20 experts weigh in on what you should be doing right now to get results and hit your goals
There’s one thing that’s on everybody’s mind right now – it goes by many names, but most of us know it as the coronavirus or COVID-19.
In its wake, it leaves political unrest, economic downturns, and market instability. It’s had a palpable impact on the purchasing behaviors of businesses — the top priorities of companies have drastically changed from what they were just two months ago. A company that was in the market for new software could now be merely trying to survive.
Many companies tout values of agility, disruption and innovation. In the coming weeks and months, that will truly be put to the test as we enter these uncharted waters.
In a world of uncertainty, revenue teams are being asked to step up. However, many are left with the question of “how?”
That’s why we used a lifeline and called in the experts. We asked them two pressing questions:
- What tactic should B2B marketers be doing right now to hit their goals during the COVID-19 crisis?
- How should B2B marketers be planning their programs and strategies for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
This post covers the first question, and our next post will cover the second question.
As you’ll see, Account-Based Marketing is more relevant and effective than ever before. Everything ABM stands for – team alignment, personal and relevant messaging, multi-channel interactions, full-funnel activities, etc. – is what’s working right now.
Many answers from the experts reflect this assertion.
What tactic should B2B marketers be doing right now to hit their goals during the COVID-19 crisis?
Practice Vice President, Gartner
First, consider focusing ABM programs on accounts that are currently showing signs of being in-market, either via anonymous first-party web engagement or third-party intent data. In addition, there is a natural tendency to focus on lower-cost engagement channels in an effort to save money, yet solely cutting channels for the sake of cutting will dramatically impact performance. Therefore, you must be selective when making channel decisions.
For example, from our report Adjusting Your Account-Based Marketing Program in an Economic Downturn, respondents with the higher pipeline lift were more likely to leverage SDRs to send personalized emails, conduct social outreach and make phone calls than their counterparts who reported lower pipeline lift. These channels should absolutely remain part of the engagement strategy.
President Heinz Marketing
Honestly, the only channel that isn’t available right now is in-person meetings. Virtual events, direct mail, cross-channel digital, the telephone – they are all still alive, working and productive from what we’ve seen in the field the past couple weeks.
This is also an opportunity to double-down on the precision of your ABM programs – who you are targeting and why, which messages are being shared, when, and why, as well as how tightly you are coordinating communication between your sales and marketing teams. This is also a great time to increase investment and leverage non-lead systems to accelerate ABM impact. Account engagement systems, intent data, sales engagement tools and more.
Some messaging guidance: How is yours an essential business for your customers right now? How are you creating clarity, guidance, direction and tangible value to help your customers navigate through and succeed in this environment?
Revisit your target account lists. Some industries (e.g. Oil & Gas, Restaurants, and Travel & Tourism) are hit negatively by this crisis and are unlikely to be investing, while others (e.g. Medical Devices and Pharmaceuticals) are booming. Also, smaller companies are more likely to be cutting budgets than larger ones. Revisit your target account lists with this lens to ensure you are focusing your limited ABM budgets on the accounts most likely to be able to act.
VP Consulting Services, Inverta
Many marketing organizations have doubled down on customer retention, up-sell and cross-sell strategies, often leveraging incoming intent data signals. It’s been difficult to acquire net new business during this economic downturn for certain industries, so a renewed focus on the customer base and expansion programs within the base are picking up steam.
Additionally, ABM marketers need to support the elongation of sales cycles within their target accounts. Treat every target account like an early stage opportunity, and deploy tactics to keep that opportunity relevant until companies are ready to invest again. This includes regular, exclusive virtual innovation and thought leadership events, custom content, and offline tactics like outbound calling and creative direct mail that acknowledges the home environment for most account contacts.
Senior Analyst, Marketing Practice, TOPO
We’ve all lost events, and mostly lost direct mail. It almost kills me to say it right now, webinars have taken off and stayed high. Everyone’s webinar calendars are through the roof. You used to do one every two weeks. Now maybe you do two every week. Another tactic we’re seeing increase is our SDR outbound. And the companies that have had outbound SDR prospecting as an important driver of pipeline historically are a little better off. We’ve certainly seen some drop-off in terms of efficiency, so making certain that we double down there will be important.
Now, beyond the tactics, we all have numbers that we have to hit. But we have to reevaluate those numbers so we can put our plan together to move forward and keep us on track with the right tactics.
Cofounder, Chief Analyst, TOPO
I agree with everything Eric said, and we can’t forget about going account-based, because everyone has to be very targeted right now. But there’s been this interesting evolution of what seems like 10 years happening over the last four weeks.
70% of organizations say the biggest pipeline roadblock is that people don’t want to take meetings. People are gradually realizing the implications of everything that’s changed over the course of three or four weeks. I don’t think we understood how drastic it was going to be.
