Since the United States declared a state of emergency due to the spread of COVID-19 in mid-March, every business in the country and around the world has worked to adjust strategy to prepare for both the economic and social challenges wrought by the virus. Most B2B businesses are not directly affected by forced closures, but they will see impacts to sales and revenue as shelter-in-place drags on and the economy slows down as a result. Here are some ways to prepare your marketing program for the challenges of COVID-19.

Understand The Challenges You’re Facing

Closures of “nonessential” businesses due to shelter-in-place orders are unlikely to immediately impact B2B and SaaS companies. After all, most of us have been using Zoom and Slack for years and are just as comfortable working in our kitchens as we are in the office. But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the impacts.

As a first step, you should think long-term about how your company will be affected by short-term business closures, and then a longer-term recession or depression. Some likely impacts to keep in mind.

  • Client cancelations: Think hard about your client base and how they are being affected by COVID-19 closures. If you sell primarily to SMBs, you will likely see that many of them are unable to operate and therefore unable to pay you. In this case, you should plan for a high number of clients opting out of your services or not paying invoices, which will result in reduced cash flow as long as non-essential businesses are closed through much of the country.
  • Changed sales pipeline: Given the sudden onset of shelter-in-place restrictions in the US, many companies rapidly shifted their outlook over just a few weeks in March. A number of the prospects you were expecting to close in April may have dropped out of the pipeline.
  • Variable close rates: Given the unpredictable epidemiological and economic situation, some businesses are pulling back on new spend decisions, while others are looking to move fast. Your sales team will need to be adaptable to the needs of each prospect.
  • Sales team challenges: The massive, national work-from-home experiment will create some unique challenges for your sales team. Are they able to work effectively from home, especially if they are using their personal phones? Are they able to reach prospects on the phone? Will they need to adjust from in-person to Zoom sales meetings?

Marketing in a Time of Uncertainty

Reducing marketing spend is a common response to economic downturns. You may need to reduce discretionary spend for a few months to monitor cash flow, but impacts could last much longer. Sooner or later, you will need to find marketing strategies that work under the “new normal.” Here are some things to think about.

Understand Who Your Customers Are Today

To start, take most of the things you knew about your customers on March 1 and throw them away. As the world has changed, so have your customers, and the needs and concerns of today’s prospects can be very different than the ones you had last month.

Step one is to learn everything you can about your prospects since mid-March. Use web analytics to look for changes in traffic location — are prospects coming from different parts of the country? Are they using different types of devices? What pages are they visiting most frequently?

Next, look at your lead data. Are there any changes in the lead events that new prospects are completing? One of our clients has seen more prospects downloading whitepapers and fewer requesting demos and trials. Another has seen increases in leads for logistics and supply chain management software, and fewer leads for other aspects of their business. All of this data can help you focus your marketing on the best possible segment of your customer base.

Change Your Copy (Yesterday)

Given the rapid shift not just in the business environment, but also in the national mood, it’s imperative that you adjust your content and copy to be sensitive to the current state of the world.

As a first step, consider removing anything that could feel insensitive to the average reader. Images of people shaking hands or a group sitting down for a meeting are probably not appropriate right now. Because many companies are going through tough times, consider updating copy that is overt or sensational (i.e. “Make this your best year ever!” or even “Achieve limitless scale”).

Next, consider what aspects of your product are most important to your prospects. If you work in a sector that is seeing increased demand due to COVID-19 (such as supply chain, logistics, shipping/packaging, or medtech), you will probably want to focus on how your product can provide immediate relief to companies that are struggling to keep up. Focus on ease of use and rapid setup to demonstrate that new customers can get up and running quickly.

If you sell to a segment that is not seeing increased demand, consider what is most important to prospects right now. In many cases, any company considering a new software investment will want to see cost savings and ROI, so focus on how your product can achieve this.

