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The Tough Truths 2020 Taught Us About Business Growth

blogpost covid-19 leadership revenue throughput Jan 16, 2021

The day was January 1st, 2020. You had set your annual goals.You were filled with excitement over all the things you were going to accomplish. You probably felt 10 years younger than you do now.

But somehow, you and your business survived it all--in fact, maybe it wasn’t all bad. Either way, many of us business owners are picking ourselves up, brushing the dirt off our masks, and gearing up for whatever 2021 might hold.

Because if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you can never be too prepared for the unexpected. 

COVID-19 presented (and still is presenting) a once-in-a-life time global pandemic--but it also exposed evergreen economic principles that every business owner needs to take to heart. Principles that will define if your business can not just survive, but if it can thrive. 

So let’s take a moment to look back on last year and extract as much insight as we can.

Lesson 1: Innovative Leadership Makes or Breaks a Business

“Pivot” might be one of the biggest buzz words of 2020, but there’s a reason for that. Not many people pivot into new growth and strategies when life is easy and the economy is stable. After all, when it feels like nothing is wrong, there’s nothing to “fix”.

But some businesses were able to do this better than others--was it just the luck of their industry or product? Not exactly. 

What makes a business survive is how prepared and adaptable its leaders are. For the leaders who weren’t keeping an eye on their foundation over the last few years, this year might have been especially tough.

(i.e. “I know we’re customer concentrated, but the money is good so why bother branching out?”) 

Meanwhile, owners who were already tuning-up their businesses were in a better position to make a pivot with their team--because that’s what they’ve been doing all along.

It’s the difference between staying on top of your health habits versus trying to start a fitness routine when you’re sick. If you’re consistently strengthening your business during good times, you will be in a better position to maneuver when a crisis hits.

2021 Takeaway: What steps can you take now to address the vulnerabilities in your business model and operation? (p.s. if you’re looking for an effective and efficient method, you might want to check out our Revenue Throughput System.)

Lesson 2: There’s More Room for Flexibility Than We Thought

COVID posed a worst-case scenario for an unprecedented number of businesses, especially those reliant on an in-person sales process or workforce. Possibly the most common form of COVID pivoting was the massive transition to a remote workforce and buying experience.

But more than that, some businesses found greater flexibility in their whole business model. 

It’s hard to remember an event that has impacted the American economy like the COVID lockdown. That kind of shock to the system shakes up the assumptions we often take for granted, especially when it comes to consumer behavior and norms.

In the B2B world specifically, we’re seeing noteworthy shifts from the way business has traditionally been done. Companies that rely on tactics like in-person sales demos or trade shows have had to adjust to the new COVID world, but so have their consumers!

Everyone talks about the need for providers to adjust, but we aren’t talking about customers nearly as much.

But it makes sense, right? As consumers get increasingly comfortable with remote technologies, remote decision making begins to feel more normal as well. That’s why now 70% of B2B decision makers feel comfortable making remote purchases in the ballpark of half a million dollars.

If you knew that even your high-ticket prospects were beginning to adopt remote norms, how would it affect your sales model? What about your marketing strategy? 

In the brave new world of COVID, your prospects are changing, and you may not be bound to the old playbook and its assumption-based rules.

2021 Takeaway: What other policies and practices do you take for granted as a “rule” for your workplace structure and culture that might actually not be necessary?

Lesson 3: The New Ways Might Be Here to Stay

While there are things about the “old days” we may long for in this New Normal, there may be things that are here to stay--because they actually serve the customer better than before

Take car dealerships as an example. 

When steps considered critical to their sale were cut off (i.e. people walking around, browsing cars in person), they found a new way to deliver their product that has actually left customers happier than before. What did they do? 

They innovated their offer to reflect their customers’ needs and the economic environment with contactless pick up (here’s an example). They helped remove barriers their customers had (safety and health) while making their process easier and more customer-centric than ever before. 

They’ll actually deliver the car right to your door and let you test drive it for 24 hours! There are a number of dealerships that have discussed making contactless test drive a part of their on-going business plan due to positive customer response.

2021 Takeaway: What elements of your business have you innovated? Don’t just assume that you should “go back to normal” after once we’re past COVID. Ask your customers how they like this new process of working with you -- you might be surprised by what they say.

Lesson 4: When Revenue Dries Up, Find New Revenue Streams

For other businesses, it would seem no amount of repositioning and creative delivery can sustain (or revive) their primary revenue streams in the COVID world. In such a case, a paradigm shift is in order.

It was truly fascinating to watch established businesses and industries jump into entirely new markets--with products that they were actually tangentially related to.

I’m talking about all the distilleries that turned into hand-sanitizer manufacturers or restaurants that turned into mini-markets.

Other businesses didn’t jump into new streams, but changed their business model to include a recurring revenue offer.

You might have heard of a few of these - what about movies? Movie theaters have been crushed by the restrictions, which takes its toll on the movie productions themselves. How did they adjust?

We’re just now seeing the giants of the cinema world striking up unprecedented deals with movie streaming services to release movies digitally first instead of in theaters! Disney created a direct channel to their content with Disney+.

Groups like Warner Bros are now offering their 2021 line ups virtually through HBO Max instead of relying on movie theaters. 

They’re now finding new platforms and relationships to continue making money during the pandemic restrictions, and in doing so, they’ve generated an excitement hard to replicate in theaters.

If the idea of finding new revenue streams seems intimidating, I shared more about this in my recent blog on How to Add a New Revenue Stream in Three Easy Steps - check it out for a more in depth chat on the topic.

New Business Leadership for a Brave New World

As we move into 2021, we’re all a little eager to throw off the many challenges of the past year. Still, I would urge you not to forget the lessons of 2020. Not everything in this “new normal” has been bad--in fact, I think it highlights one of the greatest lessons that we always need to learn as business owners: keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

In times of plenty, in times of normalcy, we get sucked so easily into the day-to-day grind of our businesses. But I would argue that for you as a business owner, one of the best things you can do is to maintain a birds-eye view of your business. 

Operations can easily become the repeating backdrop of our lives in ordinary times--and a black hole during times of crisis, consuming all of your time, energy, and attention as a business owner.

If you don’t have an eye on your business as a whole (no matter what season you’re in), you’ll find that a lack of overall growth comes with it.

Taking the time to evaluate your high-level strategic direction on a regular basis makes the difference when it comes to accomplishing your long term goals.

At Value Prop, we help business owners who are tied up in operations get the high-level insights they need to jumpstart revenue growth--and the practical support to make the changes that matter for growth. 

Our proprietary Revenue Throughput System will help you assess and transform the 8 critical factors of your business that drive (or constrain) revenue growth. For more information, download our Information Packet on the Revenue Throughput System.