But what we have to ask is, “Did your buyer’s definition of value change?” If you can’t discern that, it doesn’t matter what channel you use. No matter what, we must be constantly calibrating against our buyers’ new definition of value. It’s going to be really interesting to see what’s going to continue to work, because we’re getting reports of people with thousands of webinar registrations, but what if what people really want is to talk to someone?
Everyone should be re-casting target account lists to focus near term efforts on accounts that first, are still in a financial and environmental position to acquire solutions, and second, also have mission-critical problems solved by the solutions they can provide.
ABM marketing should be focused on hyper-relevant messaging. Every single touch point from SDR touch, to direct mail / gifting, digital ads, etc. need to be relevant to the times and lean in on the prospects’ true pain points at this moment. The companies that do this best will emerge as the winners, as they will gain the ear of their customers and prospects and will become the vendor of choice when budgets free up.
Tactically, solution providers must determine how best to help their clients both rationally and emotionally. They will redouble efforts to clearly explain their value to their clients in meaningful, understandable and realistic terms. All actors must work with clients to “keep the faith” by delivering on promises and responding quickly and transparently to issues as they arise.
Companies that have yet to establish a significant retained base obviously need to stay focused on creating momentum, even as they take significant steps to reduce tactical sprawl and waste. They must accept longer sell cycles while committing to developing more meaningful engagement early in the process — to build their cases more completely with key supporters and detractors across the actual buying team.
In contrast to volume-based lead gen, this is a time for more comprehensive opportunity identification – or better, opportunity creation — and management, for complete Sales and Marketing alignment around the diverse needs or interests of the buying team. Without a doubt, those companies that improve their ABM skillsets more proactively will be better able to rapidly proliferate them to more scalable hybrid-ABM practices as conditions normalize.
The key to any good strategy, including your ABM strategy, is to consider your goals, your clients’ needs and mindfulness of the underlying environment. In the era of COVID-19, I recommend one effective pivot in strategy:
Direct changes in messaging or offering: Organizations who take bold steps in making a stance for the collective good. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken suspended their “Finger Licking Good” Slogan to reflect their support of the broader health and safety of the public.
Tons of organizations opened up their products for free or at a steep discount, knowing helping a potential customer today is not just good for future business, but even for the broader good. (Zoom, Google, tons of universities etc.)
Senior VP, Conculting, ITSMA
We’ve already made the shift to digital – we had no choice – so that’s necessary but hardly sufficient. Here are four specific ways that we can work for greater impact during the current crisis.
- Continuous review. This is above the actual tactics, but we need to invest more time every week to make sure that we’re staying current with this sensitive and rapidly changing situation. Also, we must keep up with our own business leadership to ensure that we’re completely in sync and aligned. This even extends to all the little details, like the exact content, the messaging, the tone, etc.
- Multi-channel communication. Even though we’re all digital right now, multi-channel still rules. A combination of inbound (which is still important), social, outbound, direct and targeted, and don’t forget Sales support – we need to work even more closely with Sales.
- Personalization. ABM is all about personalization, but in good times, it’s easy for us to take a few shortcuts. Given how fast everything’s changing, more research, real customization, and deep personalization with our outbound is required to be relevant.
- Collaborative innovation. Think about much more personalized and customized solutions, and invite our customers and prospects to collaborate with us. It also means different kinds of collaborative innovation internally, so working differently with Sales, working differently with delivery, etc.
Continue with highly personalized direct mail. You will be surprised how effective it can be. Individuals are willing to give out their home address for great direct mail.
VP of Marketing, Vidyard
I’m seeing a lot of organizations having great success with virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider hosting your own online event offering a deep level of value in topical areas that you know are important to your target accounts! When sourcing speakers, don’t forget to recruit individuals from your target accounts whenever possible. Not only will flattery get you everywhere, but it gives you a unique opportunity to build a relationship at a time when it matters more than ever. For tips on how to run your own virtual event, check out www.vidyard.com/blog/online-events.
Director of Field & Customer Marketing, Pendo
COVID-19 is forcing marketers to completely rethink their messaging. The stories that worked before the crisis will fall flat with prospects that are consumed with far more than the business goals they decided on at the beginning of 2020. It requires a lot of listening – from your customer success team, your sales team, and your customer community, to understand what challenges and acute pains are consistent across the personas and industries you target.
Your prospects no longer have the luxury of talking about “nice to haves.” They’re spending all of their time shifting their focus and efforts to what’s most critical to their success and survival during a dramatic economic and cultural event. Every touchpoint should be human-centered and the story you tell has to connect the dots between the pain they are experiencing right now and how your product is a must-have in helping them move forward.
