As mentioned in our Decision Factors Report, Vistage Research developed the “Corona Curve” in April 2020 in an attempt to understand what businesses were — and are — experiencing as a result of Covid-19.
After the trigger event in March came the tipping point (or market crash) before the curve continued to accelerate downwards, reaching the bottom in mid-April. This is when the economy came to an effective standstill and most businesses entered the pause or survival phase. Soon after this, organisations began to examine what it would take to recover, and then to rebuild.
Rebuilding is different to immediate recovery. Recovery is the attempt to return a business to the way it was. But when the world looks so different, businesses cannot survive by going back to their pre-Covid days.
Rebuilding is about taking a fresh perspective, imagining what could be possible, innovating to create something future-proof, and seizing the opportunities this new landscape might present.
There are three areas leaders might have to reimagine – operations, customer engagement, and financial planning.
Find everything below and more advice for leaders looking beyond Covid-19 in our Decision Factors Report.
Perhaps one of the most seismic shifts in the post-Covid era has been in the way we work. As we climb the Corona Curve, some SMEs have welcomed staff back into the physical workplace but many more continue to work remotely. Both of these scenarios are new realities.
For employees going into work, it’s not the carefree workplace of 2019. This is a workplace set against the backdrop of a still prevalent virus, with many necessary measures and systems in place. For those working from home, how do you keep productivity high and keep everyone seamlessly connected?
The challenges and how to rebuild
- Health and safety. If you want to encourage employees to return to the workplace, health and safety need to be the top priority. You need clear policies on areas like PPE, social distancing and traffic flow management, as well as protocols for reporting symptoms and Covid-related incidents. In order to protect your employees’ safety and ensure your business is compliant with government legislation, these rules need to be non-negotiable and unambiguous. Providing safety training is a simple and effective way to ensure everyone understands their obligations.
- Sanitation. For most businesses, office cleaning used to consist of a cleaner doing a weekly hoover and scrub of the bathrooms - certainly not something that sat at the top of the priorities list. Now, of course, this has changed. Our research shows that for CEOs, sanitation is at the top of the list for return to work plans. Cleaning protocols need to be systematic and thorough, with clear guidance for best practices amongst employees.
- Reevaluate your technical capabilities. It’s clear that remote working is here to stay. If you want to make it a viable and productive long-term solution, you need the right technical infrastructures in place. Do your remote employees have the right hardware and software? Do they have the most efficient connections? All of these things will have an impact on productivity.
- Ramp up cybersecurity. Cybersecurity has always been a huge threat to businesses, but with many businesses more vulnerable than before, and so many working remotely, the threat is greater than ever. Protect your business by investing in cybersecurity policies and staff training.
Joel Greenwald, Managing Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, has a solution to make the process easier:
‘As processing information and making decisions can be time-intensive, designating a Chief Safety Officer (CSO) can best support efforts to ensure the workplace is safe on all fronts. The CSO – whether a temporary assignment or permanent position – serves as a leader empowered to guide decisions about return-to-work plans based on changing safety protocols and to ensure that plans are implemented across all departments.’
Find out more in our Decision Factors Report.
2. Customer engagement
The way customers buy - and what they buy - has changed dramatically. When the pandemic hit, the effects on customer behaviours were immediate. Overnight, face-to-face selling vanished and buyers switched off. In true survival mode, we bought only what was essential. After the initial shock subsided and the new reality dawned, certain sectors began to flourish: exercise equipment, home construction, interiors, technology. Our needs had shifted, and so had the markets.
Now, as economic uncertainty continues, customers have become more risk averse. Most markets have more sellers than buyers, finance has become increasingly stringent, and sales cycles are longer and more labour intensive. To survive in this landscape, businesses need to adapt quickly and decisively.
The challenges and how to rebuild:
- Human dynamics have changed. With little or no face-to-face selling, how do you establish the credibility and trust required to win new customers? In order to succeed in a virtual setting, you may need to adopt new sales behaviours and techniques.
