The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work, and relate to one another.
It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by technology advances that are commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions, and which are merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds in ways that create both promise and peril.
The speed, breadth, and depth of this technological revolution are forcing us to rethink how countries should develop, how organizations create value, and even what it means to be human; it is an opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policy-makers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centred future.
“Predictions are risky, especially about the future,” according to a popular expression. Still, business is inescapably about the future—that’s what managers’ decisions are about. In the current crisis, we have daily grand predictions about “new normals,” and managers must restart their business and make decisions based on assumptions about the future.
Here’s a common prediction: Social distancing forces people to do more buying online and communicating through social media, thus accelerating a permanent, big shift after the crisis to more eCommerce and virtual models. The evidence, however, is not so clear-cut.
“A PROBLEM WITH MEGATREND PREDICTIONS IS THAT, EVEN IF THEY TURN OUT TO BE GENERALLY ACCURATE, THEY’RE NOT MANAGERIALLY USEFUL.”
Whatever else you do in thinking about the future of your business, pay attention to the following:
Shorten selling cycles
The selling cycle is usually the biggest driver of cash out and cash in: Accounts payable accrue during selling, and accounts receivable are mainly determined in most firms by what’s sold at what price and how fast.
In surviving and recovering from a crisis, increasing close rates, the efficiency of a sales model, and its segment focus are strategic issues, not only sales management tasks.
Consistent messaging to customers
Your salespeople must send consistent messages, not ad hoc responses. Don’t leave this aspect of crisis management to emails about your “commitment” to customers, or telling salespeople to “stay focused and take care of customers.” That’s an invitation for fragmented responses, multiple promises, and longer-term costs to the brand and strategy. Managers must manage. In an extended disruption, it may even be in your long-term interest to find supply alternatives for a customer.
Use Data, Don’t Hoard It
It’s unclear whether social distancing has made people more eager to transact online, or whether it simply demonstrates the limitations of communicating virtually. The historian William McNeill documented in Plagues and Peoples how epidemics were a recurring norm, not the exception, for millennia. Meanwhile, buying and selling have been social as well as economic transactions since the Greek Agora, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, malls in the twentieth century, and through decades of internet use. Will months-long confinement change that deep-rooted human behaviour?
Get Back To Basics
Finally, for what’s it’s worth, here is my prediction: The coronavirus will eventually abate and few will remember the many false predictions made during a crisis—but you will still have to live with your business decisions.
Do your best to separate hype and headlines from market-driven data and options. When much of the world economy is shut for weeks and possibly months, cascading bankruptcies and higher debt loads probably mean a tightening of purchasing decisions and capital expenditures in many consumer and B2B markets.