How COVID-19 Is Changing B2B Marketing

The global pandemic continues to affect every area of our lives and our businesses. To discuss what should be top of mind for marketers, Ruth Stevens talked with Roger McDonald, a seasoned sales and marketing executive to gather his views on what’s going on with B2B marketing and offer insights.

The global pandemic continues to affect every area of our lives and our businesses today. I reached out to my longtime colleague and friend Roger McDonald, a seasoned sales and marketing executive and thoughtful observer of things related to B2B marketing, to gather up his views on what’s going on, and how B2B marketers should be thinking.

How do you see COVID-19 changing the nature of B2B sales and marketing going forward?

I see it as another in a long line of disruptions in the buying and selling process. COVID-19 is a shock to the system. Such disruptions are fertile ground for innovation.

This one is unusual because it affects aspects of the business that marketing does not always touch. We must ask ourselves, “What is this crisis communicating to my customers and stakeholders? And what are my behaviors saying?”

This is a good time for what I call an “everything communicates” audit.

What’s that? 

Like a marketing audit, but recognizing that there is a message in everything a company does. So, you examine not just the product, or features, or messaging, or value proposition. You look at every customer touchpoint, to ensure consistency and excellence. With the pandemic, the customer will be judging you on different criteria. Is your supply chain flawless? If you’ve had a breakdown in delivery, how have you communicated that to your customers? Do your customer-facing employees practice good hygiene?

Where is there an opportunity to innovate in a crisis like this?

If you can innovate through the crisis, and show customers superior performance, it will have a lasting effect on the customer relationship. Of paramount importance is how you make them feel when they are struggling.

Much of it comes down to speed and agility, and the ability to change how you interact with existing customers. Consider this: One of my clients reorganized — in just 48 hours — the way they deliver customer service. They set up a service system combining virtual and on-site processes, which reduced service call times from nearly 2 hours to 28 minutes. More importantly, the new system addressed their customer’s desire to reduce non-essential physical contact.

How has the role of marketing changed?

The roles of both sales and marketing have been changing for a while. COVID-19 is just the latest iteration.

B2B sales was historically a matter of face to face, physical contact. The past 30 years have seen enormous change, what with building security concerns in the 1970s, and then with 9/11.

Technology accelerated the change, with databases, email, social networks, digital advertising, online RFP price bid systems, all dramatically impacting the nature of customer engagement — and increasing the importance of marketing and IT. Marketing is no longer just about advertising, brand, and leads. It is involved in every stage of the customer relationship.

So, where is this heading? 

As you see, there had already been major change in recent decades. I believe COVID-19 will drive further change. We already see upticks in virtual engagement, AI-driven programs for both lead generation and point-of-contact engagement. Will the sales person function disappear?  Or will sales people morph into project managers? No matter what, it’s easy to see sales people moving from two-to-three sales calls to more like four-to-seven productive calls a day.

Here are some other examples:

  • Benefits statements and value propositions will have new or altered components. Think supply chain security and business continuity programs.
  • In your interview with Steve Gershik, he discussed the “funnel beyond the funnel,” which he described as “the systems, processes and technologies to drive value” once a customer has moved to the buying stage. This is exactly why Covid-19 has spawned the phrase: “Retention is the new acquisition.”
  • We are now full circle back to Peter Drucker’s famous words: “Business has only two functions, marketing and innovation. These produce revenues. All others are costs.” As we know, most B2B companies still look at marketing as an expense that “might” produce revenue. Perhaps we are at a tipping point where senior management will move beyond metrics of lead generation, to nurture marketing’s evolving role as organizer of systems, IT initiatives, and sales person engagement for both acquisition and retention. I recommend  “Beyond Advertising,” which in 2016 envisioned a new role of CMO in an agile and innovative organization. Marketing will have a wider span of influence.

Any last words, Roger?

Don’t ask whether we will ever get back to normal. Innovation drives forward motion. Ramp up your virtual relationships. Grab the opportunity to change your practices, your processes and your metrics.  Instead of setting quotas around topline revenue, look at retention metrics. Change the compensation system. Develop new infrastructure. Maybe you need new leadership.

Wow, great food for thought — and action — for B2B marketers!  Thank you, Roger.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.





