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By: Rhoan Morgan on July 28th, 2020

4 Questions B2B Marketers Are Asking About the Downturn

As the head of a martech agency and a longtime advocate of the marketing-led customer experience (CX), I talk to B2B marketing leaders every day. Unsurprisingly, many are struggling as they adjust to massive changes, not only in the market but in their own professional and personal lives. Over the past few weeks, I have heard from many marketers who are coping with the simultaneous contraction of marketing budgets, marketing channels, and top-line revenue.

It’s a lot to handle at once, but marketers can’t afford to let the engine stall. Most of us have more questions than answers right now, but by sharing our knowledge and exploring new solutions, we can continue to adapt and move forward. With that in mind, I am sharing four questions that have come up most frequently in my conversations with marketing leaders lately, along with responses that I hope offer some guidance in these unpredictable times.

Q: How should I adjust my marketing channel mix?

A: Who could have predicted that channels such as direct mail, in-person events, and trade shows would disappear completely for the majority of 2020? The impact of these changes on the way businesspeople learn and interact has been profound.

For marketers, the priority is to find new, digital channels capable of replacing the reach and authenticity of the channels that are currently on hold, because losing touch with prospects isn’t an option. In addition to the usual suspects—including video conferencing, webinars, and virtual events—I have seen marketers experimenting with initiatives such as creating “office hours” where prospects and customers can drop in on the company’s customer success managers, account managers, and subject-matter experts for instant connection, idea sharing, and an added level of support. Some have made their sales teams accessible via chat, and while it takes some adjustment, this can also lead to instant answers and a feeling of connection that has been lost otherwise.

I’ve also heard great things about tools like Soapbox by Wistia, which makes it astonishingly easy to create personalized videos, screencasts, or split-screen videos. Enabling salespeople to create their own personalized forms of outreach is the key to replacing the in-person connections they’ve lost with their prospects.

Take a look at the data, identify existing channels that deliver a solid ROI, and keep these going.  Next, review what’s been paused and shift that budget to other initiatives that you BELIEVE will bring strong ROI. Then test, test, test. Finally, stop anything that isn’t bringing value and get comfortable with one of my favorite lines from Heidi Klum: “I’m sorry, you’re out.” We should not be too attached to anything that isn’t driving the value you need right now.

Q: Where can I cut costs without reducing my impact?

A: This is the million-dollar question in a difficult economy. Virtually every marketer is being asked to reduce the budget while the organization’s revenue goals remain largely the same. The answer will be different for everyone based on their business size, industry, goals, risk tolerance, and many other factors. Furthermore, in most of my research and conversations, the consensus is to avoid cutting marketing budgets right now and focus on shifting investments to maintain your market position or capturing more by dominating where your competitors are pulling back.

I would also advise every marketer to double down on optimization. Look at your systems and processes and do a quick audit of what’s needed, what’s working, what can be cut. Technology and data are the foundation of your marketing activities—or at least they should be—and that doesn’t change during a downturn. As you explore ways to reduce the marketing budget sustainably, a martech audit can help you enhance efficiencies, eliminate redundancies, and trim costs by removing unnecessary or underutilized technologies.

Additionally, given the shifting realities of the current downturn, your marketing department may need to acquire new capabilities or explore new communication channels. By auditing the stack and culling unnecessary technologies, you may be able to free up resources that can be reallocated to fill the emerging gaps and find creative ways to reach prospects ahead of the competition.

There are many different tools and approaches for conducting a stack audit, but the most important thing is to make sure the process is designed to provide concrete, actionable steps to address the findings. If it just inventories your stack components and points out the problems without offering solutions, it will sit on your desk gathering dust. If it includes a set of recommendations, priorities, and anticipated returns on the actions taken, it will empower you with the information you need to make impactful changes.

Q: How do I continue generating revenue during a downturn?

A: I have always been a big advocate for marketing and sales alignment: it’s essential to the goal of optimizing the customer experience and increasing organizational revenue. In our current economic climate, the alignment of marketing and sales is even more critical to generating and maintaining a strong pipeline.

It hasn’t always been easy for marketing and sales to see eye to eye, but leading with empathy at this time can help marketing to establish an authentic partnership. Checking in on what sales needs now and teaming up with them to find the best solutions to their challenges is a great entry point for a conversation about how to improve coordination between the two functions. Is the existing lead scoring system out of sync with new marketplace realities and needs to be recalibrated? Does sales need help crafting new scripts that align with the evolving needs of their customers and address new roadblocks to conversion? Could marketing generate reports that provide better insight into sales prospects and processes?

We are on the same team, we are here to grow the company, grow revenue, grow customer loyalty, and engage new and existing markets. And both sides are facing big challenges right now. We have never needed each other more.

Q: How does the current situation impact my ABM strategies?

A: ABM has become a hugely promising strategy for B2B marketers in recent years, and many of us have been excited to see new intelligence and orchestration tools continue to emerge that enable even greater possibilities for targeted and coordinated strategies.

But in the latter half of 2020, the B2B world looks very different. Office closures mean most companies have paused direct mail initiatives. Ads triggered by corporate IP addresses no longer reach their intended targets. And cancelled in-person events have disrupted a powerful face-to-face channel.

However, the good news is that it’s possible to manage an ABM campaign exclusively on digital channels with a few critical adjustments:

  • Shift the strategy towards cultivating existing known leads because identifying new leads via corporate IPs will be a less reliable tactic for the foreseeable future.
  • Focus on tactics that identify priority accounts via corporate domains and support orchestrated outreach to multiple account contacts.
  • Focus on getting more ABM value out of your existing toolset, since investing in new point solutions is probably unrealistic.

To elaborate on this last point, if you have a marketing automation platform and a CRM, you already have some incredibly powerful ABM capabilities at your fingertips. Here’s an example:

One of our clients wanted to expand the footprint for their current big accounts by connecting with more users and ensuring that their platform was seen as valuable and “sticky” by more people across the organization. We helped them create hundreds of personalized landing pages that could be created on demand, in real time, using dynamic content tailored to specific individuals and their needs. Using the right technology, proprietary code and unique processes, design, copy, content offers, we were able to support a highly personalized approach that delivered account- and role-specific experiences for the end customer. Not only did engagement soar, but the use of our client’s product also expanded throughout their target accounts.

Ultimately, marketers need to take stock of the tools and resources they have at hand and get creative about using them in new and effective ways. Marketing leaders may be facing greater uncertainty these days, but they’re asking the right questions and bringing tremendous intelligence and optimism to the search for the right answers. That commitment to moving forward during a time when many companies are holding back will help them surge ahead of the competition and position them for success when the economy recovers.