The 4 Prerequisites to Successful B2B Marketing Planning in 2021

Green typewriter with "2021" on a piece of paper

The first half of 2020 created shockwaves across businesses, leaving marketers working overtime to find viable ways of supporting rapidly evolving customer journeys and revenue goals. This article was originally published on CMSWire.

A few months into the "new normal," some marketers are finally able to take time to pause, reflect and plan for the year ahead. While there is no way to know what 2021 will look like, it's a fair guess it won't look anything like our pre-pandemic world.

Reestablishing a healthy, productive marketing function during a time of unprecedented socio-cultural and economic uncertainty is no small feat, but every marketing leader can take steps to prepare for and meet the year ahead with confidence. 

Be Attuned to Shifting Priorities

A marketing leader’s role is to translate organizational goals — including sales targets, market positioning and market penetration — into effective, relevant strategies and tactics.

As your organization continues to absorb the aftershocks of the pandemic, you need to stay attuned to shifts in strategy that impact marketing priorities. Stay close to the CEO, the broader executive team and the board of directors so you can understand and support the shifting priorities and challenges. Which market geographies or verticals are faltering? Which products or business lines are performing poorly? What new opportunities may be emerging on the horizon? These considerations need to easily plug into your evolving marketing plans.

Seek Optimization, Not Transformation

The conversation among many B2B thought leaders and market analysts has shifted from digital transformation to optimization. In today's economic climate, when even Google has slashed its marketing operations by half, digital transformation initiatives have been paused or reimagined, and optimization, i.e. doing more with less, has become the focus.

Marketing optimization involves reviewing and, most likely reengineering, how marketing impacts bottom- and top-line revenue:

Bottom Line

Every CFO is looking for ways to reduce waste, and marketing leaders need to get in front of this trend by proactively eliminating underutilized or underperforming resources. Let the data show how every platform, initiative and campaign is driving value and where they may be underdelivering. Many marketers have an impressive technology stack, but utilize a fraction of its capabilities. Is there untapped functionality that can help you improve efficiency, capture a new market segment, reach into new channels? Small tweaks can have a big impact: a martech stack audit that reaches into all the connection points between marketing and their business partners such as IT, product, and sales can drive savings as well as new opportunities for growth. Dive into data audits and deduplication processes to dramatically reduce the effort required to manage campaigns while simultaneously enhancing campaign effectiveness and reporting accuracy.

Top Line

Marketers need to be able to demonstrate (and continually augment) the value they deliver. Take a clear-eyed look at your marketing mix. What's generating engagement and leads? Where is the pipeline breaking down? The promotional channels you use, the content you produce, the way you score leads, and the support you give to sales: all of these elements may require retooling due to market changes. For example, one of our clients, a global technology company, saw that without live events and in-person demos, lead volume diminishing and opportunities weren't closing. They took their live-event budget and invested in virtual demo and event tools. This allowed them to support a high-volume of lead-gen and demand-gen webinars as well as enabling the sales team to replicate the personalized, high-touch relationships they had formerly achieved in person.

DemandLab's Cut, Accelerate, Decision Matrix Worksheet

Identifying the marketing drivers that are underperforming, essential, and high potential enables you to optimize the marketing function. You can download a copy here.

Establish a Benchmark

Data-driven decision making is a crucial skill for marketing leaders who need to continually optimize operations and identify new opportunities.

The first step is to establish a pre-COVID-19 benchmark. Look at the data points that measure and predict the sales pipeline. What did demand generation look like? How many leads were you generating each month? How many of those became marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and then moved into a sales cycle? What was the velocity of those conversions? What was the quality of the leads (how many were kicked back from sales because they weren't viable)? What was the opportunity close rate? Use all of these data points to establish a baseline against which the effectiveness of future initiatives can be measured. 

The next step is to use that data to help predict what's likely to happen three, six, 12 months down the line. What targets are realistic given the extent of the downturn (and how it’s impacting your particular industry)? Once you've set targets, you can evaluate your performance regularly and proactively address underperforming markets, channels and approaches.

Focus on Attribution

At a time when many businesses are struggling to remain profitable, marketers need to focus on building systems of revenue attribution. Marketing is mistakenly viewed as a cost center, in large part because the majority of marketers have no way of claiming ownership of the revenue they generate. A 2019 Demand Gen report found that while 90% of marketers said measurement and attribution were a growing priority, only 11% rated their ability to measure and analyze marketing performance and impact as excellent.

Given the predictions for a lengthier, U-shaped recovery, marketers need to fast-track their efforts to build systems of attribution capable of connecting early-stage clicks, likes and visits to later-stage engagement and conversion metrics, opportunities, and, ultimately, revenue. Not only does this make the case for marketing's organizational contributions, but it provides marketers with an analytic framework that shows them exactly which channels, campaigns, and market segments are most profitable.

Despite the glut of predictions, no one knows what 2021 will bring. But that doesn't mean marketers can play turtle. In fact, multiple studies show that organizations that continue to invest in marketing during economic downturns emerge stronger than their competitors. Marketers who use this time to realign, optimize and measure performance will be instrumental in leading their companies to long-term success.

Banner image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

About the Author

Rhoan Morgan

Rhoan is DemandLab's CEO and Co-Founder. She is an award-winning digital marketing professional with more than 15 years of expertise and a strong track record of generating results for B2B and B2C marketing and sales teams through advanced integrated marketing automation campaigns. She is also the host of the Revenue Rebels podcast on SLMA Radio and the author of Change Agents: The Radical Role of Tomorrow's CMO.

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