The Art of Pivoting

Business is all about managing change. Managing the change of growth and development is difficult enough, but you may also be affected by unexpected events (like a pandemic) that can knock the business off track. Business continuity planning and insurance will help address some of the problems caused by such events but cannot provide complete protection against them. The best defense is for a business to become agile enough to respond to unexpected changes.

Companies have no choice but to adapt as quickly as they can during the Coronavirus pandemic. While some businesses have shut down or suspended their activities, others are aiming to benefit from the outbreak through change and innovation. We have been provided a unique opportunity to take a moment to assess how business has been done and to consider repositioning the business model to be more adaptable, robust, and provide greater value to consumers.

Pivoting isn’t about starting from scratch, abandoning what you’ve already accomplished. To pivot your business is to take what you’ve learned, the team you’ve built, and the connections you’ve made, and finding a whole new way to utilise them in the face of changing circumstances.

The decision to pivot isn’t an easy one, but when the time comes, it’s important to move quickly. Here are some steps to tackle to take the plunge toward making that pivot:


Is a pivot necessary?

The first step is deciding whether your company needs to pivot to find success. There are lots of reasons why a business might decide to pivot. If more than a couple of these conditions are met, it’s likely that a pivot might be necessary:

Growth has halted: Every business reaches a plateau at one point or another, but in order to succeed, your company needs to continue growing. If you find that sales have leveled off and can’t foresee a change in the coming months, that’s a problem.

Competition is too fierce: A little competition is a good thing, on the other hand, a crowded marketplace means it will be tougher and tougher to draw distinctions between what you offer and what other businesses do.

Success is limited to one specific area: Do you offer a range of products or services, only one of which is actually selling? You’ve clearly found something that resonates, but you’re wasting time and resources marketing it alongside deliverables that don’t deliver.

The difference between choosing to pivot and choosing not to comes down to a simple question: Do you have a way forward utilising what you’ve already learned? If you can identify what direction to pivot in, it will be a better use of your time and resources than starting from scratch.


Identify what direction to pivot in

There are three major ways that a company can pivot:

Audience pivot: Taking your existing product or service and presenting it to a different set of customers.

Customer problem pivot: Finding a different product or service to present to your customers. If you find that the customers you’ve been trying to sell to have a different problem that your idea doesn’t address, pivot what you have in a way that does address it.

Feature pivot: Taking one feature from your product and pivoting the company to focus on marketing and selling that. If you find one aspect of your business is the star and the rest of the product only serves to obscure access to it, you’ve identified one feature you can zoom in and make into a new, simplified business.

As you can see, in each example your business can combine what you’ve already learned with what could still yet work. Identifying your pivot is difficult but doing so prevents you from making ill-advised leaps—or, even worse, getting stuck with what isn’t working.


Collect feedback from your team and customers

When a crisis hits, it’s time to talk to your customers, stakeholders, and the wider ecosystem. What you find out will be invaluable. That means you’ll need to perform market research via interviews, surveys, and polls on your website and social media. You can also review research from secondary sources such as market reports issued by government or private organisations. You’re looking to understand your customers (or potential customers), including what issues they have, where they would go if your product didn’t exist, and what their ideal buying process looks like.

It’s also essential to spend time surveying your team. Collecting feedback both anonymously and in one-on-one interviews will both provide validation about your pivot, and help you identify who may or may not be ready for the transition. Take an inventory of your business’s transferable skills, which can help identify what additional services you can offer to tap into growing markets. Transparency with the team will make that pivot leap a lot easier, and more successful.


Continue to monitor your outcomes

Some companies go through many iterations until they find the kind of success they’re looking for.  A single pivot may not be enough. Monitor and test what has changed after your pivot and decide if you are still failing to resonate with your customers. Consider how your business will function beyond the pandemic. What would be the new normal of the industry?

Too many businesses fold completely or “jump” to another idea, leaving behind the validated learning they’d accumulated from their previous iteration. Pivoting allows you to more carefully test and validate what has worked and combine them with new ideas that you can also test and substantiate. Knowing when to pivot, as opposed to stay or fold, is the hardest part.

Many businesses undergo a pivot at some point in the lifetime of the company. While the Coronavirus crisis has made things far more urgent for many, making a pivot is a normal exercise that can be achieved with success, no matter when it happens. Take this opportunity to lead in your sector. Identify the challenges, work with your network, and ensure that the lessons of this time provide insights for growth and success in the future.

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