By Dr. Evans Baiya
Major world events create disruption, and COVID-19 is no different. Many industries are experiencing disruptions—in the way they do business, in the sustainability of their systems, and in the engagement of their customers.
It is estimated more than 100,000 businesses that were inactive or barely active during the pandemic will close permanently. Even some large iconic brands have announced their intention to close or have filed for bankruptcy protection due to low demand for their offerings. What happens when the demand for your offering is diminished? What should you do? Here are four actions to take.
1. Conduct customer research
Understand why the demand has diminished by talking to your customers. It is easy to blame COVID-19 for everything, but that is a victim approach. You are responsible for understanding why customers are no longer buying from you. Even during the pandemic, customers are still consuming, even if they are not buying from you. What do they need now?
Assuming you are running a customer-centric business where you occasionally or regularly track who your customers are and why they buy from you, this is your opportunity to use that data. Start by contacting past customers and conversing with them about their needs, wants, and desires. Do not use online surveys alone—talk to real human beings. This is the only way to be certain of the data you collect.
Analyze the data and answer the question “Do my client’s priorities align with my offering?” If the answer is yes, then reposition your offering or create a new delivery model and reengage the same clients with promotions, special offers, etc. If the answer is no, then you have the choice of innovating or closing your business.
2. Innovate immediately
Now that you understand what your clients need and are willing to spend money on, focus on innovating and developing a solution for that need. You must move quickly to deliver a solution as soon as possible. This is how you stay relevant.
Developing a strategy for what you are trying to achieve is paramount. Generate your strategy by answering a series of questions:
- Do I have enough ideas to come up with the right solution?
- Do I have the financial resources to develop a minimum viable offer (MVO) so customers can pay me?
- How am I going to develop the solution?
- How am I going to deliver the solution so it is easy for customers to accept and pay?
Don’t jump into a new opportunity too quickly without a strategy, otherwise you risk disappointing your customers and losing them for good. Always remember customers buy to meet their needs—not yours. Customer loyalty is need driven.
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3. Collaborate and co-create
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Kenyan government implemented a 14-day quarantine for residents who had been traveling internationally and were returning to the country. However, hospitals were not ready to provide secure room and board to travelers who needed to be quarantined, and conduct daily testing for the government as well. There were even cases in which people in quarantine had “escaped” from hospitals before their 14 days were up. The situation had become a big problem for the hospitals.
Because of COVID restrictions, the hotel industry was also struggling. One hotel owner heard about the problems hospitals were having and converted his already empty hotel into quarantine rooms with security, food, hygiene, and extras that travelers desired. He approached the government and the hospitals, and the three parties agreed that quarantining travelers at the hotel was a perfect solution.
The results were a win-win for all. A win for the hospitals, which did not have to deal with people in quarantine except for testing and unless they were indeed sick; a win for the government, which was able to enforce quarantine and provide essential services; a win for the hotel, which made significant revenue (as a matter of fact, in the month of March, it had 100% occupancy for over two weeks straight); and a win for travelers, who appreciated being quarantined in a clean, safe, and comfortable environment.
During the disruption, you may not have a complete offering that someone is willing to pay for, but you may have part of an offering that someone else’s customers need. This is a great time to collaborate and co-create new services with others. Consider potential partners who you can work with to develop offerings that are in demand now.
4. Develop a futuristic mindset
As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for creating a sustainable client base. The way you do that is by looking into the future, and not just reacting to the current situation. In fact, if you focus too much on the pandemic and do not pay attention to the future, then you will not have a future post-pandemic. Even if your clients are not buying now, do you know if they will need your services after the pandemic? Do the research.
What will clients need three, six, 12 months from now? It’s easy to say you don’t know or that no one knows. The future is created by thinkers. If you want to have input on what happens in your market, you should practice thinking futuristically and be willing to invest in that future. After that, start influencing your market towards that the future.
If customers are not buying, you must do the work of finding what they need so you can pivot and provide what they are willing to pay for. That is only way to stay relevant.
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