Practical Advice for B2B Sales & Marketing in a COVID-19 World
June 30, 2020

We recently hosted a webinar on a topic all B2B business leaders seem to be discussing these days: how to keep sales and marketing afloat in a COVID-19 world. So much has changed in the B2B industry since this pandemic took hold. Companies have been required to scramble and recalibrate substantial aspects of their tactics and, in some cases, their core missions. But, as many of us are now learning, this sudden shift isn’t one that is absent of opportunity.

Great minds dotted the panel, representing Galvanize, Udemy, FloQast, Gong, and YipitData. There were plenty of insights, pieces of advice, and success stories shared. As such, we thought we’d give you a glimpse of some highlights. Our take-away was that with adaptable strategy, adjusted expectation, bold and in-touch marketing messaging, and empathetic leadership, B2B companies are finding new and even stronger footholds amid it all.

Our own Norwest Senior Advisor David Garcia led the virtual event and kicked it off with an analogy we feel a lot of us could benefit from remembering at this time: “There are a lot of lemons out there right now, but lemonade can be made.”

Udi Ledergor, CMO at Gong, began his contributions to the webinar with a tip. He advised that employers sell to the companies who are still buying and focus on selling them what they need most at this time. He broke this down into a few steps:

  • Evaluate your list of target accounts. Understand which ones will need to take a step back right now due to the nature of their industry and demographics and then to take a look at what’s left. You might find there are accounts that were once peripheral targets, but now should have more priority. Maybe what you’re offering has shifted. Maybe what you offer is more relevant for those accounts now. In any case, taking a realistic inventory of the target accounts and making pragmatic and time-sensitive edits is key.
  • Brainstorm on the types of product enhancements you might be able to make. With remote work now more common than it’s ever been before, you might find you can tweak certain product offerings to reflect that. Or perhaps you can make adjustments that are a response to a different aspect of this era. Add all the relevant bells and whistles you can to what you’re selling.
  • Update your messaging. In Gong’s case, conversion rates improved once the homepage marketing messaging was overhauled. Think about what your company’s core messaging was pre-COVID-19 and how it might be modified or fundamentally redefined in this time.

James Hart of YipitData also emphasized the importance of strategy shifts in the B2B world.

“We realized we needed to change the way in which we were delivering our product.” Hart went on to add that adjustment in times of uncertainty is a natural necessity.

And adjusting is exactly what Wynn White, CMO of FloQast, found they had to do, as well.

“Instead of doing annual pricing, we’re considering doing quarterly and even monthly,” White stated.

In the current climate, you might find that your company can benefit from free trials or ramped-up free content. You might need to embrace flexible invoicing and analytical customer data while revisiting product and revenue strategies. But strategy shifts are just the beginning of figuring out how to float (and maybe even surf) in waves like these. Just as critical are company-wide expectations. Those need to be swiftly reevaluated if they haven’t already been. These expectations might regard internal goals, client needs, communication, physical constraints, client retention, budget, workflow, and even employee performance.

Pascal Van Dooren, CRO of Galvanize, pointed out that some people will immediately stabilize or even flourish in a work-from-home setting while others really feed off of the office climate and will struggle more when working remotely.

“We had to really adapt and we really had to change how we operate, frankly,” Van Dooren said. “This whole crisis really kind of demonstrated how important communication is and the various aspects of it.”

Yvonne Chen, Marketing VP at Udemy, agreed that expectations across the board might have some fundamental differences now versus before the pandemic. While virtual events were once treated as possibly bland fillers, they’re now central to everything. In light of this, she says companies need to put more effort into their virtual worlds now. “How can we make a virtual event a little more personable?” And, beyond that, she noted that one major expectation that needs recalibration in this time is employee performance. “The productivity metrics have changed,” she said.

And it’s true. We can’t fairly expect the same kind of productivity we’re used to. That doesn’t mean that our companies will be less productive, per se, but they might be differently productive now. Companies need to adjust their expectations on when and how their team members work, among other things. With schools closed and a lingering virus at the root of this upheaval, a number of variables impact what any given employee can realistically achieve. Leading with hope and compassion here is the key – not just for internal measures of success, but also for every scrap of marketing messaging.

Whatever your marketing model is, it should be adjusted for this unique moment in time. You might find that you need to speed up planning cycles while prioritizing the avoidance of tone-deaf blunders. Finding a way to cut through the COVID buzz is crucial and, for many, hitting that mark requires they develop longer-lasting and more personalized messaging. Chen broke this process down into three stages:

  • triage messaging (where we were)
  • transitional messaging (where many of us still are)
  • transformational messaging (where we want to go and what we’re planning for)

At this juncture, marketing messaging shouldn’t be all about COVID – in fact, that topic should be infrequent for most companies, unless it’s an integral part of what they do.

Garcia stated what many of us may have already observed by now: “We have all been inundated with a lot of COVID content and clearly some companies are doing it better than others.”

Ledergor added: “People are sick and tired of the doom and gloom and negativity.”

Chen seemed to agree, adding that addressing the topic of the pandemic was important for many companies in the triage stage of marketing redevelopment, but that it’s now time to question, dig in, and find a deeper brand identity and move forward with that.

As White of FloQast said: “We feel strongly that our solution works and we’ll be better on the other side of this.”

This can be an opportunity to grow and develop more meaningful relationships with colleagues and clients. Many of us need to accept and embrace that our respective companies might never go back to the way they were before.

People have a way of detecting authenticity in brands. This pandemic is a chance to remember that a business is nothing without the individual humans who make it tick. Cultivating empathy and real connections within your company will reflect outwardly. Not only are people drawn to a caring and honest stance right now – a company that can lay its values bare – but taking that approach will strengthen brand trust now and for the long-term.

As Chen stated: “The future of work is here and now. It has arrived. So what does a return-to-work world look like? The hypothesis is that it will not be the same as it was before.”

Indeed, it is unlikely things will ever look exactly the way they did before, but this could be positive in many ways.

 

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