Baking Up New Opportunities During COVID

8 Places to Look for New Opportunity

How do you bake up new opportunities in a time of COVID, when many of your customers have put their spending on ice?

It starts by looking for global, industry, and human “shifts” and knowing how to create urgency.

The WSJ and CNBC recently reported that Panera Bread has begun to sell groceries to offset restaurant sales. They offer a glimpse into what’s possible for your organization.

The Wall Street Journal article here illustrates. Panera Bread noticed that many of their customers struggled to find some basic products (such as milk and fruit) at their favorite grocery. For them, adding grocery offerings–their excess inventory–to their online menu was a natural next step. They call it “revenue diversification.”

As we look for ways to discover unmet customer needs, are we looking hard enough? Are we able to spot urgent needs where customers are willing to invest, and create urgency? And how do we distinguish between an aspiration and a true need?

Here’s how I distinguish between the two:


An aspiration: “We are doing well, and this solution allows us to improve by a modest percentage. We can get to this when time allows, but it’s not urgent.”

During challenging economic times, companies will often choose to stop innovating or creating revenue diversification. Airbnb and ZipRecruiter have chosen the “hang on and preserve cash” option.

In the short term, that may appease stakeholders. Here’s the downside: It’s a race against time before competitors diversify and outpace them. 

A true need: “We are struggling in some area. We recognize the cost of status quo is far greater, and we must change NOW. Our current situation is a burning platform and we need to leap towards a new state.”

Panera was standing squarely on a burning platform when they recently saw their revenues drop 42%. CEO Niren Chaudhary sprung into action. Within just 14 days, they launched the grocery offering. It now contributes between 1%-2% of sales. The offering is profitable, and it’s growing.

How would a 2% revenue boost help your organization? Where can you fulfill an unmet customer need quickly?

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Look for these pivotal moments for inspiration:

  1. A colleague or client encounters a personal crisis. A few years ago, I befriended a seasoned board member and former M&A executive. I helped to promote her work and expertise across my network and she was grateful. When one of her children encountered a major career snag, she contacted me. I listened patiently to their situation, and he asked if I could help them. I agreed. That young professional, a passionate and highly competent marketing manager, became a client. This became one of my most fulfilling coaching engagements.

  2. The organization faces a crisis. If you do not currently have Google Alerts set up for every top client, now is the time. In addition to staying connected personally, the Alerts will provide insight on the challenges they are experiencing during the pandemic. Maya Angelou reminds us that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you help their company out of a rut, they will remember you. Many strong relationships blossom during these times of crisis.

  3. A new leader is promoted or hired. How can you add value to that new person’s life and accelerate their impact? Where can you save them time? What new connections will they need to make an impact in the first 100 days?

  4. External forces that trigger disruption or crisis. Imagine what associations are learning from this time in history. Some associations are members of our private CMO communities and report that they generate between 30%-55% of their annual revenues from live events. How quickly will they adapt? Giving away free content and webinars can only sustain them for so long. How will they remain relevant and find new avenues to add value to their constituents?

    It’s your job to assess their situation, develop a thoughtful point of view, and suggest a new approach to help them realistically assess the impact of the change. It’s also incumbent on you to help them discover a way forward—if they are ready to do so. Remember: some are not. They are only deploying “cut to the bone” cash preservation strategies and ignoring long-term planning at their own peril.

  5. Your competitor drops the ball. What caused the mistake? How much did it cost your client? Where can you get your foot in the door to help them recover from that scenario? One of my clients, a 300-person systems integrator, earns the majority of their revenues from cleaning up bad MarTech and IT projects. They are one of the most trustworthy leadership teams I’ve met.

  6. Key people from your incumbent competitor(s) leave. This is another opening. Your customer may suffer from declining customer service or attention. How can you fill that need now?

  7. Your client is dissatisfied with you. Five years ago, I had a CMO join our community. They almost immediately encountered a conflict with another member. While I tried to help them resolve it, the new member chose to leave the group. I apologized and refunded the majority of her fee—even though I was not responsible for their conflict. Years later, she still endorses my work.

  8. Your client redesigns their work culture dramatically due to WFH or M&A dynamics. These pivotal moments demand a new set of skills, and will cause communication breakdowns. Consider these questions, and how you can help your client address them:
  • When we are unable to read body language (using Slack, Trello, or email), how do we really know what people are feeling?
  • What is the best way to keep teams engaged when they suffer from Zoom fatigue and isolation?
  • How do we show empathy when parents must perform home school duty?
  • What’s the best way to adjust our meeting, messaging and communication strategies with all stakeholders? (This HBR article offers some insights)
  • How do we market and sell differently, and teach all our teams to operate consistently with customers?
  • How can we maintain secure network connections?
  • What can we do to balance time focused on accomplishments versus daily crisis updates?

Demand is currently slow in many sectors; that’s true. In others (such as streaming services, delivery, and e-learning), opportunity is brewing.

This is the ideal time to prepare for the rebound by doubling down on relationships and discovering places you can help clients. When we position ourselves as a rich resource and a confidante, and we can communicate urgency, we become a de facto member of the recovery team. These breadcrumbs of opportunity are key ingredients for baking a tasty loaf of value.

copyright 2020, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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