As the world faces the global coronavirus pandemic, B2B CMOs face a critical problem.

Not long ago, major conferences were still on the schedule. Your marketing collateral was ready. Your firm's most persuasive executives were slated to deliver keynotes or speak on panels.

Now, nearly everything that made it easy to get in front of buyers has changed.

Conferences are canceled, and face-to-face meetings are daily less and less possible.

The entire "supply chain of sales" has been disrupted like never before. But, more than that, buyers have entirely new buying criteria to consider. For example, if your enterprise software requires sending engineers to work on-site with IT staff at the customer's facility, how can that work if most of that staff now works from home?

Shifting to emails, tweets, social media posts, webinars, etc. is an obvious solution. However, buyers—who are struggling with how to do business themselves in this situation—aren't likely to welcome a torrent of mostly irrelevant virtual sales calls. Yet, as buyers hunker down, sales teams under pressure to deliver revenue at all costs will feel they have little choice but to bang on the door harder.

At the risk of stating the obvious, reaching and persuading buyers will be extremely difficult for the foreseeable future.

To face these challenges, B2B CMOs must work with sales leaders to answer a critical question...

How Will We Sell When Buyers Are Working Remotely and Their Thinking Has Changed?

Challenge: B2B sales often depend on face-to-face contact between seller and a buyer team

It will probably be impossible to get the buyer team in a room where your top salespeople can iron out differences of opinion and overcome objections.

Virtual meetings are an option. But the "star power" of a charismatic sales leader will be reduced when not in a face-to-face meeting.

Implication: Now, more than ever, your sales materials will need to be able to stand—and sell hard—on their own. They must still answer the two critical questions: Why this offering? Why buy it now? But these materials will need to have prospects see they need your offering now, without creating anxieties that lead them to put off buying decisions.

Challenge: What worked last quarter may not work this quarter

The world has changed—perhaps not permanently, but certainly for the remainder of 2020.

Buyer teams will have new reasons not to buy, and many of those reasons will be entirely legitimate and difficult to argue against.

  • On the one hand, buyers with supply chain concerns may have proactively loaded up on inventory. How will you sell to people who believe they already have what they need?
  • On the other, less proactive buyers will have growing concerns. They will need reassurance about your company's ability to deliver—and the more their supply chain relies on your supply chain, the more reassurance they will require.

Your sales team will also need to be ready to deal with questions and obstacles they have never encountered before. There will be new questions about health and safety, logistics, onboarding, billing terms, and many more.

Implication: You will need to think through the types of new questions sales leaders will encounter, and arm them with answers that make sense.

Take care to work with salespeople directly and continuously, because they will have the best insights into what prospects are asking about now.

Loop in your general counsel and head of ops to ensure that the answers you're providing to prospects are as accurate as possible and do not dangerously overpromise.

Challenge: Competitors who are hustling while you wait

Your smartest competitors will not sit around doing nothing. They will be working hard to find new sales opportunities, and your current customers will be among their prime targets.

Prospects who have not yet bought any solution will likely find themselves bombarded with virtual sales calls. Your marketing will need to cut through more clutter than ever before, especially if there is an economic recession.

Implication: For current customers, you'll need to play tighter defense than before: Think hard about how to cement customer satisfaction and loyalty. Look at your loyalty programs to see how they can be strengthened.

For prospects who have not yet chosen a solution, take a hard look at your value proposition.

  • Is it clear about the unique value you provide?
  • Is that value compelling enough to drive buyers to act in today's challenged business and economic environment?
  • Do your sales materials make your value obvious and tangible, leveraging calculators, clear "how we deliver value" demonstrations and/or diagrams that illuminate your processes?

Being clear about value is critically important in a world where buyers are harder to access, when they have cut or restricted budgets, and they have legitimate fears about moving forward.

The more sales lag, the more your company will be tempted to compete on price—and, in some cases, that may be the best option. But remember that price wars generally do not have winners: Everybody gets hurt. If you succeed with a price cut, you can be certain your price will get matched.

Stay focused on value, and do not count on price alone to save you.

No matter how you price, you will still need to create a marketing and sales script/story that demonstrates why, in this unique environment, moving ahead with purchase makes sense, and why it makes sense to do it now.

That story must be simple and clear, and it must meet three critical criteria:

  1. It must be true.
  2. It must be supported by evidence.
  3. It must promise something more than competitors promise.

More than that, the story has to be sufficiently powerful for your buyers/influencers to sell that story up the line to Management—especially when they may not be able to get a face-to-face meeting to discuss it.

Clarity—about value, about price, about overcoming objections, about why to buy now—is the critical success factor for marketing and selling in this environment.

What You Can Do Now

Disruption of the "supply chain of sales" and buyer inertia demands a clear, focused response. To get started...

1. Think like a reluctant buyer, not a hungry seller

Set aside internal concerns and considerations, and view everything through the lens of the buyer. Work with colleagues or partners to role-play the new objections your buyers might raise, new purchase criteria they may be using, new risks (and opportunities) they face. Assess how these will impact the sales process and how you can help your buyer and sales team navigate this new world.

As CMO, your job is to understand the customer and make it easy for them to buy. This has never been more important to remember.

2. Audit and update your marketing materials

Use what you've learned in No. 1, above, and take a fresh look at your marketing messaging and materials. Flag the places you need to add answers to new objections, messages that are unclear, language that is inappropriate in the current environment. If your value to a buyer team is not obvious, they will not buy.

3. Prioritize

  • Create or update all talk tracks and battle cards. Arm your sales team with answers to the new pressures your buyers face. This is more important than ever, when meetings are more likely to be virtual.
  • Rethink or revise your core sales deck. Reflect any new messaging, objection-handling, opportunity identification, value propositions, new calculators, etc.
  • Rethink or revise case studies. Revise to show how you helped clients deal with uncertainty, highlight the strength of important processes and workflows, and boost the clarity of what value was delivered and what unique capabilities made customer success possible.

4. Communicate with your marketing team, sales team, and Management

Assure them you are not sitting on your hands waiting for this to blow over. Bring them into your planning, share scenarios, and ask what more you can or should do to move things ahead.

* * *

We'll close with one of our favorite quotes, from tennis champion Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can."


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Tom Cunniff

Tom Cunniff is managing partner of Cunniff Consulting, a B2B brand strategy consultancy. He has worked with companies in data, fintech, martech, biotech, and more.

LinkedIn: Tom Cunniff

Twitter: @tomcunniff

image of Mike Cucka

Mike Cucka is managing partner at Brand Evident, a brand strategy consultancy specializing in B2B services and technology for data, fintech, services, and technology companies.