Organic Growth in the Post-COVID Era: Right Place, Right Team

Organic Growth in the Post-Covid Era — Growth chart overlaid above photo of growing plants and bright lightbulb

In the swirl of uncertainty that swept the globe during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies found themselves disrupted in ways they never expected. For some, their consumer markets evaporated overnight — as in the case of the airline and hotel industries. Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions forced these sectors into survival mode, and many are still struggling to recover.

Others thrived due to the unique market conditions presented by the pandemic, particularly the technology, logistics, and pharmaceutical sectors. Some of this was driven by the sudden acceleration toward digital; some was a byproduct of the pandemic itself. Logistics companies found themselves in the spotlight as supply chains revealed their fragility and resource scarcity intensified. Pharma, of course, hustled to brighten the light at the end of the tunnel, developing rapid tests while exploring and engineering potential vaccines.

Those were largely edge cases, though. In the early days, the vast majority of businesses hunkered down. They furloughed staff, halted new expenditures, and went into a period of deep analysis and stagnation. Strategic pivots were prioritized, but these were mostly existing long-term plans accelerated by the sudden change in the business landscape—MVPs rushed to market, work-from-home policies cobbled together, cost-cutting measures magnified. Organic growth strategies, on the other hand, largely fell by the wayside.

Organic Growth Factors Return to the Fore

Late in the year, it became clear that the upward trajectory of a V-shaped recovery would remain elusive for many. Though some businesses have done exceedingly well over the last 15 months, others are still floundering.

The former are likely to continue their current growth trajectories along the upper arm of what economists have dubbed the global economy’s “K-shaped recovery.” Meanwhile, the less fortunate latter are clinging to its precipitously downward-angled leg, carefully assessing where they should invest resources, and placing small but timely bets.

Post-COVID, all companies, regardless of where they’re currently camped on the K, will once again begin seeking organic growth in business. Whether a company chooses to do so via market penetration, product development, market development and/or diversification will depend on a number of factors, perhaps the most important being the speed with which it can implement its chosen strategy. Speed, in turn, will require having the right teams and resources in place.

Here’s a closer look at what those organic growth strategies might look like, as well as the best moves companies can make to ensure their success:

Market Penetration

The lowest-risk growth opportunities lie within a company’s existing market. By identifying a specific capability at which the company excels and then deepening its roots, growth can be achieved with very little risk to the core business. This might mean refining the quality of existing products or services to better serve existing markets, or expanding sales channels to reach new customers.

The biggest challenge is knowing where best to invest and how to expedite implementation. Leading companies often find that bringing in an independent consultant to help develop a roadmap and/or manage development and delivery can save a good deal of time while ensuring its strategy and processes are rooted in expertise.

At BTG, our execution-oriented independent talent have long track records of helping companies right the ship and/or move full steam ahead. In one instance, when a global eCommerce company was looking to improve its struggling UK business, we connected the head of global strategy with a quantitatively minded growth specialist who’d led strategic initiatives both at McKinsey and at a major European financial services company.

After reviewing the business’ financial performance and key drivers, the independent analytics expert contextualized the data in terms of market size and competitors. He then modeled potential solutions for improving business performance, outlined strategic choices, and developed corresponding business cases and implementation plans to help turn the UK business around.

Data is a big deal when it comes to identifying the best path forward. But few companies possess the necessary data science resources. Recently, the CIO of a global insurance company found himself in this very situation: He wanted to use data science to identify new opportunities, but lacked a specialist who could leverage data and utilize AI to conduct a proof-of-concept for various data initiatives.

BTG paired the CIO with a seasoned data science and AI expert who had previously helped an insurance company employ data-driven tech to improve quality of service and customer satisfaction. He worked with internal teams to build out and sustain a data science capability within the organization.

Product Development

In many cases, it makes sense to develop a new offering or expand product lines to serve clients beyond what already exists. This can be a first step beyond market penetration, a new step toward new market development, or an ongoing strategy in and of itself. How complicated this is depends on the industry.

In highly regulated industries, there are myriad hoops to jump through that can extend timelines to the point where competitive advantages wash out. Product launch teams must possess a thorough understanding of compliance concerns and regulatory requirements, as well as the most efficient ways to address them — or the company risks missing its window of opportunity.

In the early days of COVID, when grocery shelves seemed to have permanent holes in the cleaning aisle, a global consumer goods company wanted to focus on developing household products suited to the pandemic environment. The speed bump was that the company was unfamiliar with the regulations associated with these types of products.

The CEO reached out to BTG for an expert in EPA and FDA processes who could guide the internal team through product development and ultimately support an international launch. BTG delivered a seasoned regulatory and strategy consultant with U.S. and global experience in the consumer goods and chemical manufacturing sectors. He was able to translate the regulatory processes and requests to business requirements, ensuring the client could move smoothly through submissions and approvals.

