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Whatever Happened to Your Company's Pre-Pandemic Plans?

January 06, 2021 Leadership
China Martens
By China Louise Martens

When planning your organization’s strategy for 2020, chances are you didn’t factor in the impact of a worldwide pandemic. Instead, you decided on the timing and marketing campaigns around new product releases as well as how to improve customer and employee experiences.

Then, COVID-19 happened, and you had to shift your priorities to focus on serving the immediate needs of your customers and your employees while ensuring everyone’s safety. Your carefully crafted plans were put on hold in the wake of the pandemic.

One question to consider is whether or not those strategic directions remain relevant and still make sense both during the pandemic and then in a post-pandemic world. After all, many of your employees will have become accustomed to and may prefer to continue working remotely, while your customers may have changed their buying patterns and preferred engagement channels for good.

There will likely never be a complete return to business as usual as it was prior to the onset of COVID-19. Rather, we’re moving into new, yet to be defined territory as the pandemic continues.

Hiring, Infrastructure Updates, New Product Rollouts Are Most Likely to Be on Hold

“In our COVID-19 survey work, the initiatives we saw most commonly cited as being on hold or delayed due to the pandemic were hiring and updates to IT infrastructure,” said Liam Eagle, research director, head of Voice of the Enterprise and Voice of the Service Provider, at 451 Research. “Two-thirds of organizations we surveyed said they would be making a permanent and significant shift toward remote working, which will have a significant impact on both hiring strategy and infrastructure requirements.”

New product rollouts were also near the top of the list of initiatives impacted by COVID-19, with many being put on hold due to uncertainty around issues including customer demand, cash flow and availability of resources.

“Some have resumed as businesses grow more confident in the shape of things, and we expect more will continue to resume,” Eagle said. “Whether and how much these pre-COVID plans need to be reworked will depend on the details of the project, the company, and its customers.”

While some plans will be scrapped and some will proceed unchanged, Eagle expects the majority will need to be reworked to reflect the fundamental and most likely permanent changes to work and daily life that have already taken place.

In its most recent quarterly flash survey of around 400 corporate decision-makers, 451 Research found that 60% of the surveyed enterprises agreed that inefficiencies exposed by COVID-19 will drive technology investments at their organizations well into the future.

Dealing with the pandemic has led to positive change for 80% of those polled, who agree the demands of dealing with COVID-19 provide an opportunity to make procedural or operational changes that will benefit the business in the long run.

Related Article: Marketing Lessons Learned: What 2020 Taught Us

An ‘Updated Urgency’ to Execute Digital Transformation More Quickly

For many organizations, one impact of the pandemic has been to accelerate plans that were more long-term thinking rather than ready to execute. A key example would be the move to remote working for the majority or all of your workforce.

All of a sudden, it’s vital that you can offer all of your employees an optimal remote employee experience, which enables them to work as efficiently and collaboratively as in an office environment. It’s as though you’re having to roll out a pilot program but on a company-wide scale, without the careful testing with a small group of employees.

It’s not surprising that the shifts in operations has also led organizations to take another look at their underlying strategies, particularly in relation to digital transformation.

Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group, talked about how the large, global enterprises who subscribe to RSG research view the impact of COVID-19.

“They typically haven’t perceived the pandemic as a major break-point, but more of an accelerator,” he said. “In other words, they are not coming out of the pandemic with some new or revived agenda, but rather, an updated urgency around pre-existing digital transformation initiatives. They have to execute them faster now.”

Organizations are having to become more efficient, decisive, flexible and transparent in how they run their businesses and in how they interact with their customers and employees — and rapidly. Byrne notes that several RSG Council members are forming strategic task forces to respond to anticipated long-term behavioral shifts, which will then significantly impact those organization’s stack architectures.

Related Article: What 8 Months of COVID-19 Taught Us About Digital Transformation

Recast Priorities, Reset Expectations, Then Identify How to Change Plans

“While most plans have some redeeming value, organizations have to start by recasting their priorities, resetting expectations, and then identifying how they plan to change in the environment,” said R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research. “Form always follows function so get both the business model and monetization model right, then figure out the technology, and then get the people behind it.”

Wang notes three key reasons why organizations are revisiting most of their plans. The first, as previously mentioned, is the move to working from home which has meant organizations have had to rethink their internal strategies of how to support their workforce while also delivering on client requirements.

“The other area that has changed is the need for digital business models,” Wang said. “If you don’t monetize by ads, search, digital goods, digital services, memberships, or subscriptions, you are out of business. The last factor is a bit different, automation and AI play a huge role in all future plans.”

Related Article: What 2020 Taught Us About Being an Effective Leader

Marketers Focus Their Plans on Building Communities

With in-person events not possible for the foreseeable future, marketers are under pressure to find out other ways to stand out in an online world.

“Most enterprise technology marketers have increased their virtual event cadence, with varying levels of success,” said Michael Krigsman, industry analyst and host of CXOTalk. “As I talk with marketers, building community is a common theme, reflecting the desire to attract and retain a qualified audience.”

Although tactics for interfacing with customers are now virtual, marketing basics remain the same in terms of understanding the customer, creating empathetic engagement and then developing products that address the needs of the customer, and using all available channels to reach potential buyers.

“As always, it’s about delivering clear and unambiguous value based on a real understanding of what your customers want and the problems you can solve better than anyone else,” Krigsman said. “The world has changed but human nature has not. Rely on what you know works, but adapt to meet the new set of practical realities that we all face today.”

Embrace Adaptability and Transparency

Most organizations are encountering delays and extra steps in the procurement of their solutions, but they may be experiencing the widespread disruption caused by the pandemic differently.

“For some, demand has risen for their product and they are scrambling to keep up,” said Samantha Stone, founder of The Marketing Advisory Network. “This is in areas you might expect such as endpoint security software, sanitizing wipes, and paper products; but also in places few anticipated such as freezers and smaller turkeys.”

With so many people working from home and concerns about food shortages, freezers are in higher demand, and as more people stayed home for Thanksgiving, they no longer needed a large turkey for their dinner.

“The organizations that are weathering these fluctuations well are those that have adapted quickly to the changing priorities of the communities they serve,” Stone said. “They are more transparent in their communications, have increased qualitative buyer research, and are open to reconsider new ways of using their products and services.”

The impact of the pandemic will be felt for a long time but the freeze on plans is likely to lift as a post-pandemic world looms larger.

“For larger enterprises we're seeing significant consolidations of solutions, people are delaying replacing products that may not be ideal but are functional and unnecessary expenditure is on hold,” Stone said. “However, the situation is not permanent. Vaccine news and 2021 planning cycles have a return to cautious optimism for many industries.”

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