Pivot to the New Normal (again and again)

Countries do not reopen economies, businesses do. Heads of state think they can pick a day, pivot, declare victory, cut a ribbon and open the country. Wrong.

Businesspeople decide how to reopen or ramp up as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. They evaluate their markets, appraise their finances and determine whether employees can return to work. How will you pivot to your new normal?

The New Normal Requires Frequent Pivots

The 3D printing industry is no different from any other industry in one important aspect. Management’s decisions will be made based on unique sets of circumstances. Different locales, goods, services, 3D print technologies, materials and finances. No two decisions alike. Your suppliers’ and your customers’ decisions will directly impact you and require frequent pivots as new market situations arise.

In your locale, your market, you will see customers returning at an uneven pace. Automobile manufacturers, for example, have been increasing their use of 3D printing for product development, tooling and parts. Now manufacturers must focus on restarting their assembly lines.

BMW’s plant in Spartanburg SC had been producing 1,500 vehicles per day. Think of all the components that must become available, from electronics to seat cushions to engine filters to paint. Yet the various suppliers have had different levels of success in shutting down and ultimately ramping up their businesses.

Not only must the suppliers restart their manufacturing processes, but they must also bring their staff back and activate their supply chains. Only then can they begin producing high quality parts. BMW must manage each of the suppliers, each with unique timelines and output as they restart. While you may not be a direct supplier or subcontractor to an automobile manufacturer, you see my point:

The new normal is a constantly fluctuating environment, requiring frequent pivots, driven by seen and unseen factors near and far. The new normal will change again and again, often daily.

Five Tips for Pivoting to the New Normal

Communicate: 

Personally connect with your employees, customers and suppliers – be there for them. Connect by talking with them in person or on a call, not email. Empathize with them by asking how they are doing and what they need. As Kelly Fredrickson, President of MullenLowe, put it,

“You can’t advertise out of a crisis. You can focus on what you’re doing for your customers.”

Everyone is working through this crisis and trying to anticipate the new normal that we have to adapt to. Your likelihood of successfully managing these transitions and new realities will be magnified by actively connecting.

I am reminded of the slogan for Rein’s Deli, “The taste of quality is long remembered.” Being there for your customers in a pandemic will be long remembered.

Educate: 

Now is a great opportunity for companies using 3D printers to train their staff. Think about how many people, companies and others are using 3D printers to produce desperately needed medical devices and protective gear. When this crisis is over, those people will be attuned to the state of 3D printing today. They will have learned firsthand how to use 3D printing for product redesign, manufacturing and quick turnaround distribution.

Educating your staff involves two types of students, those who already use 3D design tools and 3D printers and those who have not. For the former, as work allows, provide additional training on the software and hardware. Let them experiment with the tools and try redesigning the goods you sell and the tools you use to make things.

For the latter, help them learn more about 3D design and printing, using your own staff as teachers. Encourage them to not simply learn about 3D but to also rethink how they do their current jobs. How will 3D printed items enable them to be more productive and achieve even higher quality?

Anticipate: 

No doubt this is the hardest of the five tips, one that requires close, personal communication. No matter who you served in January or February, your customers’ markets have changed. Many have closed, many are limping along and others (think of utilities, medical device providers, government agencies) have more business now.

The COVID-19 crisis means your customers have needs today that are very different from just three months ago. And they may not know today what products or services they will need next week. Bill Farquharson, who offers excellent sales training programs, encourages reaching out to customers now:

“Remember, you are calling someone a month or so away from the finish line of this coronavirus crisis. The goal of this call is to learn from the client how they are going to drive revenue quickly and to speak with them about how you can help through your various programs, products, and services.”

Remember that your programs, products and services have – indeed, must – change to reflect the new normal. The flexibility and openness to new ideas that comes from educating your staff will generate new ways of meeting your customers’ requirements as they come out of the crisis.

Model:  

I’m talking about your business model here, not a 3D model. Pull out your business model, the one you had as 2020 began. If you didn’t have one, no worries. I want you to rip up the old business model. You need to pivot.

Create a new value proposition that leverages your current capabilities with what you learned of your customers’ needs. Ask yourself if there are new customers, new services and new distribution channels to pursue. What particular existing strengths are especially appropriate for the new normal? 

For example, your customers may have relied on suppliers that were located overseas for long run manufacturing of identical goods. As their supply chains crashed, these customers had a need for what I call “local production for local consumption.” Can you build on your expertise to develop a new 3D printing service that focuses on short run, quick turn, innovative manufacturing? In other words, to shift from design for ideal manufacturing to manufacturing the ideal design?

Finance: 

By now you have been scrutinizing your finances, looking for ways to reduce spending. You have likely cut marketing, sales and operations costs while renegotiating material costs, payables and leases, etc. Maybe you have asked lenders for additional funding or more favorable terms and taken advantage of government programs to support businesses.

The important point is not to trade off revenue growth at the expense of proper cash management. If anything, focus more on cash management, not only for your near term survival but also to pivot your products and services to what your existing and new customers need now.

Repeat: 

As I said at the outset, the new normal is a constantly fluctuating environment. For months to come your markets will change weekly, if not daily. Some things will blindside you – an unforeseen spike in COVID-19 cases, a summertime shortage of food because farmers are dumping ripe crops that cannot be picked today, and who-knows-what.

Be prepared to repeat the process over and over again as the economy improves: Communicate, Educate, Anticipate, Model and Finance. You don’t have the luxury of annual and five-year plans that will inevitably miss the mark.

Heads of state do not reopen economies, businesspeople like you do. You’ve got this.

We’re Here to Help

I advised clients worldwide during the Dotcom Bust (2000-2001) and the Great Recession (2008-2009). In between, I ran a very large printing and mailing operation on 9/11 and in its aftermath. While those crises pale in comparison to the pandemic, there were lessons learned that can be applied today. How can I help you?

Schedule an insight inquiry call now at https://calendly.com/pete-basiliere.