CMO, InsideView, Author
We ARE focused on top customers right now, trying to make their lives easier. We’re testing a “have family dinner on us” with meaningful DoorDash gift cards — for a new customer thank you, expanded engagement, and so on. We’re starting with 25 large accounts and a few people per account. The account manager is doing the distribution, with marketing driving the program.
Director of Client Services, DigitalPi
Behind every account is still a person, and during this time of uncertainty we have to appeal more than ever to the human-to-human connection. Account Based Marketing isn’t just about targeting the company, but the individual people who are working from home and blending their work and home identity for that company. What is that person’s pain point? What are their struggles? How can they be seen and acknowledged as people? How do I venture outside to find groceries and still feel safe? Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks are on everyone’s minds.
People are yearning for more human connection while being isolated. Now’s the opportunity to really let your marketing creative juices flow and be bold and try unorthodox ways to bring humanity and human connection back. Direct mail campaigns and trying something different with engaging small group webinars are just a few tools in your marketing tool belt to really take advantage of.
Partner, Winning by Design
Right now teams are challenged with the need to balance leading with empathy and keeping the light on in their business. ABM is a great approach in 3 key areas:
- Retargeting and personalization: Our customers are finding that building pipeline right now is hard and teams are struggling to keep up “business as usual.” Using an account-based selling model allows teams to personalize outreach and avoid insensitive cold calls to companies that may be experiencing layoffs, reduced budgets, and grim forecasts. Instead focus on accounts or segments of accounts that are less affected or are experiencing growth in today’s climate.
- Focusing on customer expansion: Shifting prospecting efforts and beefing up underserved customers to focus on helping their own customers to retain and potentially expand existing customer relationships.
- Moving to digital: And lastly, on the execution side, my clients are shifting to digital alternatives to continue to educate and engage with prospects, and being creative to still offer a similar level of value and impact even when in-person isn’t an option. Overall our clients who are hosting high-value digital programs are seeing significantly higher show rates right now of between 40-55% with great quality attendees as well.
While one could argue whether now is the best time to kick off a major new ABM initiative for pursuing new customers, it’s without question that now is the ideal and essential time to kick off an ABM program to your installed base. The best way to ensure revenue stability during this period is to focus on reducing attrition and to drive revenue growth within your installed base. You have the account names, the contacts, and they have already purchased from you, so focusing on demand expansion instead of demand creation is an easier path to revenue. With people working from home, it’s even harder to reach people by phone, so you’re going to have to level-up your email and content game.
Successful ABM is all about targets, engagement, activation, and measurement (TEAM). Marketing should collaborate with Customer Success and come up with a list of both the most valued customers and ones at risk. Your outreach to them can be as simple as a check-in, or deeper engagement through direct mail (to their home address), and virtual meet-ups. Training and coaching are great services to provide to clients and should be the focus of your content. To get through tough times, stick to your core competencies and help your clients get more value from your products and services through adoption.
There are a few tactics that marketers should exercise to hit their goals given the current landscape of COVID 19. First, when a marketer finds a channel that works for them, it’s imperative they convert that engagement into pipeline and revenue. To do this, marketers must serve up highly engaging content destinations where content is curated and personalized to the prospect. The more content a prospect consumes, the quicker trust and credibility is built and the quicker they convert to pipeline and revenue.
Next, personalization is essential, regardless of channel or strategy. Failure to provide a personalized destination (such as a generic landing page or form) will not only result in less pipeline and revenue, but CAC costs will increase as marketing and sales are tasked with re-engaging prospects. Lastly, during this time of likely budget restrictions, the focus needs to be on better converting existing leads and opportunities, versus acquiring net new.
CMO & Founder, B2BFusion
B2B Marketers should be looking to accelerate in pipeline opportunities if they are account based focused in their strategy. In this unprecedented time, energy and money is better invested there than in net new or cold account engagement/creation. Referencable use case studies are critical here to keep the momentum moving in funnel; Leverage intent data (Bombora) where possible to see which accounts are showing the most amount of interest in funnel in conjunction with the use case studies.
Marketers who have made cuts to expensive in person events are now reorienting the rest of year investment towards engagement in virtual events. There are two types of virtual events – the traditional virtual event that ideally require a moderator with subject matter experts or a smaller networking event. We see a trend right now in ABM for networking events where smaller sub segments or clusters of clients or prospects with common interests are brought together via a closed zoom for the purposes of experience share.
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Do you agree with the experts?
What are you doing to hit your goals during the COVID-19 crisis?
Stay tuned for our next post where our experts answer the question “How should B2B marketers be planning their programs and strategies for the rest of 2020 and beyond?”
UPDATE: Part 2 is now live: How COVID-19 is Changing the Future of B2B marketing