The experts weigh in on how you should be approaching your marketing strategy for the rest of 2020 and beyond
In our previous post, we asked the experts “What tactic should B2B marketers be doing right now to hit their goals during the COVID-19 crisis?”
Today we look to the future. Like it or not, we’re living in a new reality. There’s a new norm, so we must set new expectations, new goals, and new marching orders. In other words, we must update our strategy to fit the changing market.
As I heard one pundit aptly put it, “COVID-19 is accelerating the future.” And that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
But there is still much uncertainty in the market – so how do we plan for the rest of 2020 and beyond? It’s time to call the experts back in to act as a beacon for the journey ahead.
I asked them “How should B2B marketers be planning their programs and strategies for the rest of 2020 and beyond?”
Here’s what they had to say.
How should B2B marketers be planning their programs and strategies for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
Practice Vice President, Gartner
If the economic environment improves over the medium-term, marketing (and, consequently, ABM budgets) will likely increase again. ABM programs have been shown to result in significant improvements in pipeline growth. If economic uncertainty continues, these programs should remain a core element of marketing strategy. During this time, look to the results of your ABM program to guide expansion decisions. For example, if a broad channel mix is applied to a more narrow number of accounts, and you see favorable results, you should create a business justification to scale the number of accounts.
President Heinz Marketing
Many of your best target customers aren’t buying right now. Budgets are frozen, cash is being conserved. You’re not going to grow many tomatoes in December (at least here in Seattle). But how you till the garden, condition the soil, add fertilizer – how you work the variables now will give you epic tomatoes this summer.
Invest in your relationships, lean in on building value, give generously. Focus on value vs venue. Just because office direct mail and field events are out doesn’t mean ABM is over. It does mean you have to double down on your integrated approach with sales, on your investment in delivering value to the entire buying committee, and playing the long game for complex deals and long-term mutually beneficial relationships.
VP Consulting Services, Inverta
The only thing that’s certain now is uncertainty. We’re living in unprecedented times, and to assume that we’ll all be returning to our regular channel mix any time soon would be a mistake. Marketing organizations need to proactively research ways to use advanced online production, augmented reality, and offline channels to create more immersive virtual experiences for prospects and customers. So much of account-based marketing is centered on insight-lead experiences for accounts or like-accounts that offer value. With the boundaries of geography removed, the opportunity to deliver real-time, interactive value to a set of accounts has grown.
However, if we can’t figure out how to create a quality experience that’s compelling and immersive, it won’t be successful. The question shouldn’t be whether or not we should be budgeting for events in 2020 and 2021 – it should be whether or not we’re budgeting for in-person events, or high-quality virtual experiences.
Senior Analyst, Marketing Practice, TOPO
The first thing you have to do is rethink your target account list. If you have companies in affected industries – like airlines and hotels/hospitality – you must rethink those. Now, with fewer accounts to focus on, you can lower your engagement threshold and adjust your goals accordingly. What kind of volume do I need in order to actually achieve my objectives? What activities make sense? What resources do I still have at my disposal? What metrics do I need to adjust down?
Even within the markets that are still going well, buyers are more conservative, so you must adjust your expectations. I would suspect you’ll qualify out at least a quarter of your accounts.
Finally, figure out how the market has changed, how buying has changed, what messaging is working, and what your new goals should be. Then start planning against those goals.
Cofounder, Chief Analyst, TOPO
The last 8+ years have been a bull market, where almost anything worked. Even folks that had suboptimal processes and didn’t “hit their number,” sold stuff and made money. Anyone who entered the workforce during that time hasn’t faced adversity. Now, the pressure is on to make sure that we’re doing the right things going forward.
The argument for being targeted could not be more clear now. Companies who have been quasi-account-focused need to get off the fence. After all, you just lost a quarter to a half of your market. Making good decisions about accounts is going to be the difference. There are still deals to be won right now.
Secondly, it’s important to have your entire revenue process be versatile. I’ve seen people change their go-to-market in three days. And if you don’t have the platform and process to do that, it will be tough to keep up.