- Get closer to your customers. Holding on to existing customers is fundamental to your business surviving and thriving. If you reach out and partner with your customers in these challenging times, it won’t be forgotten when things pick up.
- Capitalising on the opportunity to target competitors. Have your competitors remained close to their customers? Have they done enough to keep them? If you’re approaching your competitors’ customers, you need to tell them something they’ll want to hear. How have you partnered with your existing customers and made life easier for them?
- Change the message. Remember your 2019 marketing and sales message? It needs to go. If you try to engage with your customers without acknowledging the reality of now, you won’t engage with them at all - instead, you’ll alienate them. Your marketing needs to fit the current context or it will miss the mark completely.
- Sharpen skills and processes. At a time when attraction and retention have never been more critical, sales process is king. In order to enter a growth phase, you need a consistent and reliable process, backed up by solid sales skills such as negotiation, and ROI selling. Investing in training and sharpening sales skills and processes is a fundamental pillar of rebuilding your business.
Dave Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, believes sales is the lifeblood of a business and ‘attitude, behaviour and technique are key to unlocking sales’. Attitude is about getting out of your comfort zone - pushing yourself to more than 60-70% of your capacity. Successful sales doesn’t come from indicators or targets, it comes from behaviours which are set and repeated. Finally: technique. As Dave says, ‘technique boils down to what your salespeople say and how they say it’. What you say depends on who exactly you’re speaking to. He recommends using the KARE framework to help categorise customers at different parts of the sales funnel.
Get advice from your peers on how to rebuild your business by joining Vistage today.
3. Financial planning
In terms of revenue, profits, and cashflow, the past 10 months have been a time of uncertainty and turbulence - and the foreseeable future looks the same. Sales are unpredictable, patterns of buying are disrupted, and, for many companies, cashflow is a problem. In this climate, decision-making is extremely challenging. How can you make decisions when circumstances can change at the drop of a hat?
One tool you can use as a business leader is scenario planning. Scenario planning helps you make short-term decisions, as well as pre-empting problems or changes before they happen; it’s an effective way to mitigate risk. For example, if sales drop dramatically one month, your scenario planning could suggest that you furlough a proportion of your staff. This type of planning should be driven by your business’ strategic priorities.
The challenges and how to rebuild:
- Prioritise. What are your business goals within the context of the pandemic? It may be that your goal is to avoid increasing your debt for the next six months or that you want to avoid furloughing certain members of staff. Whatever your priorities, you need to think about what could affect them. How could your goals be impeded? Divide these factors into two groups: things you can control and things you can’t (e.g. changes to legislation). How quickly can you change the things you have power over?
- Set your objectives. What tasks have to be actioned in order to reach your goals? You also need to clarify who will complete these tasks and when.
- Communication is key. There’s no point in setting a strategy if you’re not going to share it with your whole organisation. Everyone in your company needs to align themselves and their actions with the objectives, so communicate the strategy clearly.
- Accountability. With so many of us working remotely, it’s vital that accountability is adhered to. Setting deadlines and meeting regularly via remote technology will help achieve this.
One person who believes scenario planning can make all the difference to your cash flow is Matt Garrett, Founder and CEO of TGG Accounting:
‘Managing cash is important, especially in today’s uncertain times. You can improve your cash flow forecasting it over the next quarter, which will help you identify cost savings.
To get a complete picture of your cash flow, outline all of your ins and outs over the next 13 weeks. In this process, you will find areas where you are spending too much money, expenses that are not necessary, or payments for something you no longer need. You will find the cost savings in your own books. This is the first step in scenario planning. After you’ve made this forecast, review how your business is tracking each day.’
Rebuilding isn’t about knocking the entire infrastructure down to rubble and starting afresh. Rather, it’s about pivoting, repositioning,# and future-proofing. While it may seem a daunting prospect, there is another way of looking at it: as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The pandemic has forced us to look at our organisational processes, the way we work, how we can be better. It’s shown us the chinks in our armour, taught us the value of innovation, and proven how agile we can be in the face of adversity.
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