We Didn’t Pivot for COVID: It was the Smart Public Safety Decision
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
The call came from an eager customer in April and would be most salespersons’ dream. “Can you add a thermal camera to your GABRIEL ‘shields’ so we can identify people with fever?” Coronavirus was spreading like wildfire around this prospect’s building, and taking the lives of neighbors, friends and relatives. There was almost a desperate energy in the air and a real need for people to ‘do something’… almost anything. And they would likely pay almost anything for that solution.
I was confronted with a real choice: alter our crisis management technology and offering to answer a call from the market, or stick with our core product and go-to-market strategy. The textbook answer business would tell you to listen to the customer and pivot. A classic step in lean methodology and something I would normally preach to our team. But the context here was everything and we chose to turn away temptation, and here’s why.
Active Shooter Situations are Still Public Threats
We founded GABRIEL on a set of core values and a focused mission: to stop the chaos in active shooter situations and other threats and public emergencies that plague our society today. We built tools that empower a smarter response, are easier to use, and more affordable to implement. Could COVID could be incorporated into this mission? Yes. But the question is what sort of value are you delivering to your customer? How are you serving your community? And where does it fit with your integrity?
Like the aftermath of an active-shooter situation, COVID created a whirlwind of confusion and a reactive market looking to find a solution that gives them a sense of control and preparedness. Adding thermal cameras to our devices, or selling a separate unit that checks people as they enter the building would add much-needed revenue to our bottom line. Maybe even a dramatic spike in revenue. So I reached out to one of our trusted advisors and industry experts for his view.
A flurry of emails ensued. This advisor sat on the crisis management team for a multi-national pharmaceutical and had the unique challenge of staying operational while most of the world was shut down. He referred me to a set of thermal cameras that he had researched and would recommend from a technology point of view. My thinking immediately went to an upsell model or even a technology partnership. But then we spent a few quality minutes on the phone and everything changed.
The questions began… “Could GABRIEL actually mitigate a COVID threat or is this just a ‘band-aid’? Does it fit with our mission of affordable technology or is this an overpriced and overpowered thermometer? What happens if we decide that temperature taking is no longer a key indicator for building safety in three months?” The answers led to what felt like a painful piece of advice: turn down the opportunity. But the way we would handle it elevated our position with the prospect, who today is a client, and it’s been a crucial lesson for the business.
After sharing the possible solutions with the client, we explained why we thought it would be a bad idea to make the investment. It would cost them tens of thousands of dollars to take people’s temperatures from a limited distance, whereas a cheap handheld scanner could do the trick almost just as well. They weren’t rushing into full-scale opening anytime soon, while temperature taking may become obsolete as the key indicator of illness. Ultimately, we showed them how we could help make this investment if they really wanted to – but we would not feel we were giving them the level of value we have created with GABRIEL for other sorts of threats.
Investing Now to Improve Public Safety after COVID
What happened? The customer was truly grateful for the time we invested, the level of expertise we sought, felt relieved, understood, guided. They didn’t buy an overpriced thermometer… but they ultimately did order GABRIEL and we just completed their product installation and training last week.
Truly listening to a customer’s needs and walking down the path of finding a solution for them is very different from listening to their request and selling a matching product. I know this sounds like nuance but in our case it was the difference between gaining or losing integrity. By sticking to our core values and customer-centric approach we have helped this client improve security and preparedness. We are arming their local law enforcement agencies with smart tools like panic buttons to respond, and sharing best practices that improve their protocols and lockdown times.
Had we taken the bait and pivoted the business to sell expensive temperature taking systems or other solutions that didn’t align with the level of value our brand delivers for security threats then ultimately it would boomerang on us. Our integrity would be diminished and we would be another one of those businesses who closed a quick COVID deal but eventually lost the client.
Holding true to this core hasn’t been easy. Our market is struggling and the impact of COVID is very real for us, personally and professionally. We continue to seek technology that can help our community cope with COVID. But similar to the early days when we built the original spec for GABRIEL, we had to filter out features that were more ‘hype’ and less likely to save lives. Until we find something that truly delivers value and aligns with our core mission, we continue serving our customers with integrity and resist the temptation to pivot for COVID. So far it has been the smart move.
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