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Let’s Talk: Pivoting

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Business was hit hard during the pandemic. However a number of businesses who successfully changed their strategy have managed to not only stay afloat, but tap into new markets and flourish during an exceedingly difficult time.

This week we ask: how do you know when to pivot?

Cale Maxwell, COO, LEVO

The decision to pivot and the timing will vary from business to business, but aligning the internal with the external pivot is often forgotten. Pivots are usually understood to be external and customer-focused – a company feels they want to connect more with customers, so they point all their resources to that endeavour. While customer-centricity is critical, what’s overlooked in the pivot is employee-centricity. If you neglect employee experience, there is no way you will deliver a sustainable customer experience. You might be able to hold together amazing customer experiences for short bursts, but not for the long haul. Employee experience matters because building the necessary behavioural pivot into this experience ensures that you’re creating an internal space that will support external customer experience, and successful future pivots too.

Sean Girvin, Managing Director ANZ, Rackspace Technology

For many businesses last year, pivoting was a successful reaction to a challenging climate. Looking to the future, these businesses need to be ready for another pivot, with a more agile approach and robust digital strategy. This means businesses need to be proactive in adjusting strategies so that when major events, such as COVID-19, arise businesses are more prepared and only need to make minor changes.

When looking at the wider business, to ensure an agile digital strategy isn’t built in vain, businesses must take measures to build a robust cybersecurity strategy to safeguard all networks and systems. Without one, businesses are left vulnerable to losing time, money and energy.

Adam Ioakim, Managing Director APAC, Emarsys

Knowing when to pivot requires tracking customer behaviour data in the moment so businesses can make practical decisions on how to rapidly adapt strategies in real-time. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that being able to adapt quickly to change is critical and can make or break a company. Planning ahead can be become fast obsolete during times of uncertainly, making planning as close to real-time as possible absolutely essential.  

The retail sector in particular has undergone massive changes over the past year, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing physical stores to temporarily shut up shop and online shopping to soar. This forced many brands to pivot their approach or face financial ruin. Australian fashion retailer, City Beach for example pivoted away from swimwear to comfy stay-at-home wear during the height of the pandemic last year, and it did this by monitoring customer and business data in real-time to help the brand make near instantaneous decisions on areas such as inventory.

Alex West, CEO, Swoop

As soon as new industry trends start to emerge, it’s time to assess your model and consider “pivoting”.

For Swoop, we knew it was time to pivot the way we worked after analysing, watching and learning from the early trends of the wider business industry. 

At the start of the year, and prior to mandatory lockdown being introduced in Sydney, we noticed that more customers were moving away from working in traditional office spaces and towards remote working. Observing this trend caused us to question and reassess our own model and explore and trial different ways of working.  The result of this was a fully remote workforce still delivering for our customers for most of 2020. 

Spotting the trend early meant we were able to iron out any major issues in a timely manner. This further highlights that when it comes to pivoting a business, executing and making decisions quickly is essential as it provides a greater opportunity to fail fast, learn and reshift the mindset.

Chris Rich, Head of Customer Success, Square Australia

Last year many business owners enacted short-term changes, in many instances overnight, to stay operative in an increasingly challenging business environment. Knowing when to pivot involves continually assessing your products or services, processes and customers to gauge what is and isn’t working.

For many, their 2020 pivot was driven by a demand for digital transformation; brick-and-mortar retailers embraced ecommerce and omnichannel selling, personal trainers went virtual and restaurants switched to online ordering, pickup and delivery. While these changes may have been implemented as short-term business solutions, the customer trends that evolved with them are longer lasting.

Businesses that pivoted temporarily must now implement long-term strategies, and those who didn’t should consider doing so. A pivot doesn’t need to be a major change like a new product range or rebrand, but an adjustment to meet and exceed post-pandemic customer expectations. Ask yourself whether, in its current structure, is your business well placed to operate efficiently in this new business environment? If not, stop waiting for things to return to “normal”. Whether the pivot is big or small ensure your business isn’t left behind in 2021.

Gemma Manning, Founder & Managing Director, Gemstar & Manning & Co

A common struggle for business leaders is when to pivot and when to persist. When we first launched our Gemstar business in Singapore in 2016, we had a vision to provide personalised, accessible and inclusive management consultancy support to Australian entrepreneurs expanding into Southeast Asia. 

Right after we set up shop, a much bigger competitor entered the market with almost the exact same business model as ours. It was clear we would not be able to compete head-to-head, and I immediately decided to pivot. That’s when we established YoungGems, focussing on young entrepreneurs instead. We retained our original purpose – to provide personalised, accessible and inclusive support for entrepreneurs in the region – we simply changed our means of fulfilling that goal. 

If there’s too much market competition, your landscape has significantly changed, or your numbers simply don’t make sense anymore, it may be time to pivot. And to those fearful of deviating from long-held business models, I say: choose the right things to stay committed to – your why, not your what and how. 

Ben Lucas, Founder, Flow Athletic

For me, if I see that an initiative is not going as planned I will start tweaking it or brainstorming another way to do things in a way that is more likely to be received by my audience. As I have a good client base now, I often send out surveys so my clients can essentially give us feedback and tell us what they want. In the case of COVID-19, it was obvious that our business would have to pivot online. We never really expected to invest heavily into online as we were just using Facebook Live to deliver our sessions, but we started seeing more international demand, and we still have restrictions on our business so it made sense to pivot to a strong online model too. 

So for me:

  • If it is not working, tweak or find another way to deliver it
  • If your clients are responding to a particular element of your business, consider investing more into it
  • Ask for feedback and ask your clients what they want

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Ann Wen
Ann is a journalist at Dynamic Business.