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McKinsey: Uncertainty’s growth opportunity

Rock Khanna, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, gives a perspective on how businesses should evolve to seize unique growth opportunities in chaos

Rock Khanna, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company,
|Jan 17|magazine9 min read

The events of 2020 presented many businesses with a stark choice: transform or regress.  

The pandemic threw many of us into a world of chaotic change where big shifts have completely altered market dynamics. A massive acceleration of digital penetration occurred during 2020. Consumer digital growth jumped ten years in a matter of just three months. Businesses too adapted to remote selling and working at a global scale. 

For all the pain and many difficulties the global pandemic has created, it has also provided clarity on the urgent need for a new set of digital marketing muscles. While the impulse to retrench in a time of crisis is understandable, our experience and analysis shows that now is the time to invest for growth. New tools and capabilities now allow marketers to identify changing patterns in every category (and geography) to understand exactly what is happening now and what purchasing behaviours will stick in the future. This new level of technologies and granular insights allows businesses to cope with the unprecedented pace of change that simply hasn’t been seen before.

Whether large or small, and regardless of the sector, organisations face greater competition, alongside the need to stabilise and grow revenue.

Reset for growth opportunities

Every organisation should be thinking about what it can do to get to a position where it can gain a granular understanding of its business, so it can seize growth opportunities. Here are some of the key considerations when moving forward:

  • Look for new value – Where companies have historically found a long list of reasons not to evolve, many are seeing that courage and bold moves are required to shift with the market and be successful. Organisations need to invest the time and mental energy to develop a clear picture of where they need to evolve, and plan for the change.
  • The race to digital – Businesses should prioritise how they can adapt to new digital and remote working and shopping patterns – because where and how customers are buying is changing. Our 2020 B2B Pulse Survey revealed that 97 percent of UK B2B companies shifted their sales models either partially or fully to remote selling. Some 58 percent of UK company decision makers said the remote model is equally effective or even more effective than what they were doing before the pandemic hit. Because many of these models have proven to be so effective, they are likely here to stay. The best companies are particularly thoughtful about the omnichannel nature of digital, understanding how various channels play off each other, and what combination of them drives the best results. 
  • Place a premium on understanding the customer – More than 70 percent of consumers tried new shopping behaviours and new brands since the onset of the pandemic. That enormous switch has renewed the focus on understanding customers at a much more granular level than before, and on figuring out how to build stronger relationships, whether through better personalisation or through different offerings. Where data and analytics can provide detailed pictures of customer behaviours, the pandemic has upended old algorithms and companies need to invest in creating new ones, and training them. This is fundamental to gaining a competitive advantage. Organisations should think about how they can close that gap by understanding the drivers behind their changing needs.
  • Use technology to empower teams – Technology alone is not a silver bullet for success—businesses can be trapped into investing in great new technologies that actually don’t match their needs well. New processes, possibly even teams, need to be developed to review and act on insights that the data and technology deliver. Teams also need much more autonomy (where appropriate) to take decisions at speed. Good data and guidelines can be helpful in establishing guardrails and providing good tools to empower teams. This reality of how teams use data and tech is all too often forgotten in transformations, and can doom even the most promising initiatives. 

Organisations need to consider how they can evolve their use of technology, so they can capitalise on the growth opportunities ahead. It is a new chapter for the business world, and a unique opportunity for businesses to evolve so they are ready for the recovery. 

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