“Common Enemy” theory has often been discussed as a way for groups and organizations to cut away the clutter and focus on the tasks that are needed to make the maximum contribution and to “win in the market.” The Common Enemy is a source of motivation and has a clear objective: Defeat the Enemy.
The LOCALCOMM Virtual CEO Panel on Transformation and Innovation – The New Reality discussed the impact on their businesses from the “common enemy” Coronavirus. Across all the CEO’s, there was a consensus that having subscription-based products have helped to minimize the effect of the pandemic.
While sales to new businesses have effectively stopped, the fear of high churn on existing customers has not materialized. Also, due to subscriptions, cash flow from existing customers has not been affected. From an overall financial view, the results are positive as many of the businesses have reduced costs (often with government support) with temporary unemployment or reduced working hours for many employees. So in the short term, the financial situation is OK, but when the government supports stop, it will be a different situation. Now is the time to examine the business and plan for the future before the support ends. The discussion of products raised interesting comparisons. The freemium approach is working well with the WeWork and eCommerce products in Belgium and Switzerland respectively.
However, Michael Oschmann pointed out that in Germany, many of their customers have narrowed their focus and are not looking for expansive digital solutions but more focusing on the directory products. Interestingly, Switzerland and Belgium both launched a new directory focused on what businesses are open and delivering during the crisis, but Switzerland shut theirs down due to poor uptake. Stefano Santinelli highlighted Localsearch’s success with their eCommerce product that was only promoted online and with little direct sales action. Gathering almost 5,000 customers in 5 months is an excellent indication of the market demand and also proof of how to reach customers without direct sales.
The overall consensus on product is to move fast, try new things, and look at freemium models. With the potential for 2nd and 3rd waves coming in the next 6-18 months and potentially more lockdowns, it will be important to build a portfolio of offerings, including SaaS solutions/platforms, to support businesses in a variety of ways.
Watch the Panel discussion here.
For the cultural environment, the pandemic has been beneficial in many ways. It has helped many to realize that their processes are too complicated and also that their systems need to be more flexible. Also, the decision-making process has sped up significantly as a sense of urgency has been communicated to all employees. Michael Oschmann agreed that while they value input from a lot of people, they need to focus on the big items and leave behind small things. John Goddard highlighted that strong teams matter and not just at the top but down through the organization. One or two strong company personalities do not translate so well over video! Having clear direction (“we need everyone to be able to work from home starting tomorrow”) also helps to bring out the best in strong teams.
Organizations can also test their ideas that have been on the back-burner such as closing sales over video and self-service models. While closing over video maybe an enforced change, once the crisis is past, these sorts of learnings could be incorporated into the regular business models. From systems to processes, all the panelists agreed that their systems need to be more flexible. Jon Martinsen believes that the good reaction from his team was because almost all systems were cloud-based, and switching from office to home was not as traumatic as for other companies. But while systems may be more flexible, the processes surrounding them must also be addressed. As John Goddard pointed out, when things get decentralized, it can highlight the over-complication of some legacy processes.
A key takeaway from the session was to look now at processes and systems because government subsidies will stop, and if you don’t have a plan, the financial effects can be severe. The panel concludes that the situation from customer churn, cash-flow, and company culture has not been as harmful as the worst-case scenarios predicted. But now they must seize the opportunity to reset the direction of their companies across products, people, and processes because things will not be business as usual for many years to come.