Consider Product Updates

If your current product does not serve an industry seeing increased demand, is it possible to create one that does? Take a look at your SEM search query report or feedback from incoming leads and consider if you can update your core product to meet current demand. If you are able to update your product, make sure to market proactively to potential customers who may not think of you as a solution. Put together a target prospect list for outbound sales and support them with targeted display ads.

Adjust Your Goals

Once you’ve made these changes, you should have a good sense of what to expect from marketing and acquisition over the coming weeks. In most cases, you will need to adjust your goals, either upward if your product sees increased demand, or downward if demand is shrinking. The common knee-jerk reaction is to assume that nobody is buying, lower your growth forecast, and pull back on marketing investment. However, this is not a great plan for several reasons:

  • While it may be true that businesses are delaying buying decisions, actual decision makers are spending more time online than ever. For example, Facebook reported an average of 50% increase in usage across all apps in affected countries. This creates a unique opportunity for marketers to reach them.
  • Sooner or later, the economy will improve and businesses will start making purchasing decisions again. Companies that stopped marketing when covid struck will not have the brand recognition of those who continued, and will see slower growth.
  • If you continue marketing, even at a lower level than previously, you will continue to aggregate data about potential customers that will help you to find more effective ways to reach new customers. If you stop marketing, you won’t have any of these insights.
  • Because a number of your competitors might be reducing marketing budgets, you have an opportunity to take impression share or show ads to your core markets more cheaply. You can check your Google Auction Insights reports to see if your competitors are pulling back and how much opportunity there is for you to push.
  • Lastly, don’t make assumptions. Let your data be your guide. If you are seeing strong performance, don’t follow the herd and just pull back on spend. For context, we are seeing LinkedIn CPMs hold fairly steady which indicates that a number of B2B companies are not yet pulling back on spending on that channel.

Adjust Your Sales & Promo Program

If you service an industry that is seeing growth due to COVID-19 (i.e. healthcare, transportation and logistics), then you’ll likely see prospects looking to move quickly to onboard new programs that will allow them to operate more efficiently. Work with your sales team to move these prospects quickly through the pipeline. Get as much information as possible in initial meetings, and empower your SDRs to negotiate quickly to get a solution in place.

If you do not service an essential industry, then you will need to re-focus on the needs of your current prospects. Prospects that were focused on growth and scale a month ago will now be more interested in ROI and cost savings. Your sales team should focus on how your product will drive greater efficiency for the customer.

Also, consider ways that you can be flexible to provide more opportunities to close clients. The current shelter-in-place situation is bad for business, but it may be a good time to onboard a new software with minimal disruption to current customers or processes. Consider offering a promo allowing new customers to onboard, but only pay after the first few months, at which time business will hopefully be closer to normal.

Focus on Branding

As COVID-19 continues to develop and most Americans are choosing not to leave their homes, they are turning to their devices to get news about the outside world (or to escape from the news). All of these content-hungry consumers present a unique opportunity to advertisers. By focusing on distributing high-quality branded content, you can make your business the go-to expert in your field and put yourself in a strong position to achieve new business in the future. Although it’s likely you won’t see a big uptick in sales in the short-term, investing in your brand now will help you recover more quickly when the economy improves.

  • Content has always been one of the best ways to reach your audience, and that’s especially true right now. Nearly everyone is trying to understand how to manage the current crisis. Providing advice and ideas is a great way to reach your target customers.
  • The huge number of WFH employees spending time on Facebook & LinkedIn provides a unique opportunity to increase the spread of your content. A relatively small investment here can get you enough exposure to gain additional shares & exposure.
  • YouTube is a hugely efficient way to reach a broad audience. Focus on showcasing short and entertaining videos featuring your brand in the unskippable first five seconds. Then make long-term remarketing lists from these videos so you can continue to reach previous video viewers over the next six months as the economy improves.

Marketing during a crisis is never easy, especially when it’s a once-in-a-century public health crisis combined with an economic recession. While most businesses have tough times ahead, effective marketing right now will pay dividends when the outlook improves and you’re in a stronger position to grow.