The COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe and, in an instant, changed the global economic landscape and created mass uncertainty for B2B marketing organizations in every industry.
Suddenly, everything you planned for in 2020 has been thrown out the window.
Events have been canceled, travel has been eliminated, budgets have been slashed and to top it all off, most of the workforce has been confined to their homes and forced to make remote work a reality.
But the primary issue for B2B marketing leaders is the mass uncertainty.
B2B marketing leaders all over the world are struggling to understand the impact that COVID-19 will have on their 2020 marketing plans and budgets and what their next moves will be.
Will they need to cut budgets (and lower their KPIs and expectations) or proceed with business as usual (as much as possible)?
At InfiniGrow, we speak with B2B marketing leaders on a daily basis about how they are handling the crisis from a marketing planning and budgeting perspective.
While it is not “one-size fits all” and there are certain things specific to your business, we have identified 7 practical actions that the best B2B marketing organizations are taking to lead their organizations through the crisis.
1. Adjust Goals
This new reality is obviously going to impact short-term and long-term business goals.
In all likelihood, the short-term impact of COVID-19 will be a decline (maybe even significant) in revenue for many industries. However, others may very well witness an increase in demand and revenue, especially if their products are conducive to the new (stay at home) environment.
B2B marketing leaders are talking with management and trying to figure out the impact of COVID-19 on their business. This has forced them to review, adjust, and alter their goals to align with the estimated impact on the business.
When setting a new goal or adjusting an old one, make sure that it is relevant, measurable, and directly corresponds to the success of the business. Here are some great tips on how to build effective B2B marketing goals.
2. Build What-If Scenarios
The main challenge for B2B marketers right now is uncertainty.
Customer behavior and business itself have become erratic and unpredictable so you’ll need more than one plan to properly prepare your marketing organization for any scenario.
The best B2B marketing leaders are preparing multiple what-if scenarios to prepare their marketing organizations for any condition.
We recommend preparing a minimum of three scenarios for your marketing organization.
- Best-Case Scenario accounting for the most ideal market conditions and their impact on your marketing budget, forecast and results
- Worst-Case Scenario accounting for “doomsday” market conditions and their impact on your marketing budget, forecast, and results.
- Realistic Scenario accounting for realistic market conditions and their impact on your marketing budget, forecast, and results.
Always keep in mind how these possibilities will affect your team, strategies, and customers. Make sure that you clearly communicate and share your what-if scenarios with the relevant departments within the organization, particularly finance, sales, and operations.
3. Reallocate Budgets
As we’ve unfortunately witnessed, the reality is changing and the economic impact is going to affect everyone. As a result, marketing budgets have been slashed for a lot of organizations and there is pressure on B2B marketing leaders to deliver the best performance possible, with fewer resources.
It is more crucial than ever that you focus your budget and resources on your most efficient marketing activities to deliver the best results possible for your organization.
You should also be looking for new opportunities where you can shift your budgets to. Even during times of crisis, opportunities exist for your marketing organization and you need to make sure you keep an eye out for them and take advantage. Make sure to measure EVERYTHING so you can clearly see what moves the needle and what doesn’t.
A common (and obvious) example of a channel budget that’s being reallocated is from event marketing. Events, a significant channel for most B2B companies, are off the table for the foreseeable future. Many marketing organizations are now taking their event budgets and reallocating them towards other channels like PPC, Content (specifically webinars and video content), SEO, Email Marketing, etc.
4. Adjust Forecasts
COVID-19 and the uncertainty that it has brought to B2B marketing organizations has altered most organizations’ forecasts for revenue, pipeline, and other marketing production benchmarks.
Accurate forecasting is critical for management and finance to understand where the business is heading and to set business goals. Marketing needs to provide these forecasts to set expectations for the entire organization and have a clear idea of what they need to produce.
B2B marketing leaders are currently reviewing their forecasts and revising them in accordance with the estimated impact that COVID-19 will have on their businesses. This has allowed them to take the lead within their organization by setting revised expectations for their organization.
When adjusting your forecast, you need to make sure your bottom-up forecasts per budget scenario are aligned with your top-down goals.