The third thing is the need to provide extreme value across everything. You have to thread the needle. Every person and every account matters. Not only do you have to deliver on all of the touches, but you have to think about how to over deliver. The importance of identifying this value and delivering across the entire life cycle could not be more real.
Finally, we have to talk about alignment. The situation has forced sales and marketing to drop their swords, and get in the room to go figure things out. We’ve all talked about this forever, and we’ve all wanted it. But this is the forcing function to make it happen. My hope is that once this is all over, we don’t go back to fighting.
The only thing an economic downturn truly does is transition B2B account-based marketing & selling from a potential experiment into an absolute requirement. We have to understand our buyers and their organizational challenges, and meet them with value-forward solutions positioned with relevance and empathy. I hope this serves as a reminder of how critical investing in fundamentals and forming relationships are to the financial health of a business, both in retaining customers and helping new ones.
Marketers should assume that a post-COVID world is a hybrid of where we were before all of this and where we currently are. The economy will open back up, but large events will not be back anytime soon and business travel will still be minimal. Marketers will need to adjust accordingly and continue to double down on being hyper-relevant and educating their audiences. Companies will need to lead with value and know that revenue comes as a result of that value creation.
Tactically, solution providers must determine how best to help their clients both rationally and emotionally. They will redouble efforts to clearly explain their value to their clients in meaningful, understandable and realistic terms. All actors must work with clients to “keep the faith” by delivering on promises and responding quickly and transparently to issues as they arise.
Companies that have yet to establish a significant retained base obviously need to stay focused on creating momentum, even as they take significant steps to reduce tactical sprawl and waste. They must accept longer sell cycles while committing to developing more meaningful engagement early in the process — to build their cases more completely with key supporters and detractors across the actual buying team.
In contrast to volume-based lead gen, this is a time for more comprehensive opportunity identification – or better, opportunity creation — and management, for complete Sales and Marketing alignment around the diverse needs or interests of the buying team. Without a doubt, those companies that improve their ABM skillsets more proactively will be better able to rapidly proliferate them to more scalable hybrid-ABM practices as conditions normalize.
The key to any good strategy, including your ABM strategy, is to consider your goals, your clients’ needs and mindfulness of the underlying environment. In the era of COVID-19, I recommend one effective pivot in strategy:
Direct changes in messaging or offering: Organizations who take bold steps in making a stance for the collective good. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken suspended their “Finger Licking Good” Slogan to reflect their support of the broader health and safety of the public.
Tons of organizations opened up their products for free or at a steep discount, knowing helping a potential customer today is not just good for future business, but even for the broader good. (Zoom, Google, tons of universities etc.)
Senior VP, Conculting, ITSMA
The main challenge for all of us is the tremendous uncertainty, and the current disruptions are likely to continue for many months or even more. Here are four general principles that can help us orient our ABM Programs for the foreseeable future.
- Simply invest more. Broader marketing approaches are likely to be even less effective going forward. More targeted, more insight based, and more personalized marketing is going to be essential.
- Rethink account coverage. Understand the very different disruptions that are happening across different industries and different accounts. It’s crucial to go even deeper with our key accounts and our top prospects. Invest in your most important relationships – reinforce the value and look for opportunities to grow it.
- Thought leadership and content. Now more than ever, we must create high-quality, relevant, customized content for our campaigns. Our customers are desperate for new ideas and new approaches relevant to them and their situation.
- Strengthening our own teams for working through longer term uncertainty. Remote work is a given, but we need to focus on agility and resilience. How can we get even better about fast collaboration, creativity, and decision making so we can get new approaches to market quickly.
Get lean while upgrading the experiences throughout the entire sales cycle. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it is important that you focus as much time and energy as possible to think experience-first while saving money.
VP of Marketing, Vidyard
Many sales development reps (SDRs) have added personalized videos to their repertoire of outreach tactics in recent years with great success. If your SDR team is not yet using video strategically to boost response rates and engagement with key accounts, now is the perfect time to start mastering this skill to set yourself up for future ABM success!