Coronavirus and Marketing Automation: Let’s Be Careful Out There

I’m no stranger to writing about crisis management. And while we’re in uncharted waters here with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there are some things that marketers forget about doing in times of crisis, including the emails they have set up in their marketing automation tools.

I’m no stranger to writing about disaster preparedness and crisis management. I live in an area where we get hit with a hurricane every few years. And while we’re in uncharted waters here with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there are some things that marketers forget about doing in times of crisis, including the emails they have set up in their marketing automation tools.

I will leave it up to the medical professionals to discuss what needs to be done to protect yourself from the virus, other than to say it’s a very fluid and dangerous situation, so please take is seriously.

That said, marketers and business owners, here are some things you need to consider regarding your current and ongoing email campaigns:

Let’s talk about your tone: I received the above email March 12, and it’s completely tone deaf. The subject line for the email I got from Spirit Airlines says it all: “Never A Better Time To Fly.” And while I certainly understand that Spirit still needs to fill seats on its planes, maybe it could have come up with a better subject line considering the times?

In my favorite gaffe email of the day, also from March 12 (and I’m not taking political sides here; in fact, I get emails from both parties), our president literally invited me to dinner.

Which brings me to my second point: Please take a look at your marketing automation campaigns. It may be time to cancel some, tweak some of the copy in others, add some new ones, etc. We tend to set-em-and-forget-em, but unless you want to put a negative ding on your brand image, have a look at what you’re sending out — especially in these unprecedented times.

I hope this helps. I wrote this quickly given the fluid situation surrounding COVID-19; there are many more things you can do as a marketer in times of crisis. Please be safe!



Guiding Clients Through COVID-19 Challenges

Times of drastically scaled back face-to-face client meetings are likely to pop up over the course of your career. Even if you’ve been lucky enough so to have no local COVID-19 concerns, you’ve got to start answering the question: In an age of fewer in-person meetings, how do you adjust your client service strategy?

The move toward more remote work has been advancing for years, but COVID-19 is forcing an acceleration at breakneck speeds. Scheduling a video meeting while folks work from on Fridays is one thing, but moving your big industry events to virtual-only is something no one was truly ready for. But we should consider this the new normal.

Times of drastically scaled back face-to-face client meetings are likely to pop up several more times over the course of your career. Even if you’ve been lucky enough so far to have no local COVID-19 concerns, you have got to start answering the question: In an age of fewer in-person meetings, how do you adjust your client service strategy and help your clients?

Don’t Panic! You’re Already Pretty Good At This

Less face-to-face time can feel like a huge blow to your client service strategy, but it doesn’t have to be. The number of remote workers and companies with remote work policies increases all the time. Chances are, you already know how to work successfully without routine in-person meetings. Just consider COVID-19 your glimpse into the future.

Inventory your client relationships and determine who’s going to need a new approach when lunch meetings aren’t happening. Whose business is likely to suffer most from periods of widespread quarantine, and how can you expand your scope of work to help them plan a response?

The guiding principles for you and your clients are the same as ever: creativity and communication.

Shake Up Your Client Service Strategy!

When it comes to marketing, you’re going to have to take a whole new approach to your client service strategy. Professional conferences in every sector are being cancelled, postponed, or rolled into online-only events. That means big news about data, clinical trials, product launches, trends, and more aren’t going to be communicated the way anyone planned.

Talk to your clients about what they’ll do if in-person events are off the table. Social media and paid media will have to take a much larger role in pushing out the major announcements usually reserved for the year’s biggest in-person events. Many companies have been dragging their feet on developing robust strategies for virtual events, which is where you come in. Whether it’s a live tweet event, Facebook Live, Instagram stories, or something else, get creative about turning the content you wanted to share “in real life” into great web content such as animation, recorded presentations, infographics, etc.

Embrace the Chance to Plan

Getting clients to commit time and resources to planning for contingencies is never easy, but with this new virus on everyone’s mind, seize the moment and have those big conversations. If your clients aren’t worried yet, push them to imagine what they would do if their field’s biggest meeting got canceled.

Ultimately, planning for something like this makes you and your clients more nimble. You can draw on the lessons learned and shelved plans to adapt to other issues that come up.

If you never have to draw on those plans, that’s great, and you’ll have pushed yourself and your clients to find new and compelling ways to share the information that’s most important to them.

Remote work is only becoming more popular, and there’s no telling when the next global health crisis will have us all stuck at home. Start planning now.