To Pivot or Not to Pivot, That is The Question

Are you not getting the kind of traction in the market you anticipated? Have sales slowed down? Are your customers less enthusiastic than they used to be? Have some new competitors entered your market with similar offerings at similar price points? If any of those questions resonate with you, you’re wrestling with the kinds of issues that might lead you to asking one of the higher level strategy questions, “Do we need to make a pivot?”

One of my recent guests on the Wired To Grow Show, Mark Richards, made a comment during our interview that I found fascinating. He said something to the effect of, “In every one of my businesses (and he’s been involved in over a dozen), we’ve made a huge pivot from what we thought we were going to be doing to what we ended up doing.” In fact, one of his lines was, “A business idea is nothing more than an excuse to have a conversation with a customer.” I love that.

So often, as business owners and entrepreneurs we fall so in love with our idea, product or service that we forget that it’s not about our idea, product or service, it’s about the customer and what they want—and that might mean, we need to make a pivot from what we think they need or want to what they actually need or want—or what the market is going to need or want. In other words, we might need to make a pivot.

But how do you know when you should make a pivot or when you should double down on sales and marketing and keep plowing ahead without making a pivot? Great question. Here are a few questions to help you answer that question.

Q1. What Kind of Feedback Are You Getting From Your Customers?

Trying to convince someone that they should use or buy your product or service is a very difficult sale. So, what kind of feedback are your customers giving you? Are they enthusiastic? Are they buying fast and furious? Are they tepid? Are they talking a good game but when it’s time to actually lay down money, they balk?

If you’re not getting a lot of traction, it might be time to dig deeper and see if you can discover a more urgent or valuable problem to solve for them. For example, if the response is somewhat tepid, you might ask something like, “If money wasn’t an issue and you could buy anything you wanted to solve any kind of problem for your business, what problem would you like to find a solution for?”

Or you might ask, “If I’m reading you correctly, on a passion scale of 1-10, what we’re currently offering seems to be around a five for you. What would you want to see that would earn a 10 from you?

If what you’re offering isn’t selling like hotcakes, your customers/prospects are speaking and what they might be telling you is, “It’s time to pivot.” It doesn’t matter how much you like/love your product and/or service, all that matters is if your customers/prospects love it and want to buy it (and even better, more frequently and at higher price points).

So, what kind of feedback are you getting from your marketplace and customers?

Q2. Has Their Enthusiasm Waned?

This second question is critical because it’s tempting to ride a cash cow for as long as possible. However, change today is happening at such a rapid pace that what you could have ridden for years (or even a decade) a few years ago, now you can’t.

If you’ve read any of my posts on remarkability you know that one of my key phrases is, “Everything in life moves from remarkable to ordinary to death,” meaning it no longer satisfies. This is true of everything in life. Every time you use or encounter an experience, it becomes a little less remarkable than it was the last time. Why? Because your expectations change (and what is true of you is also true of every one of your customers).

So, if you’re finding that your customers who used to be raving fans are now just fans (or even worse, just customers), then you know you have a problem. It might be time to make a pivot.

Q3. Is There One Thing That Your Customers Love More Than Anything Else?

One of the problems almost all business owners and/or entrepreneurs have is wanting to be a full-service or full-product line provider for their customers. Even though we know “You can’t be all things to all people,” we keep thinking we ought to be the exception, rather than the rule.

But, that’s not the case. No one has ever been that. Sometimes, the best strategic option is to reduce what we’re offering, not increase it. Apple famously did it when Steve Jobs returned and cut their product line to four products. 37 Signals did it not that long ago by cutting all their product lines except Basecamp. And you might want to do it as well.

The nice thing about reducing down is that it makes it infinitely easier to market and scale that one thing. When you’re offering multiple products or services, especially if they’re different markets, it makes communication difficult. For example, if you have a software product for the real estate market and it manages the whole process, how do you connect with buyers agents vs. sellers agents vs. brokers vs. IT managers vs. …. all with one marketing message?

So, if you’re doing a lot of things and there’s one thing that your customers passionately love and enthusiastically tell others about, you may want to make a pivot and focus on that one thing and let the others die (or sell them off like 37 signals).

Q4. Is There Open Space In Your Market That No One Owns?

One of the biggest hindrances to growth is having an undifferentiated product or service. When you’re a derivative of what others are doing, it’s difficult to gain traction. Or, as I like to say, “As far as most people in America are concerned, a Chinese restaurant is a Chinese restaurant is a Chinese restaurant.” They don’t get that there are different provinces and different cooking methods. It’s all the same to them. They’re undifferentiated.

However, if you want to gain traction, you have to look for open space. For example, I still do a fair amount of work with churches. Virtually, every church I’ve worked with, when I ask them the target market question says, “We want to reach families in the 25-45 age range.” Now, if everyone is trying to reach the same group of people, there’s no differentiation. But there are tons of open spaces that most churches aren’t trying to reach. For example, singles in the 25-40 age range. If a church made a pivot and started trying to reach more singles, they could gain huge traction (because the vast majority of churches aren’t and half the country is single).

Likewise, in your market, there are probably a number of open spaces that none of your competitors own. Figure what that open space is and you might just figure out a new pivot worth taking.

So, where is the open space in your market?

Q5. What’s Coming Around the Bend That’s Just Starting to Gain Traction

While we Americans like to think it’s good to be first to invent or market something, that isn’t always the case. For example, back in the 80’s, having the first fax in town did you no good until a bunch of other people whom you wanted to connect with had a fax.

Using Apple as a model, Apple hasn’t been the first on any of their products. They weren’t the first computer. They weren’t the first mp3 player. They weren’t the first tablet. They weren’t the first cell phone. And they aren’t the first to have a wrist phone/computer. But what Apple has been great at is determining where the trends are headed and then getting on the band wagon early one—and then making a superior product of something that already existed.

In other words, being first isn’t always best. Nor, is being late to the party. The sweet spot is to hold back a little and watch where trends are headed and then jump on the trend that you think is going to go big … early before “everyone else” figures it out.

So, as you look at your market space, are there some early trends that you can see now that are just coming around the bend that are starting to gain some traction? If you can, then that might give you exactly what you need to make a pivot.

Remember, Apple started as a computer company, but it’s now a media company—and who knows what it’ll be as long as it keeps its DNA of jumping on the next new thing before it becomes big.

So, there you have it. Five key questions to ask as you wrestle with the “To pivot or not to pivot” question.

1. What kind of feedback are we getting from our customers?
2. Has their enthusiasm waned?
3. Is there one thing that our customers love more than anything else?
4. Is there open space in our market that no one else owns?
5. What’s coming around the bend that’s just starting to gain traction?

Once you have your answers, it’s up to you to decide, “To pivot or not to pivot.” That is the question.

To your accelerated success!

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