Six Imperatives for the Next Normal

December 17, 2020

Tuning Your Strategy for Post-Covid Times

The most difficult part of positioning is selecting that one specific concept to hang your hat on. Yet you must, if you want to cut through the prospect's wall of indifference.

Al Ries, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Since the Coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year, the tech industry has passed through its initial “hunker down” phase and entered a new growth phase driven in part by the increased relevance for companies in virtually every industry - and individual consumers - to do as much of their business as possible online. There may be hiccups due to renewed lockdowns in many countries, but most businesses and public sector agencies of all types now realize that they need to enhance their online presence and double-down on digital transformation initiatives to serve their customers in the new post-Covid ways they need and want to be served.

During this period, Silicon Valley strategy consulting firms such as Firebrick Consulting and Chasm Group, where I am a senior advisor, have continued our work with CEOs and executive teams in client organizations, including VC-funded scaleups, public companies and other fast-growing or maturing tech companies, with a special focus on helping them to deal with the ups and downs caused by the crisis (*).

In June, just three months after the first lockdowns in Europe and North America, I struck up a conversation with Bob Wright, Firebrick’s founder and managing partner, about what we were each seeing in the tech marketplace: Among the companies that we could see were quickly returning to growth, what were they doing that could be passed on to other companies as best practices for the post-Covid recovery?

Perhaps surprisingly in light of the apparent gloom at the time, it didn’t take long for us to think of half a dozen key factors, which we turned into a kind of manifesto that we named “Six Imperatives for the Next Normal” focusing on growth strategies for the post-Covid era. For a variety of reasons we felt that it made sense to organize our list in odds and evens, with yours truly addressing imperatives #1, #3, and #5, while Wright discussing imperatives #2, #4, and #6.

Here are the “Six Imperatives for the Next Normal”:

  1. Segmentation is “in” again (Lay, Chasm Group) ** in another article – see footer

  2. Take a stand - have a viewpoint (Wright, Firebrick)

  3. Focus on a business process that the pandemic has broken (Lay, Chasm Group) ** in another article – see footer

  4. Your competition is “do nothing” (Wright, Firebrick)

  5. Prioritize expand before land (Lay, Chasm Group) ** in another article – see footer

  6. Make your buyer the “new” hero (Wright, Firebrick)

Since I have already described my three imperatives in three separate articles (**), this article focuses on Wright’s three contributions to the list. First up is Imperative #2.

Imperative #2: Take a stand - have a viewpoint

Segueing from Imperative #1, “Segmentation is ‘In’ Again”, Wright asserts that it’s crucial for every tech company to have a clear point of view. Today, every significant tech company that has separated from the pack, has a strong viewpoint. This is not the time to hunker down and stay quiet. Your customers are looking for leadership.

“Executive buyers are looking for leadership. Successful leaders have a strong viewpoint related to the customer problem they’re solving. Don’t bury buyers in the same old ‘tech speak’.”

To know what a strong viewpoint looks like, Wright suggests that CEOs and their teams follow this seven-step storyline framework.

  • Name the $mm problem your product solves

  • Show the promised land — move the buyer from today to tomorrow

  • Define the buying criteria to solve the problem

  • Reveal your answer (your product or service)

  • Define the three pillars that show your differentiation

  • Explain architecture (marketecture) that connects your story to your products

  • Show how you'll inspire with next steps and actions

Following Lay’s description in Imperative #3 of a number of real-life business processes broken by Covid along with corresponding examples of companies that have acted quickly to help fix these Covid-aggravated problems, Wright goes on to introduce Imperative #4.

Imperative #4: Your biggest competitor is “doing nothing”

As Wright states: “More often, than not – today, your competition is the status quo. In times of crisis, a ‘nice to have’ product won’t cut it. Help your buyers build a case for how your product is relevant to them now, and why they should be rocking the boat. To do this, you have to ‘own’ a really big problem - particularly a problem that if the buyer doesn’t solve it, they’ll lose their job! Incremental improvement is not enough. No executive buyer wants another tech vendor, so you’d better give buyers a good reason to engage with you. They want their specific problems solved.”

“No executive buyer wants another tech vendor, especially not during an economic downturn. They want their specific problems solved.”

After Lay steps in to explain Imperative #5, the need during the pandemic and downturn for tech companies to focus more on expanding existing customer relationships than being pre-occupied with chasing new ones, Wright takes over to discuss Imperative #6.

Imperative #6: Make your buyer the new hero

“The key question here is: Can you make your target buyer the new hero? How can your product or solution help them to help their organization navigate the next normal and all the market uncertainties? Give executive target buyer a new strategy to navigate through this period.”

Wright goes on to cite an example of a client tech company that automates field workers’ field schedules and tasks. They successfully built a case for a change in the role of field service – shifting this organization from a cost center to a new more valuable role in field engagement strategy— the frontline ambassadors driving engagement and CLV. This positioning gave the target buyers a new strategy for thinking about growth. As Wright says: “Give your executive buyer a new strategy to help not only solve their immediate pain but make them a hero to their organization.”

“Give your executive buyer a new strategy to make them a hero and address a multi-million-dollar problem.”


Our joint observation is that CEOs, marketing execs, and sales teams of companies that appear to be navigating their way successfully through the current emergency are operating with these six imperatives clearly in their minds and in their actions.

First, be very clear about which market segment is the sweet spot you must focus on – this can be more than one segment provided that you can allocate different resources and know-how to each one – usually a more challenging tasks than it might appear. Second, form a clear perspective and provocative point of view about the problem area that you are uniquely equipped to address. Then think further about how Covid has aggravated – and further transformed – the situation, and whether this requires you to alter or adjust your offer.

Fourth, keep in mind that your biggest competitor is generally not other competing vendors, but the inertial value of doing nothing, just keeping out of trouble as it were. So you have to have a legitimate reason to disturb the equilibrium of doing nothing. Fifth, spend much more of your collective resources to expand your current customer relationships since most prospects are doing nothing. And finally, think carefully how to make your currently demoralized and frustrated buyer the new hero by helping them to do something genuinely new and different rather than just put band-aid on the wound.

(*) Whereas Firebrick specializes in positioning strategy advice to help companies describe their essential differentiation to B2B customers and make clear why what they do matters, Chasm Group helps companies to define their target market segmentation strategies in prescriptive detail to enable them to execute them successfully – which segment(s) to focus on, what problems to address, and how to solve them using a suitable blend of products and services in the form of repeatable “whole product” solutions.

(**) The first article addresses Imperative #1, why segmentation is newly relevant as a marketing discipline for our Covid times –,. The second piece addresses the need to help customers fix important business processes that the Covid pandemic has in effect broken – The third article focuses on Imperative #5, the need to focus more attention and resources on how to help existing customers get results from their investment in your products and services –

Photo Credit: image created by StudioDCL, (c) 2020