Amongst the many things in our society that have been crucible-proven by the pandemic, one of the most relevant has been the testing of presumed business growth models and strategies. Products and services previously thought of as recession-proof have not necessarily served double-duty as pandemic-proof. So, how do you prepare your business to continue growing when the impact on growth models and strategies remains unknown? Over the past year, I have observed businesses that pivoted and kept growing and thriving while others within the same market were forced to close. After many conversations and market research, my team and I identified and named a critical type of growth that we believe is imperative if a company’s success is to be as fluid as the market in which its business flows.
As we began discovering the facets of this most critical response to seismic changes in the marketplace, a few insights surfaced as the watershed decisions that meant the difference between unimpeded growth and closure. Before I unpack these watershed decisions, let’s talk about this descriptive word, adaptive. Adaptive means having the ability or tendency to adapt (successfully adjust) in different situations. Science has shown that certain species of animals have an innate gift of fluidity within the survival and adaptation of changing environments. Business growth is either adaptive or static. Many businesses who have sadly fallen due to the cataclysmic changes in consumer behaviors and marketplace performance had a growth trajectory that was static and critically dependent on predictive consumer behaviors. This, as we learned, is a recipe for disaster because consumer behaviors have very rarely been historically predictive.
There is good news. While sudden marketplace changes in behavior can very rarely be predicted with flawless accuracy, growth can be highly and efficiently adaptive to changes. Here is the truth about it: the marketplace has never been secretive about their changes; they have just never telegraphed their changes. Why? Because from day-to-day they don’t even know what will draw their affections and buying decisions. One day spending dollars are allocated to one purchase and the next day, allocated in a totally different way. For example, 5 years ago, less than 30% of purchases were researched online first.(1) In 2020, due to the pandemic, 87% of ALL purchases were initiated online while Google performed 40,000 search queries every second. This change says that our online presence should provide consumers and clients with everything they need to make an informed buying decision on our websites. This is just one example of how the marketplace reveals its buying intentions. So, let’s take a look at the watershed decisions that will equip your business with powerful adaptive growth strategies.
The No.1 watershed decision that successful companies made during the pandemic was a pivot to listening-vs-talking. While the marketplace will not often tell businesses before a buying behavior changes, it will tell businesses when it has changed and why it has changed. This involves a measure of asking, as well. Oftentimes, businesses are reluctant to ask their target market why buying behaviors have changed for fear of hearing something negative about their products or services, or with regard to how their user engagement is no longer relevant. In order to capitalize on the power of listening, businesses must be willing to hear truth and respect truth. But even further than that, adapt to the truth in a way that is valuable and effective.(2) An August 2020 Hubspot Research survey showed that 82% of consumers changed products or services because they felt they weren’t being heard in a negative experience with customer service. Asking and listening is critical to accuracy in responding. Which brings me to the next watershed decision.
The No.2 watershed decision that successful companies made during the pandemic was a commitment to collecting and analyzing real-time, accurate data. Allow me to differentiate here between the different datas. While there is available data to collect (regarding a former behavior), this data will not prepare a business to make necessary trajectory changes in order to meet the consumer or client where they are currently positioned. For example, while a retail store may collect data on the basis of foot traffic to their store and acknowledge the increase in online sales, they are in danger of missing the real time data that will position the business for adaptive growth.(3) According to an October 2020 study by McKinsey & Co, 76% of consumers changed stores, brands, and/or the way they purchased the products from those stores and brands. In addition, the same study found that 64% of consumers are not planning on resuming their “out of home” shopping habits. While the retail store could continue tracking foot and online traffic, these will not provide the vital data needed to create and stimulate adaptive growth strategies. Understanding the most accurate real-time data on consumer behavior would cause the same retail store to launch a campaign to keep existing customers shopping online and would develop messaging to reach them at home. This data would also reveal that the cost of acquiring new customers and clients has increased over 80%. Which leads to the next watershed decision.
The No.3 watershed decision that successful companies made during the pandemic was in how they chose to actively engage with buyers. The marketplace is intuitive - more so than businesses often give it credit for. In other words, buyers know the difference between responding and reacting. A rushed reaction causes a loss of trust and respect; sending an unconscious message that the business was caught off guard. Conversely, a thorough and timely response garners respect and gratitude towards the business for caring enough to accommodate the consumer and client with realistic answers to new challenges.(4) In the same McKinsey & Co. study, 83% of consumers tried a new buying behavior. For those businesses that are equipped with adaptive growth strategies, they weren’t fixated on why buying behaviors changed (while this data is important) but were instead focused on adapting their buying experience to new behaviors. So many businesses were far too in love with “the way we have always done it” instead of the way consumers and clients are buying it. A quick reaction would offer a new color scheme or huge sale or maybe a new product line. A thorough and accurate response would be to create an online user experience that provides a seamless path to purchase that closes the empathy deficit and vindicates the genuine care of the business for the consumer or client.
A mantra has developed amongst my team during the pandemic - one that I think resounds the cry of businesses who have implemented a strategy of adaptive growth: “We will be a cold drink of water where clients and customers are thirsty right now!” The only way to accomplish this is to listen to them and their behaviors, take really good notes, and respond accurately instead of reacting fearfully. To continue the water analogy, when adaptive growth strategies are implemented and executed, your business growth will respond to market changes just as a river responds to changes within its ecosystem. Your growth will adapt to unforeseen changes, eclipsing them with the current of accurate response, and growth will continue in a new direction with as much force and purpose as when the flow began. Maybe even more.
1 “10 Mind-Blowing Stats About Consumer Behaviour: Keensights.” Keenfolks, 10 Mar. 2021, thekeenfolks.com/10-mind-blowing-stats-about-consumer-behaviour/.
2 Bernazzani, Sophia. “Why (& How) You Should Actually Listen to Your Customers.” HubSpot Blog, 27 Aug. 2020, blog.hubspot.com/service/listening-to-customers.
3 “Survey: US Consumer Sentiment during the Coronavirus Crisis.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, 12 Dec. 2020, www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-us-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis#.
4 “Consumer Sentiment and Behavior Continue to Reflect the Uncertainty of the COVID-19 Crisis.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, 19 Nov. 2020, www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/a-global-view-of-how-consumer-behavior-is-changing-amid-covid-19.
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