April 24, 2020
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.