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< TSG Thinks

3 Signs You Need to Pivot

With any business or marketing effort, there’s always the chance of falling short. No venture is perfect in its first iteration. In fact, some of today’s most famous companies built their current incarnations off former failures — companies such as Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and Groupon all owe their success to major pivots.

Another well-known example is AT&T. The company’s Bell Labs research had already invented mobile phone technology by the 1960s. AT&T could have cornered the market on wireless, but its research mistakenly indicated that the trend would never catch on significantly. In 1984, when AT&T divested the Bell System in an antitrust suit, it essentially gave away the technology in favor of long-distance service, believing wireless would stay confined to a small market.

AT&T rectified that mistake in 1994 by acquiring McCaw Cellular, and now it’s one of the three top brands in U.S. wireless. Wireless is AT&T’s most profitable sector, but the company’s second chance at the technology cost $12.6 billion.

Many entrepreneurs don’t have the capital to afford such a miscue, but they have the same tendency to bet too much or too little on products or services, which can lead to hard failures.

Related: How to Prepare for a Pivot

Here are three surefire ways to recognize when to pivot and determine how to make a successful change:

1. That little stomach tickle

Everyone knows the funny feeling that arises in the pit of the stomach when something’s wrong. When smart, experienced marketers get that feeling, they should pay attention. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” chronicles just how often our gut instinct proves to be right.

I once had a client who was marketing a commodity product at insanely high premiums, and it wasn’t getting any traction. He knew his product offered no extra value but was determined to stick to his revenue projections despite his instincts. The venture didn’t end well.

2. A lack of customer enthusiasm

Most companies today are driven to market fast and early, and products and campaigns rarely receive the ideal prelaunch testing. So it’s extremely important to get close to the point of the spear — the crux of the customer purchase decision — before products hit shelves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what you’d like to sell rather than what people would like to buy. Whenever I see any business (including my own) heading that direction, I try my best to curb that impulse.

Is this product different? Will people pay for it? These answers should be no-brainers for business owners and team members alike. If anyone has trouble responding, the product isn’t ready for market. In that same vein, ventures can’t be only about the product; the rollout has to be executable and worth the marketing costs. Think realistically about distribution, product promotion and communications.

Related: Pivot or Persevere? The Key to Startup Success

3. The digital team’s alarm

By 2020, 85 percent of customer relationships will involve no human-to-human contact, yet only 5 percent of marketing teams have a fully automated system for handling leads. In today’s marketing world, it’s essential to set up digital-marketing response mechanisms to assess customer interest and determine if a pivot is necessary. Digital and email formats both offer analytic tools that provide excellent campaign information and help lay out ROI.

In this data-driven environment, if you fail, fail quickly. Though every campaign will fail to some degree, the key is isolating that defeat and pivoting toward success as early as possible — before more money and resources are wasted.

Related: Do Pivots Matter? Yes, in Almost Every Case.


By Todd Woldenbarger – Originally published on