Pharma is a similarly highly regulated sector that requires specific considerations when it comes to product development. One of our pharma-focused independent marketing executives, Kimberly Crichton, says that these types of product launches are particularly challenging because everything needs to be ready to go the minute the FDA approval comes through.

“Product launches are a big challenge,” Crichton says. “There are all these moving parts under strict regulatory constraints, and you have to create this perfectly integrated system for an immovable date. It’s like coordinating an orchestra when the members practice individually and suddenly have to come together for a nationally televised concert.”

Fortunately, the collaborative support provided by independent experts such as Crichton has helped companies ensure launch success: “The most successful product launches have a crystal-clear, research-informed positioning strategy early on,” Crichton says. “Execution is never easy, but if the strategy is clear, everything is more likely to fall into place.”

Market Development

This organic growth strategy often means expanding into new geographies or establishing a foothold in an adjacent category. It’s riskier territory, however, as research shows that only one in four market adjacency moves are successful. Of course, developing a new market can also be highly rewarding, so long as the risks are mitigated through careful planning and strategizing.

One of the biggest temptations is to seek a big transformation through these moves. But as BTG talent and global advisor Richard Kaung states: “Most successful adjacency moves start close. They stick to known customer needs and often complement your best products. They might eventually end up at a bold, new place, but they do so in small, discrete steps. (Most people don’t remember Apple’s failure with the Newton, a handheld PDA that preceded the iPad.)”

In BTG’s guide to “Winning in New Markets”, Kaung outlines seven steps that companies can take to increase their odds of success in a new market:

  1. Growth context
    Make sure pursuing adjacencies fits your current business vision and culture.
  2. Market & product positioning
    Know where you are before you assess where to go.
  3. Opportunity map
    Don’t go in with blinders or you’ll miss the most valuable adjacencies.
  4. Core competencies
    Assess the relatives strengths you can build on to succeed in a new market
  5. Research & analysis
    Understand what it takes to win in a new market
  6. Strategic priorities
    Focus on the empirically best opportunities
  7. Execution plan
    Make sure it happens. Plan, deploy, measure, and course correct.

Many of these steps require deep contemplation and direct input from stakeholders. At the same time, there are a number of areas where potential blindspots lurk, and where expert guidance can help shape a company’s market development strategy for optimal results.

That’s why clients ranging from global technology companies to F500 food and beverage companies reach out to BTG for support. Our independent consultants have helped growth-minded organizations evaluate opportunities, make informed investment decisions, build business, and ultimately succeed in rapidly developing markets.

Diversification

By far the riskiest organic growth option, diversification is when a company attempts something it has never done before. This strategy effectively combines market and product development — at the same time. There are a lot of unknowns involved, and the company is often learning on the fly.

When the current market no longer bears opportunities for growth, diversification becomes an attractive option to explore. Yet, due to its broad scope, it also requires significant resources. Unprepared companies can quickly find themselves stretched thin, both financially and human resources-wise.

Hiring qualified leadership takes time and resources of its own, time that companies looking to move quickly don’t have. What’s more: Should the strategy or concept change, the leadership experience and expertise needs are likely to change, too. It’s often for these reasons that independent talent are tapped to provide interim support during rapid growth and transformative shifts.

Our expert consultants have stepped into executive roles to bridge sudden expertise gaps as well as drive the strategic vision for 10-year plans. Whether they join the team for weeks or months — or, in some cases, become permanent hires — their focus is always on delivering value and ensuring measurable results.

Independent Talent as Its Own Organic Growth Strategy

Growth is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be painful — if you have the right people. When it comes to implementing an organic growth strategy, assembling the appropriate team should be priority #1.

Today’s business challenges require flexible solutions and targeted expertise. As BTG talent and growth expert Stephen Wunker writes for Forbes, “Most companies benefit from a hybrid approach — getting moving fast with the staff available and potentially a bit of outside help from consultants who do these things, and then recruiting an outstanding team over time. By the time the team is in place, you will have a better idea of what talents you really need, and how viable the concept is as it moves beyond PowerPoint and into real deployment.”

Highly skilled independent consultants can provide interim support across all types of growth initiatives at all levels, from the C-suite to the ground floor. They fill in the blanks so companies can experiment with priorities, responsibilities, and working styles until they make a permanent hire. Having that expertise in the right place at the right time can be the competitive advantage a company needs when seeking growth in the post-COVID era.

Whether you’re currently strategizing process changes, piloting new products, or exploring adjacent markets, BTG talent can help you succeed. Contact us today to learn more.

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About the Author

Emily Slayton

Emily is an award-winning writer who specializes in B2B marketing. She has been helping global brands reach targeted audiences to drive sales and awareness for more than 15 years. As a small business owner herself (skeletonkeybrewery.com), she understands what it's like to source a team that can scale with sudden growth.

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