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(Part 2 of 2: 5 Ways to Prepare for Rebirth)

If you're at a loss for how to plan your marketing programs in the current economy, take a clue from nature. In natural systems, chaos and destruction are always followed by rebirth. If you've been burned by the recession now is the time to start planting seeds.

In part one of this two-part series, we looked at five low- or no-cost initiatives you can pursue to shore up your marketing organization. In part two, we'll now look at five initiatives to prepare for rebirth.

The core fundamentals should be readily apparent—communication, intelligence, action—but if one concept sums it up: It's all about building and maintaining relationships.

1. Map your sales pipeline.
There are few more reliable indicators of the future health of a company than a snapshot of the sales pipeline. It's like a satellite image of the battlefield. Tracking your pipeline from marketing through sales and customer service gives you the intelligence not only to plan your budget, but to see major market shifts before they reach your bottom line.

The current carnage in the marketplace isn't surprising when you consider that the vast majority of mature businesses don't track their pipeline further than hot leads and closes.

It doesn't matter if you use a 7-step pipeline or a 10-step pipeline, a prepackaged model or something you sketch out on the back of a napkin. The point is to clearly understand the step-by-step process by which prospects are attracted and turned into loyal customers.

In this day and age, it's important to note that simply buying a sales force automation tool will not solve your problem—and for many companies will be a waste of resources.

You need to roll up your sleeves and really understand the process to make any sense out of the intelligence you want to gather—which will only cost you in time and effort.

If you're at ground zero, there are plenty of resources available to help you get started. The basic strategy is to divide the process into meaningful stages separated by events or actions that mark the transition to the next stage.

In order to move to the “lead” stage, the target must actively express interest in some way—either by returning a phone call or by clicking through on a marketing campaign.

You need to define the qualifications of each stage, the obstacles that prevent progress from one stage to the next, and the tools you have to eliminate those obstacles.

Finally, you need to extend your pipeline past the close and identify stages of customer loyalty to help you retain existing customers and extend sales.

2. Update your Web site.
There's no surer sign of stagnation than an out-of-date Web site. It shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg to make simple changes to your site to keep it fresh.

If you don't have anyone on staff that can make changes, there are some very cheap content management systems that will help you make simple and timely changes on key pages.

At minimum, you should keep your home page, news releases, management bios and job listings up to date.

Oh, and if you don't have any jobs available and don't expect to for some time, consider removing the page altogether or replacing it with a simple message about your employment policy and process.

Analysts, reporters and prospects will initially judge the health of your company by checking to see if you have any job listings, and if your press releases are current.

3. Audit your marketing assets.
In the chaos of downsizing and the doldrums that frequently follow, markets and products continue to evolve.

One of the biggest dangers to businesses that have made deep cuts to their marketing budgets and staffs is the likelihood of being caught flatfooted when the economy finally turns. Much of the initial momentum and opportunity for market share goes to the companies that are able to ramp up the fastest.

To ensure your ability to move quickly when the opportunity arises, you should conduct a complete audit of your marketing assets. The most effective method is to create a Touchpoint Map, a process we've described in another brief available in our archives.

Once you've mapped your marketing assets, it's easy to identify which assets are most critical to your sales process, which assets are durable—meaning the content won't change significantly as your product and company evolves—and which assets will need to be updated in order to serve your sales and support process most effectively.

If your sales process is well defined, one person can complete an asset audit in relatively short order, along with a ramp up plan to be executed as soon as momentum picks up.

4. Create a communications guide.
Similar to an asset audit, a messaging guide is an aggregate of your key marketing messages, including your company background, corporate and product positioning, value propositions, product definitions, and any other messaging tools your business uses.

Again, many of these messaging components will change as the market goes through fits and starts, so it makes good sense to have a tight reign on all of your messaging assets.

If, like many businesses, you don't have a well defined messaging system, now is the perfect time to get on track since, chances are, you have far fewer messaging and document requirements now that the market is slow. Every company has core positioning elements that form the unchanging essence of what your business is about—now's the time to pare back to rediscover the essentials.

5. Develop a sector intelligence log.
One of the few benefits of a downturn is that the market landscape is easier to chart. There's far less volume and hype in the market, and far fewer flavor-of-the-day products and experts.

Look around to see who's still standing. Chances are good if they survive 2002, they'll be around when the market picks up again.

If you don't already have a market sector intelligence log or briefing template, they're easy to set up and research. Simply compile a list of the people and businesses that matter in your market, and start tracking.

You don't have to be exhaustive—you can simply summarize by day, week or even month, trends in the market that are of interest. Some items to include in your log:

    1. Bellwether stocks in target sector—track stock trends
    2. Top Analysts—track their articles, columns and reports
    3. Top CEOs—track their interviews, events and deals
    4. Top Magazines/Newsletters—track their marketing calendars and Web content
    5. Top Consulting firms—track their articles and web content
    6. Interesting/Innovative Technologies
    7. Interesting/Innovative thinkers or influencers

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Kenton Mr. Kenton is president and senior strategist at Cymbic, a full service marketing agency and consultancy (www.cymbic.com). Cymbic specializes in positioning and marketing technology products and businesses. He can be reached at ckenton@cymbic.com.