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    The Inside Track – 3 approaches C-suite execs are taking to innovate

    September 30, 2020

    It’s been said many times over, and it’s true: 2020 has been the year of the pivot, as executives in nearly every industry have grappled with the challenges of social distancing, remote work and economic challenges the likes of which we haven’t seen in this lifetime. 


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    More than 75% of CEOs acknowledge that their digital transformation plans have accelerated due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a study performed by Deloitte and Fortune magazine. Even the evolution itself has taken place in an entirely new way: online, where the conference room has been replaced by the Zoom call. 

    And while the world may sometimes change overnight, business model shifts aren’t always as straight-forward. To navigate continued uncertainty, corporations are thinking deeply to remake their businesses from the ground up. Here are several strategies C-suite executives are prioritizing as we head into the fall:

    Entering into new markets

    One consistent trend of 2020 has been companies shifting to create new products that meet public health demand: Breweries started producing hand sanitizer, for instance, and automakers used their production lines to make ventilators. Far from the front lines, executives have found other opportunities for market entry with their existing value propositions. 

    When restaurants closed en masse, foodservice distributor Sysco found a market opportunity in supermarket chains at a time when grocers were struggling to meet demand. The company also rolled out a campaign with resources to help restaurants pivot to takeout-driven models and “pop-up marketplaces.” In some markets, Sysco even experimented with direct-to-consumer sales

    CEO Kevin Hourican expanded upon this strategy in the company’s Q3 earnings call and said he believes the moves will enable long-term success. 

    Sysco will win in the marketplace through a combination of strong liquidity, agile business decisions and value-added partnerships that fuel business relationships,” Hourican said. “We expect that the combination of winning more business from our existing customers through the trust and partnership we have cultivated during COVID-19, paired with the prospecting of net new customers, will increase Sysco's market share within the $300-plus billion food away-from-home sector post-COVID.

    Enabling social distancing in the workplace 

    With small- to medium-sized businesses struggling to stay solvent amid economic uncertainty, commercial real estate has become a sector in search of itself. But some companies are choosing to lean into the offices of tomorrow by solving customer pain points related to HVAC and social distancing. 

    To support a returning workforce, many buildings will need to get smart. Global real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle recently highlighted its efforts to equip buildings with sensors and remote monitoring capabilities to promote safe re-entry. Through “digital twins” — virtual copies of a physical building — operators can use digital models to analyze air circulations. 

    Christian Ulbrich, JLL president and CEO, echoed this priority in the company’s Q2 earnings call. 

    “What this pandemic has [taught] us [is] that having superior technology puts you ahead and is very valuable to our clients,” Ulbrich said. “We are grateful for the investments we have made in our technology platform over the past several years.”

    Cultivating new partnerships 

    Times of crisis frequently prompt executives to find common ground with other corporations, both inside and outside of their field. In an effort to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine, some drug manufacturers are sharing notes. According to BioCentury, researchers from several companies have met several times a week to coordinate a joint response to the health threat, a trend that several leaders hope will continue

    In other cases, partnerships can be forged across sectors. In July, DoorDash announced a partnership with Walgreens Boot Alliance to deliver products such as over-the-counter medications in select markets. The move enhanced DoorDash’s value proposition beyond the ultra-competitive market of restaurant deliveries.

    “The idea is we want to connect every local business to every local consumer, and that’s a very different strategy than just broad e-commerce,” said DoorDash COO Christopher Payne in a CNBC interview.    

    What they’re saying

    “COVID-19 has created a new inflection point that requires every company to dramatically accelerate the move to the cloud as a foundation for digital transformation to build the resilience, new experiences and products, trust, speed and structural cost reduction that the ongoing health, economic and societal crisis demands — and that a better future for all requires.”
    — Julie Sweet, CEO, Accenture [September 2020]

    I have never seen the level of collaboration that’s going on today...We’ve created a virtual table of collaboration that has allowed us to challenge the status quo. It is our job to make sure we don’t go back to our silos, and keep the same spirit as we think about other health [problems].”
    — Giovanni Caforio, CEO, Bristol Myers Squibb [July 2020

    We remain totally focused on our ambition to be the defining enterprise software company of the 21st century...CEOs and management teams are focused on protecting revenue, improving productivity and ensuring business resiliency. This has turned digital transformation into a business imperative across all industries. ServiceNow is on the front lines of getting companies reopened.”
    — Bill McDermott, President and CEO, ServiceNow [July 2020]

    To influence and lead change, we are going to use the power of Walmart to invest resources and develop strategies to increase fairness, equity, and justice in aspects of everyday life. We will find the natural overlaps between Walmart’s core business and society’s larger needs that perpetuate racism and discrimination. We will take actions to influence them in a positive direction, consistent with our human values of decency and equity.” 
    — Doug McMillon, CEO, Walmart [June 2020]

    Trending right now

    1. Accelerating digital infrastructure to leverage data analysis
    2. Streamlining processes and silos for agile decision-making 
    3. Finding opportunities to collaborate with vendors, customers,, partners and even rivals. 
    4. Empowering teams to think big, take risks and get creative. 
    5. Leading social justice initiatives for greater equity and impact

    Your Next Steps 

    We all need to be aware of how executive priorities are changing. Marketers should be focused on bringing the latest information to their account teams as it develops. Given that we employ a small army of really smart people to read and parse corporate earnings call transcripts and CXO interviews all day long, we can help by feeding you the latest. 

    What do you do with this information? Do what you have always done — align and support. Here are the four questions you should try to answer about all of your top accounts:

    • How has their strategy/priorities shifted post-COVID-19?
    • What are they cutting?
    • Where are they investing--or doubling down?
    • What can you offer that supports their current focus?

    Now we want to hear from you. What’s keeping you and your team up at night, and how can Boardroom Insiders help? Let us know at info@boardroominsiders.com, with the subject line “INSIDE TRACK.”

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    Sharon Gillenwater

    About the Author

    Sharon Gillenwater

    Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.