Everything had been going so smoothly. Years of continual steady sales growth, careful and considered business investments, positioning companies for the next few years with the right people in the right roles and then out of nowhere everything goes off the rails.
So here we are, beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel after a couple of months we never want to live through again, and everyone has two basic questions: what just happened, and what do we do now?
Most companies have had to scramble in ways they would never have planned for just to react to Coronavirus, and in those kinds of situations instinct can take over faster than data driven decisions. No doubt resources have been cut, changes made, and damage done as a means to stop the bank from calling. Now however, recovery will be the next stage. Part of the benefit of the rapid impact recession is that it might lead to a more rapid recovery. This recession is unlike any other, self inflicted as the better path against a more horrible reality. We stopped our daily lives so that we all could be safe. As the doctors tell us the danger is subsiding, we all want to pick up where we left off.
The recession recovery is inevitable, it’s just a matter of where it happens first and how long it will take. And that journey will be more individual than in previous recessions. Some states will recover faster than others, some industries will return more rapidly than others. New investment opportunities are everywhere. Market share is up for grabs. There is no single clear plan, which is why we all face the challenge of identifying our own way back. This is the era where we’re writing out own futures with what we do over the next 18 months.
The role of interpreting the data of your business is more critical than ever. Transactional data is the input to your company brain, the ears & eyes to help you define exactly what your particular impact has been. Interpreting those signals is where strong skills are required, and there’s certain things to look for. Most importantly is defining what happened. Using October thru January as your baseline, you can use your data to understand exactly what has been lost as it won’t be consistent across your business. Certain products, market segments, regions, types of sale will have been more impacted than others. You don’t want to understand this at a high level, you need to understand this at a grass roots level.
It’s best to build a ranking of the post COVID-19 performance against the previous baseline to quantify just which areas were hardest hit. Look at this measure in every different way you can – large customers vs small, SPA business vs normal stock, one branch vs another, the change in buying from your most strategic customers, commodity products vs specialty products, low margin sales vs high margin sales. This is your roadmap for how you got here. And then for each ranking identify a corrective path. Is it just a matter of patience, can you do something to assist in a more rapid recovery, is the damage irreversible? Match this up with where you’ve cut resources to see if you’re positioned correctly, and what that plan might look like.
This will involve navigating thru a large amount of data, but the conversations these reports will bring will be as insightful and honest as you could ask for. Having Data Whispers in your organization is one of the biggest strategic advantages you can have. You just have to listen to them. The resulting analytics should be shared at the highest and lowest levels of the company. Now is the time when clear talk is required, and nothing should be glossed over. You always get the most honesty in foxholes.
Once you’re clear on where you are, assuming we’ve reached the low point of the economic damage we’ve endured, the next step is defining where you go from here. Is the recovery simply a matter of returning exactly to where you were at the end of 2019, or will you have lost something you can’t recover? Or more critically is this your opportunity to change the structure of your business in ways that might have seemed more difficult just a few months ago? The challenges you’re facing are the same as everyone is facing, and in unsteady times market shares can be won or lost based on how you respond. Sitting on your hands and waiting for a return leaves everything you had up for grabs to other more proactive parties. Equally, if you’ve always known that something within your customer base needed to change for the long term good, this is the event that can trigger that change.
Now is a great time to evaluate where you’re underachieving. To identify markets and customers and product lines that you really could grow in with only a little focus. And to perhaps start to build up and replicate that success. In this industry easy sales are often overlooked, and there may be product lines or groups of customers that have been overshadowed by bigger initiatives that could be revisited and nurtured into growth with just a little attention.
If you know where you are, and you have a strong idea of where you want to go, then building that path becomes much easier. Too many companies struggle with not clearly defining their destination, so you don’t know where to focus or what to strategize on. A confused sales team is an ineffective sales team, and the answer can’t be do everything, not in these current circumstances. Picking your battles is critical when resources are tight and times are strained.
Looking at your customers and defining their mix, your wallet share, sales stability, length of relationship, their product line utilization, your customer pricing strategy, the supporting infrastructure they need, the cost to serve and true operational/order behaviors – these are all ways to build up a profile of each account from where they are today and where you need them to be if you’re going to use the next couple of recovery years. All of these metrics can be built from your transactional data and allow you to build a cheat sheet for each account. And in turn pinpoint the actions and events you want to focus on as you plan your way for the rest of 2020 and into 2021.
It can be hard to believe that even in these circumstances the answers to where are we and where to we go are already at your fingertips, but that’s what your data can do for you. The winners coming out of COVID-19 will be the companies understanding their data and asking decisive actions as a result, and for others this will be an opportunity missed. Interesting Times are exactly that – times when things shake up and news happens. It’s up to each of us to determine what we want to be saying about ourselves two years from now, and laying the groundwork to make sure we get there.
Read more of Mark's posts.
- The Measure Behind the Measure
- Actions, Not Data
- Big Data is Everywhere, Are You Using it Correctly?
- Who Are Your Customers?
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