Understatement of the decade: The pandemic has changed the way we do business.
Never in recent history have so many elements of our lives and business operations been entirely upended seemingly overnight—from work-at-home mandates to the complete shuttering of entire industry verticals.
And that tremendous disruption has been driving a major shift in lead-gen and pipeline cultivation for B2B marketers.
With so much uncertainty, it's hard to know whether it's the right time to pursue a relationship: Will customers be in business long enough to buy? Can they realistically consider a purchasing decision right now or are they simply trying to keep the lights on?
Moreover, industry events and in-person networking—two of the primary B2B networking channels—have been shut down.
Facing their own fiscal uncertainty, many marketers are pausing advertising and marketing campaigns or reallocating spend to much later in the year, assuming we'll see some level of return to regularity by then.
The reality, though, is that no one knows how long this will last.
Assuming that it will be a temporary pause is not only extremely short-sighted but also potentially disastrous.
Rather than sitting tight and waiting for "it" to pass, here are five strategies that can put you in a better position both for now and for whatever happens down the road.
1. Rethink your narrative
Marketing teams—and the entire company, for that matter—must rethink what they can offer to customers in this new reality.
Start by positioning your brand, products, and services for the new remote world of work: How can you enable this new way of doing business?
You'll also need to explore and capitalize on new sales channels, income streams, and operational pivots to maintain revenue, which could mean focusing on completely new audiences than before.
Once you figure that out, you'll need to find new ways to speak to the same and/or new target audiences by rethinking your investment, channel, and message.
Of course, digital media is far more flexible than linear/print and can be filled faster with real-time relevant content as well as evergreen or canned creative.
2. Shift priorities
Rather than attempting to merely inject your message or product into the current equation, consider how you can shift your value prop to deliver more of what people need right now.
Some brands are adopting to a more purposeful approach and cause-driven campaigns with an emphasis on humanitarianism, community, and collaborative work to get through this. Some vendors are even making their quarantine-friendly solutions free during the crisis.
MailChimp, a marketing platform for small businesses, is providing free five-year custom domains to help brick-and-mortar businesses transition to life online. The offering is available both to new and to existing MailChimp users and includes built-in templates to help businesses create and publish multipage websites.
The effort not only serves as a goodwill gesture, and of course gets MailChimp's product into the hands of more customers, but also helps to preserve pipeline and modernize small businesses, which can then acquire more services once things do get back to "normal."
3. Form strategic partnerships
Consider looking beyond your own products to offer solutions your customers need now and what they will need in the future. Work with other vendors in your space to create discounts, integrations, or other combined offers.
Be creative, and remember that some needs—like remote-work technologies and work-from-home products—are universal. For example, social media management platform Hootsuite is allowing small businesses and nonprofits to access its Hootsuite Professional plan for free.
Even if it's not a product offered for sale, but simply advice or best-practices that you offer--yourself or in tandem with partners--these are new ways to connect with and stay relevant with your customers.
When this is over, people will remember the above-and-beyond service you provided, even if (or perhaps especially if) it wasn't tied directly to a sales pitch.
4. Cultivate virtual connections
Teams that rely on event marketing, quarterly lunches, or monthly in-person meetings with customers need to shift gears, if they haven't already.
Before the pandemic hit, conferences were the most effective event for prospecting and lead gen for 40% of marketers, and events made up 24% of B2B marketing budgets. But, with all of that off the table, businesses must find virtual ways of remaining active in existing and prospective work relationships, which have now become more interwoven with personal lives. It's a great opportunity to connect over this universal condition.
Scheduling virtual calls with current and prospective customers just to check in, have a virtual lunch, and even commiserate/compare notes on (the sometimes absurdities of) working from home can be a great way to connect and stay in touch.
From an organizational perspective, hold your own webinars or virtual summits in lieu of industry events. This is a great time to brush up on professional development and highlight your versatility, so offering these opportunities virtually to your prospective customers can be a win-win for both sides.
5. Be honest and transparent
It's clear that we're in uncharted territory. Your internal team and external customers and stakeholders aren't living under a rock—they read the same news you do. They know it's not "business as usual."
Acknowledge the elephant in the room: every week-over-week, month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, and year-over-year projection has been thrown out the window for 2020. Undoubtedly there will be big asterisks next to 2020 Q1, Q2, Q3, and the entire year.
Being up front with where you stand, and setting realistic goals and expectations, can go a long way toward building post-pandemic success.
Collaborate and communicate clearly with internal and external stakeholders on strategies to make appropriate shifts, focus on long-term objectives, and determine how best to support customers and employees throughout this period of uncertainty.
Employee wellness has a massive impact on business success, including on sales and client services. How you treat people now, both internal and external, will make a big difference in their performance through the current situation and beyond.
* * *
Unfortunately, there's no crystal ball that can predict exactly when it'll be safe to return to previous operations, and there is a very good chance things will never be "normal" again.
And, it's looking more like it'll be a rolling restart, rather than a flip-the-switch moment. That adds even more complexities to the situation. If certain geographic regions or parts of the value chain in your vertical restart at different times, that'll make for an interesting dynamic situation for marketers.
But by implementing smart and dynamic strategies now, your organization will be not only better equipped to weather the current storm but also better positioned as the clouds begin to open up.
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