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How to tell if your business should pivot during the coronavirus crisis

The chief revenue officer of SnackNation believes every organization is unique and meaningful and can still add value for its customers, even in times of great uncertainty.

How to tell if your business should pivot during the coronavirus crisis
[Photo: Hugh McCann/Unsplash]

As business leaders grapple with the impact that COVID-19 and the current economic landscape will have for their companies, many are simultaneously playing offense and defense in a short, medium, and long game all at once. And because of this, many are considering a pivot as the best shot at success.

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But a pivot that goes wrong now can quickly mean certain death when a company has dwindling resources and increasing uncertainty about the state of the world. So it’s really important to get it right by asking the right questions and acting with urgency as your competitors do the same.

The question every leader should be asking right now

It’s tempting to look around and ponder, what does the world need right now that my business can provide? It’s a solid question for the medium and long term, but companies that need to be successful in the coming months should consider starting closer to home with the capabilities they have and the customers they know.

Every leadership team should be asking: What are the biggest challenges my current customers are facing right now that we can solve?

Remember that your customers are likely facing some of the same stresses and uncertainty you are. The things they wanted from you yesterday are not necessarily the same things they need today. Putting yourself in their shoes under the circumstances and pressures of the current world will uncover your biggest short-term pivot or growth opportunities. Plus, you have the distinct advantage of already having relationships with them, making an eventual sale (or save) faster and more cost-effective.

Your pivot elevator pitch

It’s also important to consider your organization’s unique skills and abilities in the context of this conversation. At the end of this, what you really want is a pivot elevator pitch that will make immediate sense to your employees, your customers, and your investors. It would go something like this: “One of our customers’ biggest challenges right now is x, and we are the best company in the world to solve for that with y because of z.”

For us at SnackNation, one of our customers’ biggest challenges right now is how to drive culture and help people feel cared about when they aren’t together. We are the best company in the world to solve for that with a Work-from-Home Wellness Box because we have warehouses filled to the brim with joy-inducing snacks, the system to easily ship to thousands of different addresses, the ear of office managers everywhere, and a robust and diversified distribution system that’s not impacted by shortages.

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Of course, the immediate critical follow-up question to all of this is, will our customers pay for it right now? If the answer is yes, then move forward as quickly as you can shifting the resources you have to making this pivot a reality. If the answer is no, don’t give up just yet.

Opportunity even when the customer can’t afford to buy

So what happens when your customer base is struggling to survive and the idea of spending any money at all right now is off the table? If you’re in this boat, it’s easy to want to hunker down and ride out the storm (and if you have the cash to do so, then you’re lucky).

Keep in mind that at some point in time, your customers will be buying again. So figure out ways to best support them in the meantime so you are the first dollar they spend once they are back in business.

Maybe there’s specialized content they could really use right now? Or a community group you can build to connect them with others who are in their same boat. Support them now in meaningful ways and it will pay great future dividends in trust, loyalty, and ultimately, revenue.

Regardless of whether or not your customers can afford to buy from you right now, it’s also fruitful to consider whether there are other customers and industries that have similar challenges to your current base and whether or not you can sell to them too.

Sell without offending your customers

This has been a huge topic of debate over the past weeks for leadership teams everywhere. On one hand, we want to continue to earn new revenue to keep our businesses humming. On the other hand, using heavy-handed sales techniques or save tactics might hurt our long-term relationship with our customers or turn new ones off.

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Bringing customers into the fold by sharing with them the reasons behind your decisions and offerings is a good way to strike that balance. A message such as “We’ve been thinking a lot about what you are going through and developed a solution we think will help” will drive goodwill and show that you care about their success.

Depending on your audience, showing appropriate vulnerability about what you are going through and how you are leaning on your core values to rise up for them can also further build the relationship, although caution should be applied here, as a desperate message to your customers pleading for sales will likely fall flat.

The bottom line: Every organization is unique and meaningful and can still add value for its customers, even in times of great uncertainty. If a change in financial trajectory needs to happen fast, work to understand the new challenges your current customers are facing and use your unique strengths to quickly pivot to that model.


Chelsie Rae Lee is the chief revenue officer at SnackNation.

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