Four Steps To Turn A Business Headwind Into An Opportunity

Daniella Foster, Executive Board Member, Global SVP of Market Access, Sustainability & Public Affairs, Bayer.

In Ipsos’ recent global research report “What Worries the World?”, 62% of people across 29 countries think their countries are not headed in the right direction, with top concerns including inflation, social inequities, crime, unemployment, corruption and healthcare. What worries the world also concerns your business and its future growth. Many companies think of these challenges as only headwinds—the reasons why their business can’t or won’t grow. But the complexities of our world aren’t getting fixed anytime soon: Populations continue to grow, governments continue to shift and climate action isn’t happening fast enough.

Companies poised for success will figure out how to turn these headwinds into opportunities. It’s a mindset shift, for sure. So often in business development, we think in finite terms. We have a product or service—how can we sell more of it? It’s about winning and beating the competition today. Of course, this is important, but to create a sustainable business, long-term thinking is what’s going to unlock future value pools.

1. Where Do You Start?

First, what does your company stand for? The answer should not be about making product X, Y or Z. It’s about the lasting impact your company can authentically have on the world. For example, my company, Bayer, focuses on “Health for all, hunger for none;” Microsoft aims “To help people throughout the world realize their full potential; Patagonia’s vision is to “use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” If you don’t have a company mission or vision, prioritize spending time to figure this out—it will serve you well in every business decision.

Next, be clear on your company’s core competencies—what do you do well as a business? This is foundational to where you will develop your business in future years.

These questions sound simple, but are good ones to go back to, to set your business up for future success.

2. Who Do You Aim To Please?

Really think about this question. Likely, first and foremost, it’s your boss given that’s who determines your career progression. But if you want to further grow your business, you need to “please” your customer—and when you do this successfully, you will also be rewarded. Think about this reframe as you design your business development strategy. Instead of “selling” your idea to your boss, how do you more quickly just test it out with a small sub-set of your customer base? I’m sure you are thinking “easier said than done in my company,” but I can share that at Bayer, which is a large, multi-national corporation, we’re shifting to a new operating model, called dynamic shared ownership, that’s moving away from pleasing the boss and instead, focused on radical customer-centricity and a more agile mindset. This shift is what’s required in this dynamic environment.

3. What Worries Them?

Once you are clear on your purpose and your customer needs, go back to those concerns. Are there any that you are uniquely set up to help solve?

Let’s use healthcare as a good example of how you can turn a burgeoning concern into a business growth opportunity. Health systems are struggling globally. There’s an opportunity for businesses to help augment the current system to help people take better care of themselves. Take Dollar General, a customer of Bayer, which already had a focus on serving rural communities with its 17,000+ stores. Identifying that these same rural communities are also health deserts, they started to enhance their over-the-counter medicine offerings, working with manufacturers to create more affordable SKUs. This helps get more people into their stores, who are likely purchasing more than just healthcare products.

4. Who Else Can Help?

New approaches like this to drive business growth can seem daunting. But you don’t have to go it alone. Partners can provide immeasurable value in bringing a new idea to market. They can help open doors, build trust and credibility, and often have a better understanding of audience needs and what will resonate.

It doesn’t matter whether your new idea is big or small. What’s important is to be forward-thinking and marry your strengths and vision as a business with the broader needs of your audience to unlock new value pools. This forward-thinking, customer-centric view plays a critical role in future-proofing any business. Which is really what business development is all about!


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