreasing foot traffic. Initially, Amazon had to put customers on a waiting list because they were unable to meet the rapid demand spike in online ordering. By taking into consideration the emerging need (online orders), and leveraging their assets (physical stores and employees), they were able to rapidly pivot their business and use certain locations as exclusive order fulfillment spaces for delivery and pickup from other nearby stores.
If you already have new ideas for solutions that meet the new needs of consumers, you need to be able to act fast. This moment is about learning velocity. You may have validated your idea in the pre-COVID era, but now, if there is evidence from the market that an existing business project can be preserved you must re-validate your business for the new world. Your leadership mandate is to quickly reposition your business — potentially your whole business, top to bottom — to squarely meet the new needs of your customers. And with that, you must reposition your mindset to understand customers are people — people who are truly dynamic and complex in our new world. Gone are the days of thinking of customers in terms of demographics. Humans resist categories like never before in history.
To re-validate means you validate the existing aspects of your businesses — products, services, marketplaces, partnerships — as though they were potential new businesses you were deciding whether or not to proceed with. The focus of the work is to see each existing, mature offering through a new lens, with the intent to validate any and all new commercial truths. Strategy and execution decisions based on good planning skills made perfect sense four months ago when the needs were knowable, but we are in a new world. Do your offerings meet a validated need today? Should it continue to exist as a business? What immediate changes need calibrating or pivoting to fit the new market and customer needs?
Re-validating follows the same process as validating new business opportunities: First, validate the problem, next validate the solution, finally, validate the business model and the financial assumptions.
When you validate the problem you are listening to the customer — the person — and understanding what their new challenges are in this new world. In this case you are listening for ways in which their problems have changed in the past few months. What are their new difficulties? What keeps them up at night now? How have their routines changed, and what are the ripple effects of those changes across everything in their work and personal life?
In the course of this re-validation work you need to consider new needs and new customers altogether, often as new markets. Is there a new set of people or businesses whose new problems can be solved by your solutions?
Armed with a solid, updated understanding of your customers problems, you then proceed to validate the solution — i.e. your current business offering. How well does it solve your customer’s new needs? In what ways does it fail to solve their needs? How might you update your offerings to better address these new needs? Or does your offering not even make sense in the updated landscape of customer needs?
Once you’ve thoroughly understood and indexed the new needs and potential ways your offering can meet those needs, the next step is to validate the business model and financial assumptions: if you were to update your offering in these specific ways, how would that alter your profitability? Would you in fact gain from this change, and by how much?
A great example of a company that re-validated itself in a time of crisis is the email marketing service Mailchimp. Between when they launched in 2001 and the Great Recession, their focus was large enterprise clients who could pay large monthly retainers for their services. When the recession hit in 2008, those accounts suddenly dried up. Rather than attempting to ride out the storm, the Mailchimp team examined the landscape and decided to reposition toward smaller businesses by adding a freemium option.
In Bionic terms, we would say they:
- Re-validated their customers’ needs, learning that a) enterprises were not as willing or able to pay for an email marketing service, but b) smaller companies would be willing to do so.
- Re-validated their solution by identifying a business strategy (freemium) that would appeal to the needs of the smaller businesses.
- Re-validated their business model by verifying that a successful freemium strategy would eventually be worth the return on investment.
Within a year of this shift in strategy, Mailchimp’s number of customers had grown fivefold and the company had successfully positioned itself for growth through the next economic cycle. Had they decided to ride the downturn out, would they have been as successful in the next phase of growth? Doubtful.
When you have a validated idea about what to do or how to fix an existing business, it’s time to find the smartest and fastest route to a re-launch. It’s likely that aspects of your go-to-market or distribution strategies have been disrupted. If that’s the case, form partnerships with other companies who have the capabilities that you don’t. It is oftentimes the easiest and fastest way to reach your customers. Consider Walgreens’ partnership with PostMates during COVID-19. They were able to quickly pivot so that they could continue to deliver their wellness products and household essentials while meeting the needs of their customers. In our COVID era, you need to bring the new version of your business online in the same way you would a new offering: not with a huge launch and high-fives, but by testing and learning as you go to see whether your assumptions were right, and whether you are on track to get product-market fit in this new, emerging marketplace.
A truly flexible, resilient organization should be able to re-discover, re-validate, and re-launch offerings across their entire business in a matter of a few months. They have the growth capability to discover, validate, and launch-at-will, with the same force of capability to optimize-at-will that has established skill and measurement in most organizations today. You should have special teams, skills, and tools in every business that are ready and able to take this work on and drive it correctly. If you cannot get to the right solution and commercial truth quickly, that is a sign that your organization is not flexible enough and not well-suited for growth in the new age. Because the only guarantee about what the future may hold, is that it will be unpredictable and full of more unprecedented changes.
Bionic has developed a new set of offerings to help businesses activate growth in 100 days or less. With shorter timeframes and optimized for virtual delivery, we help partners keep their growth momentum during this significant moment of disruption and beyond.
Let’s think out loud together on how to re/Activate growth. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our contact form, and we will send over our one sheet that captures the offering and impact.