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Responding to Coronavirus: What to Do When the Rules No Longer Apply

April 14, 2020 | By Jennifer Rouse

  • Surviving a crisis requires a shift in both marketing and sales strategies
  • To survive the immediate crisis, companies must focus on their customers first
  • To continue to thrive following a crisis, marketing must think short term and sales must think long term

There is no way to sugarcoat it — we are in a very challenging time period. The good news is that if we come together and help our customers during this time, we can not only survive, but also thrive through this pandemic. 

To survive and thrive, I am recommending the one thing I never recommend for marketers: think short term. I know, this is almost never done in the marketing world — we are trained to think long term, scalable, and predictable. Although I urge you not to forget that mantra, I do believe that sometimes thinking short term can actually help B2B organizations in the long run. 

For my sales leader friends, the opposite applies: after immediately closing whatever you can, think longer term. Nurture prospects and potential buyers by educating them with thought leadership — leave that hard selling (temporarily) behind. As business leaders during a crisis, we must think in three stages:

  1. First response. We must lead our teams during the crisis.
  2. Adapt and overcome. We must help the business survive the economic downturn.
  3. Rebound and rebuild. We must learn how to thrive during the economic upturn — preparing now for that upturn is how surviving businesses become successful businesses.

Easy to say, right? Now here is how we do it — first and foremost: We must focus on our customers. Have you noticed that some airlines have thrown out restrictive rules about changes to flights, while others are still sticking with the old rules, or not responding at all?  For those that are reaching out and offering to help in any way possible, well, they will get my business tenfold when this crisis subsides. Are you the one that your customers are going to turn to when this clears up? Or, are you sticking to the same old rules and essentially alienating your customers?

Secondly, review your organization’s marketing and sales plans and see where you can adjust goals and strategies to find short-term revenue gains as well as cost-cutting opportunities, such as the following:

  1. Customer base. Create a plan for upsell/cross-sell and churn prevention opportunities. Help sales  nurture customers by helping them leverage what they have. For at-risk customers, consider down-sell offers that may help them reduce costs but still receive value (you can always upsell in the future).
  2. Pipeline. Create offers that encourage existing deals to move forward (relax the rules a bit and see if you can get them to commit now and grow them later).  Consider freemium versions or giveaway components (e.g. modules, services, training) to help prospects learn about the full value of your organization while receiving initial value.
  3. Executables. Identify short-term cuts to executables; your event plan might be the easiest starting point right now, as well as advertising that is not aligned to your customers’ current challenges. Do not freeze the marketing budget or immediately cut headcount as this will simply set the company up for failure when this crisis clears.

For the third stage, marketers can help sales colleagues with the following:

  1. Equip the sales team with digital meeting content and guidance so they can effectively nurture prospects with thought leadership and educational materials.
  2. Create a messaging path backed by clear guidance and assets, and discuss with your sales team when to send what and to whom.
  3. Educate your sales team on the needs and challenges of your organization’s personas in this current environment on the basis of available market data and any customer interactions. These needs may be enhanced or completely different now than when you first conducted persona research.
  4. Encourage your sales team to reach out. Many people think that communicating during a crisis is “taking advantage” of a bad situation, but this is only true if the message is self-serving.  This is a global crisis.  Your customers want to know you are there for them, so reach out; just make sure your message is relevant and has actionable content.

Finally, let’s all pause and take a breath — remember, we are all in this together! For further reading, please check out “Responding to Coronavirus: A Playbook for Marketing and Communications.”

Jennifer Rouse

Jennifer Rouse is a principal analyst in the Emerging Growth Marketing Research Service at SiriusDecisions. She is a successful high-tech marketing professional with nearly 20 years of B2B experience, including over 10 years in management. Follow Jennifer on LinkedIn.

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