5. Increase Visibility
While increasing visibility should be something that B2B marketers try to do even during the best of times, it has taken on greater importance now.
With all the stress placed on management and finance, they need to know that marketing is delivering bottom-line results for the business. They also need to know that the cost of marketing is staying within approved limits. Providing this visibility will earn you the trust of finance and management and make it easier for them to increase your budgets when the market conditions allow.
Increasing visibility isn’t just for external parties. You need to make sure that you have clear visibility into what’s going on in your own marketing organization. As we’ve mentioned before, the main focus of B2B marketers these days is to deliver
If you’re trying to cut down and reallocate your budget, you’ll need to know your priority areas, i.e. where to move it. To achieve this, you’ll have to accurately track your spend, results, and KPIs, while ensuring the rest of management has this visibility. Remember: what isn’t monitored isn’t managed. Now more than ever, managers need the right data on their side.
6. Change Messaging
COVID-19 has changed the overall reality among B2B companies and people in general. Gone are the days of joyous messaging that talked about the great success that can be achieved with your software.
This new reality calls for new messaging and the best B2B marketing leaders have responded in kind. Many of them have shifted messaging away from talking about hyper-positive things (ie. success that can be achieved by using their software) toward more empathetic and protectionist messaging (ie. their software can help you overcome these challenging times).
Review your messaging and see how you can tweak it to match the new reality in which we live. Make sure any messaging changes are reflected across all your assets (yes, everything…content, landing pages, websites, emails, ads, etc.) and that sales is well-informed of the messaging change and changes their own messaging accordingly.
7. Review Your ICP
This crisis has impacted every industry, but the level of impact varies greatly among industries. Some, like video conferencing and e-learning, have seen an explosion of demand while others, like hospitality and travel, have seen demand (and revenue) fall significantly.
Don’t just check industries, dig deeper. Company size is another example of a segment that can make a huge difference. Let’s say a specific industry is experiencing a slight decline in demand and revenue, companies that are bigger (more employees) and better established might not feel a large impact but smaller, startup companies in the space might have their backs against the wall.
The best marketers have reviewed their target industries, geos/regions, and personas to ensure they are focusing their resources on the ones that have experienced a positive impact and/or a minimal negative impact because of COVID-19. They have paused all active marketing efforts and cut off resources dedicated to segments that are experiencing significant declines.
If you aren’t sure of the impact on your segments, it’s time to do your research. There are plenty of online resources around that can help you understand the impact of a specific industry but nothing beats actually speaking with companies in your target segment. As long as you approach them with empathy and a desire to learn, people will be happy to connect and talk.
Bonus: Be on the lookout for the recovery!
In addition to the previous actions taken, the best B2B marketing leaders have set up various milestones that can serve as indicators to recovery.
Being unprepared for a crisis is bad enough, but not being prepared for the recovery is even worse!
For an economic situation, like the one we’re facing because of COVID-19, you are going to want to pay attention to things like:
- Positive economic news (specifically unemployment numbers, interest rate changes and forecasts from central banks, WTO, etc.)
- Upward movement of the financial markets (look at the general indexes like the S&P, Dow Jones Industrial Average and the NASDAQ)
Those are good enough to give you a general indication of a recovery, but ultimately, your own data is the best indicator.
Look for things like:
- Increased conversion rates across funnel stages
- Decreasing velocities across funnel stages
- Decreasing acquisition costs (MQLs, SQLs, Opps, etc.)
Make sure you set specific milestones that correspond to ceratin steps in your recovery plan so as your results gradually improve, you are taking gradual steps to increase your budgets and marketing efforts accordingly.
The uncertainty created by COVID-19 has led to a huge shift in strategy and a significant rethink of all plans, budgets, and forecasts at most B2B marketing organizations.
How each marketing organization reacts will inevitably be different but common actions exist and are being taken by great B2B marketing leaders across different industries.
We wanted to share what we see happening with other B2B marketing leaders to help you take action to lead your marketing organization (and business) through this crisis.
If you have any questions or want to discuss your COVID-19 marketing planning in greater detail, we are here for you and feel free to reach out to us any time.