In fact, it’s the perfect time to start testing it out, as the expectation of working from home can actually be advantageous for showcasing transparency and authenticity. Help your remote sales team to start testing out video messaging as part of their outreach to key accounts. Think about different possible approaches and scenarios where webcam and screen capture videos could be used to stand out, to humanize your reps, and to offer more value to your prospects. Use the weeks ahead to test and learn, with the goal of rolling out to your SDR team in the months ahead. To learn about using video in the sales process, check out the free and ungated Definitive Guide to Video in Sales.
Director of Field & Customer Marketing, Pendo
In this new world, your ABM strategy has to meet prospects where they are. We’ve lost events as a channel altogether and we’re feeling the strain on email and digital – so each touchpoint must be measured through a lens of empathy, value, and timeliness. Instead of selling-focused virtual events, we’re connecting peers virtually for group-therapy style meetups where we facilitate the conversation and let them rewrite a new playbook together.
First touch engagements include social responsibility incentives like charitable donations of their choosing and physical offers that support local restaurants and small businesses relevant to them. We also recognize that virtual event and webinar fatigue is very real, so creating bite-sized content and easily consumable summaries of your virtual content are critical.
Director of Client Services, DigitalPi
Budgets are tight. The economy is uncertain. Batch and blast isn’t going to cut through the noise. You have to be a more disciplined marketer and really hone your marketing craft. Goal-driven marketing is the key. Define concrete, measurable goals and ensure your tactics are driving to your goal.
Partner, Winning by Design
We all must be nimble with our planning. Expect constant iterations in territories, target accounts lists and marketing plans. An account strategy that works today may change three weeks from now. As always, and especially in the next year, the more impact and pain you are solving for your customers, the greater results you’ll see. It’s also now more important than ever to use digital insights to see who is still engaging and showing intent, to narrow in on targets that are in-market and enable teams to track more digital engagement.
It’s important to note that although channels and strategies will change, destinations will always be a necessary element of a successful buyer journey. Just like demand generation, thought leadership, SEO, and brand awareness are essential to meeting marketing objectives, providing a personalized destination is an essential strategy to accelerate the buyer’s journey. Speed to market will also prove to be a vital strategy going forward. As information is rapidly being updated, it will be imperative to ensure that campaigns are not only personalized, but get in front of customers quickly. Creating personalized campaigns in a matter of minutes is what will ultimately set marketers apart for the future.
CMO & Founder, B2BFusion
Customer content creation. Look for ways to impact retention with meaningful content and authentic messaging that speaks to your market – a 1% change in churn has a massive impact on what needs to be accomplished on top line revenues.
Return to fundamentals. Now is the time to fix bad data and processes to emerge stronger from this temporary situation. If you are an Engagio customer, make sure your Account Journey is configured correctly for customer journeys, not just prospects.
Outsource, don’t hire. Few companies will have the luxury to hire new headcount, yet the work needs to get done. Look for agile additions to your organization – knowledgeable agencies and savvy consultants can add value in ways beyond a deliverable, and/or can offer insight on ways to cut costs based on the competitive landscape.
VP of Marketing. Metadata.io
The first place to focus is your target account list. One of the best ways you can get more efficient with your spend is doubling down on making sure you’re going after the right accounts. You can begin to layer in more data to refind your ICP. Then, take it one level deeper and look at the people within those accounts. Are certain titles better than others?
Secondly, personalization will give you a bigger bang for your buck. Take your refined target account list, split them up into cohorts, then create messaging for those specific people. If you can be more targeted, you can create more relevant messaging, which will lead to better response rates.
Finally, test. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the market, and you’re never going to know with 100% certainty what will work. What worked three months ago may not work today. And what works today may not work in three months. What works is changing faster than ever. You may have to pause your evergreen campaigns and test new offers. The only way to keep up with the market is to always be testing.
– – –
Though the waters may be rough, we enter into the uncharted territory together. By listening to the experts here, we will have a guiding light for both what we can do right now in uncertain times to hit out numbers and how we should be planning our businesses to thrive in the future.