After COVID-19: 10 Business Lessons for a Profoundly Different World

Business Lessons 1320

As the U.S. and global economies begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt to strikingly different ways of doing business, many companies are revamping their product lines, go-to-market operations, customer-engagement models, and core business plans.

Each industry faces its own unique set of challenges:

  • How much will business travel be permanently replaced by Zoom and Teams calls? What type of business model can airlines create to align with that new future?
  • Amazon said its online sales via its Whole Foods grocery stores tripled in the last quarter. Where’s all that market share coming from?
  • Commercial real-estate companies in major cities: if they can’t encourage tenants to come back in significant numbers, what do they do with all that space?
  • Universities are facing low-priced competition unlike anything they’ve ever experienced—and the interest in online higher education is soaring.

Think about it from the employee's point of view: do they want to work in a high-rise building or at a “headquarters” campus? To them, does the company seem as capable and solid now as it did just six months ago? If they want to work remotely but move from a big city to a small town, should they expect to continue to earn big-city wages?

Despite all that uncertainty, as businesses begin to reopen and reimagine what their futures might look like in six months, or one year, or three years, there are some fundamental steps business leaders in every industry can take to get a solid grasp on how to move forward into an unprecedented future. Here are 10 such ideas.

1. The power of the employee experience. While a lot of companies say, “our most important asset is our people,” not that many businesses actually live up to that ideal. And on the vital front of employee experience, the COVID-19 crisis is stripping away all the pretense and making it plain for everyone to see:

  • Does your company just talk about a deep commitment to employees, or does the company demonstrate that in multiple and unmistakable ways?
  • Did your company provide flexible plans to help employees deal with the challenges of COVID-19?
  • Did your company put the safety and well-being of employees above all else?
  • Is your company sharing plans about reopening and seeking input from employees?
  • Is your company open to new ideas from employees about how to thrive in the new world?

2. The importance of being digital. As we all learned first-hand, every aspect of our personal and professional lives has changed rapidly, and often profoundly, over the past several months. Businesses that want to thrive in this dynamic and sometimes-chaotic new world must be able to move at the speed of the world around them—six-month lag times to catch up or figure out a response or work the kinks out won’t cut it. And to achieve that type of speed and externally focused resilience, companies have to be digital from end to end: from sales to fulfillment to accounting to service and beyond.

3. The importance of data. The data imperative, tied tightly to #2 above, provides the raw materials for your company’s re-emergence as a customer-focused, customer-aware, market-savvy, and logistically optimized organization. Each of those attributes is indispensable in the new world of fast-changing customer preferences, reconfigured supply chains, new and often unexpected regulatory requirements, and an employee base that’s likely to be mostly remote for some time to come. What grade do you give yourself as a data-driven company?

4. The value of superb customer experiences. The year 2020 might come to be known as The Year of Living Remotely, and that has drastically changed how we work, learn, communicate, shop, and generally experience the world around us. The old way of conducting business is a thing of the past. The new ways require a customer-engagement model centered totally on the preferences of the buyers, not on the sellers' convenience and/or traditions. Customers today aren’t just more fickle—they’re more fickle and demanding and know they’re in a buyers’ market. In today’s world, superb customer experience is not just ideal—it's a requirement.

5. The need for speed. In a classic episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer’s shopping for a deep-fryer and Moe tells him about one that “can flash-fry a buffalo in 40 seconds.” In reply, Homer whines, “Forty seconds? But I want it now!” Yeah, that’s a bit over the top, but the remote world we’ve entered is much more heavily dependent on deliveries, buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), and curbside pickup than ever before. A perfect example is the anecdote from #1 above about the 200% increase in online revenue at Whole Foods. And as deliveries become the norm, does anybody think that either consumers or business customers will accept longer time-to-possession than they’ve experienced in the past? For businesses, that means it’s essential to have end-to-end digitally connected workflows tying together sales to procurement to fulfillment to customer service and beyond. Who in your organization is functioning as the Chief Acceleration Officer?

6. Supply chains become permanent works in progress. Traditional supply-chain operations, timetables, and configurations were okay in the traditional business world. But today, with businesses having to reimagine product lines and business models constantly, and with customers becoming more demanding about what they want and how quickly they want it, supply chains are becoming ever-improving works in progress. In your company, who’s in charge of relentlessly optimizing your supply chain? Is it time for you to invest in an ERP system to manage all these increasingly complex and data-centric operations? Or maybe to upgrade your current system built for a very different time?

7. A time for reimagination. What’s going on today can’t be addressed with efficiency, even though efficiency is great; it can’t be fixed by tinkering with operations to gain a few seconds here or a few nickels there, although both of those outcomes are fine. Instead, the challenge of our time is one that calls for the reimagination of:

  • Product lines: do your products and services fit the new priorities your customers have?
  • Business processes: do your operations map to the way the new world works, or are they stuck in a model of the past that’s becoming increasingly irrelevant?
  • Talent strategy: are you hiring new types of talent to meet your customers' new demands and requirements?
  • Remote work: maybe 50% will come back to “the office,” and maybe it’ll be more than that. But maybe it’ll be 25% or 30%. If that occurs, how will you optimize your business to align with that remote reality?
  • Business models: What does the remote world do to your business model? Where do you have vulnerabilities and opportunities? A business model written in late 2019 for an old-world 2020 can be an anchor that sinks your company. A reimagined business model optimized for the new remote world can trigger new growth opportunities for companies that can harness the capabilities described not only here in #7 but throughout this article.

8. End-to-end vision and operations. Lightning-fast and customer-centric operations are impossible to achieve in the old-world model of siloed departmental workflows. In a world where everything must focus on delivering great value and experiences to customers, the workflows across engineering and marketing, sales and service, HR and design, and procurement and logistics must be interconnected and seamless.

9. Technology’s no longer "nice to have;" it’s a must. In the past, spreadsheets and printouts and faxes and paper-based all-nighters might have been enough to get your business through some big orders or busy seasons. But in today’s new and highly demanding world, those tools can’t deliver what you need. The advent of the cloud gives small and mid-sized businesses access, at very reasonable prices, to the same types of world-class applications that big corporations use.

10. The need for trusted and authentic leadership. No matter the industry or company size, every business has been rattled to its core by the COVID-19 crisis. Over the next 12-18 months, winning companie must have leaders who deliver not only facts and details but also inspiration and hope, and who don’t pursue command and control but instead trust and autonomy. To meet those standards, leaders must have real-time information about the business, employees, customers, and operations, and that means some level of technological investment. But on top of that, they have to see that data not as the ultimate objective, but rather as how to chart a course for a successful future in today’s very different world.

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About the Author

ECI Staff Contributors love to share their insights and expertise on a variety of topics including sales, marketing, cloud, ERP, and SMB development as well as on product specific education. With offices throughout the United States, Mexico, England, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, more than 40 employees contribute to blog on a regular basis.