C-Suite Agenda

Five Strategies to Recession Proof Your Company

Ulf Persson
Ulf Persson, Chief Executive Officer, ABBYY

If you’ve had trouble sleeping the past year, you’re not alone. There’s no doubting the uncertainties of the last year have kept many CEOs awake at night with studies showing insomnia rates rising by as much as 37 percent.

Questions filling the heads of many executives, management teams, and boards include:

How much revenue will be lost? Can we meet customers’ needs? When will it be safe to return to the office? It’s how leaders respond to the unknown and reach out within their networks that determines whether companies will struggle from the effects of the pandemic or emerge stronger. In short, it’s about using the adverse effects to your advantage, as in the old adage “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Here are five strategies that may help you stay ahead in 2021.

  1. Connect with partners
    Forming partnerships is a tried and tested strategy for expanding your solution and services portfolio into new markets and territories. Frost & Sullivan estimates that many organizations depend on partnerships for 30 to 50 percent of their revenue. The initial COVID shutdown prompted a review to better understand partners’ needs and closely monitor the status of joint projects. This is a good time to reinforce your organization’s strategic alliances by supporting partners, work closely to address the challenges and quickly move on new opportunities.
    You may also want to look beyond the current partnerships, specifically those that are formed within the same industry, for example, with solution providers and value-added resellers (VARs) that have expertise in a specific use case and industry, such as invoice processing for manufacturers, forms processing for government agencies, or process optimization for healthcare organizations.
    As demand patterns change in a crisis situation so do opportunities. One way to turbo charge a move into a new or adjacent market is to form new partnerships with other technology vendors that provide complementary technologies to augment your offerings. Leveraging your new partners’ networks can connect you with different decision-makers within organizations, even those with whom you already have a commercial relationship. For example, an end-to-end solution for the automation of a document-centric process will generate attention at a higher level of the target customer than a point solution.
  2. Invest in sales
    It may appear to be counterintuitive to invest in sales when the economic outlook is unknown, but many analyst firms, including Forrester’s Predictions 2021, estimate that 35 percent of organizations will double their investment in automation technology due to the impact of the pandemic. Organizations are needing resilient solutions that guarantee business continuity, can be accessed remotely, deployed by a broader set of users, and meet customers’ needs in a virtual and social distancing world. For example, Forrester estimates that 20 percent of enterprises will expand their intelligent document extraction investments since workers can no longer move papers around the office when they are working remotely. Also, cloud solutions, low-code platforms, and other tools that will optimize processes to improve customer experiences will be in demand.
    Your sales team is at the frontline seeing and hearing what is going on in a rapidly evolving environment. Make sure their findings are heard and acted upon inside your organization. This will help drive timely decisions, including how to adapt your product offering. At the same time, equip the sales team with fresh tools that will show prospects how you’re solving their most immediate needs and long-time goals. This can include revamping case studies, offering internal online sessions on new product messaging and value propositions, and recording webinars that can be used as references and generate new leads.
    Finally, investing in sales makes good sense when the market changes to grab market share. It sends a very strong signal to your teams, as well as to customers and partners, that your organization is investing in the future, beyond the current pandemic.
  3. Invest in innovation
    For many of the same reasons, investing in product development is smart during a time of rapid change. We already discussed that demand patterns change more quickly than in a normal situation. This requires quick reaction and boldness to show leadership. McKinsey & Company reiterates this point in its recent report, Innovation in a Crisis, where it lists factors driving innovation post-COVID; they include changes to sales models, need for new offerings, rapid changes in customer behavior, and influx of competitors from different industries.
    By focusing on innovation, your organization can more rapidly create solutions addressing new market opportunities. Add new partnerships and sales enablement, and you have a solid platform to emerge stronger from the crisis.
  4. Focus on proof of value
    While budgets may be open, decision-makers are still being selective in where they invest. It was a common sales strategy pre-COVID to provide demos that illustrated proof of concept – where you tested your solution within a prospect’s real-world conditions to prove it would work and have minimal disruption to the overall IT ecosystem. Now, proof of value (POV), not concept, is driving budget decisions.
    Proof of value focuses beyond whether or not a solution works. POV demonstrates and quantifies how much you’ll save, by how and where within the overall business processes it makes the most sense to invest. Using process intelligence solutions is a best practice approach to identify which digital transformation projects should be prioritized, how it will impact other business processes, and the expected return from the investment. Process intelligence uses machine learning and predictive analytics to give you a detailed digital view into the various steps (known and unknown) that are within a business process, where bottlenecks exist, by whom and why. It gives you data-driven intelligence that easily proves where to make technology investments and the value it will provide.
  5. Smart time for acquisitions
    Recent merger and acquisition surveys state approximately 50 percent of M&A deals set for 2020 stalled or were terminated due to uncertainty around COVID’s impact on economies. That’s not surprising, but if you’re an optimist with a strong balance sheet and a longer time perspective, now may be a smart time to consider an acquisition.
    Factors driving the decision to acquire a company range from strengthening product capabilities and joining forces to maintain or grow market share, to acquiring non-core offerings to diversify revenue mix. From a valuation perspective, picking up a good deal is possible. The AM&AA’s M&A Access COVID-19 Q2 2020 Market Report says valuations have decreased by 17 to 24 percent, depending on the industry, and 49 percent of CEOs surveyed by the M&A Leadership Council said they intend to buy distressed companies.
    The M&A Leadership Council also found that 40 percent of its respondents are making acquisition plans for geographic expansion. This was a strategy Bay Area-based ABBYY executed during the fourth quarter of 2020 when it acquired Pericom Singapore to strengthen its presence in the Southeast Asia region and optimize return on product investments.
    Even the most prudent executives that lived through the Great Recession could not have factored in a global pandemic with forced shutdowns and imposed social distancing. Surviving through a crisis is dependent on many factors that are not always within our control. However, implementing any one or a combination of these five strategies will give you an opportunity to connect with your partners, team, customers, and future alliances in a meaningful way that conveys hope for the future.

Written by Ulf Persson.

Ulf Persson
Ulf Persson is CEO of ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company. Over the past 20 years, Ulf has been involved as an investor and board member in 20 different growth companies. ABBYY technologies are used by more than 5,000 companies, including many of the Fortune 500, and is recognized for its leadership in Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) and Process Discovery & Mining for driving significant impact where it matters most: customer experience, effectiveness, profitability and competitive advantage. ABBYY is a global company with offices in 14 countries. US HQ is Milpitas, California. Ulf Persson is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.
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