The Guarantee
May 26

COVID 19: The End of B2B Sales As We Know It

If you’re in B2B sales, it may feel like the world as you know it has forever changed; and you would be right. If you’re waiting for the way business is conducted to return to business as usual, you may be waiting a long time. The current phased lifting of shelter-in-place orders does not equate to a return to normalcy. Most scientists believe we will see a resurgence of the virus in the fall; they also suggest it’ll likely be 2021 before we have a fully tested and disseminated vaccine available to the masses.

So, it’s no wonder why the Coronavirus has changed the way people behave and conduct business in some fundamental and, likely, lasting ways. While there was already a growing preference for digital over in-person events and communication, that desire will grow exponentially over the coming year. Combine this eventuality with the economic uncertainty projected to persist through the fall, and a reasonable conclusion is that companies must determine how to grow revenue in this new normal versus continuing a wait-and-see, cost-cutting approach. The ability to grow in spite of market chaos will separate the most capable leaders from the pack when the economy rebounds.

This is serious business. Outbound sales strategies, as we know them, must shift notably or your brand will be left behind and your sales staff may be out jobs. The brands that move quickly to adapt despite the new social-distancing norm will ultimately grow market share and win customer loyalty.

In fact, 14 percent of companies were able to not only accelerate growth but also increase profitability during the past four recessions, according to a 2019 BCG study. There were three trends that these companies had in common. They acted early, took a long-term perspective, and focused on growth versus just cutting costs.

In a similar study in the 1980s by McGraw-Hill Research, 600 B2B companies were analyzed in terms of how they performed during recessionary periods. Those that increased their investments in sales and marketing grew 275 percent more in the three years following the recession than those companies who didn’t maintain or increase their spend.

Think about sales and marketing as being counter-cyclical to the economy. These are the levers you pull to generate a stronger, quicker recovery and to take market share. Now, perhaps more than ever, these two disciplines must be aligned — to the extent that it’s difficult to see where marketing ends and sales begins — if you are going to break through in this heightened digital age.

So when it comes to this particular economic crisis, what are the sales strategies that are breaking through? Here is a short list, as well as a few marketing strategies that greatly impact a prospect’s sales experience.

Lean In to the Digital Awakening:

The shelter-in-place orders across the country immediately pushed even the tech-adverse to digital channels for the most basic communication. As a result, there’s been a digital awakening among buyers or a heightened expectation for an extraordinary digital experience. Buyers seek an assortment of content and resources about your brand through a variety of delivery channels. In other words, they expect as much content as they want, when they want it, and in the format they want it — or content consumption on their terms. They also expect to see this content somewhat tailored for them — at least to their industry vertical and/or role. It’s a mistake to lean on your marketing team exclusively for this content, as no one knows your customers and prospects as well as your sales team. Lean on your sales team to ideate content topics and vet the content that marketing produces through a prospect lens.

Explore Custom Landing Pages:

In light of this heightened digital awakening, there is a growing expectation for personalization. In the B2B sales world, you can take delivery of personalization to the extreme by developing a custom-landing page for each prospect of size that you’re targeting. That’s right, a custom web page. Partner with your marketing team to ensure that this page is mostly about the prospect (and not your company), why your team wants to work with them (potentially in the form of a custom video), and what’s in it for them — why they should consider a purchase or partnership.

Invest in UX:

B2B companies are increasingly investing in their customers’ online experience, also called user experience or UX for short. In fact, they are outspending B2C companies at the moment which is a new trend. Investing in UX goes far beyond just ensuring that your website is mobile friendly. That’s the cost of entry. You must also understand your users’ online journey with your brand so that you can deliver the right content at the right time. There are numerous applications that can provide you with deep website analytics to assist in delivering an optimum user experience — such as heat mapping which shows you the average user’s mouse movements across each page of your website, as well as the order and speed of those movements. These insights allow you to assess whether you’re wisely using your website’s most valuable real estate.

Deliver Distinct Webinar Events:

Boy have webinars come a long way in a short amount of time. Modern platforms offer attendee engagement including polls, chat and interactive content. Presenters can deliver live content, recorded content or “simulive” content — where some of the content is pre-recorded and some of it is live. The analytics are remarkable, including monitoring of digital body language among specific attendees so that the speaker can determine each attendee’s level of engagement and immersion into the event. These platforms tell presenters what content resonates most and what could be cut for higher-performing content which gives you the ability to adapt and evolve content rapidly.

There has been a surge in webinar volume of late, so if you’re launching a webinar strategy, be sure your content and delivery stands out. How will you differentiate your webinars? Will you co-deliver with a client or subject-matter-expert in order to leverage their subscriber base for marketing purposes? Will you offer unique forms of engagement that give attendees the human interaction they’re craving at the moment? Will you let attendees choose the path that you’ll take with the content based on their poll responses? Determine your path of differentiation early or risk getting lost in the shuffle.

You’ll also want to be sure you repurpose webinar footage and materials. Consider sharing the recording of your webinar via gated, on-demand delivery where attendees must provide coveted contact information in order to download. Alternatively, consider drafting a white paper that summarizes your materials, load your content onto SlideShare or post it via LinkedIn — all requiring valuable contact information in exchange for access. First-party data is a company’s most valuable asset, so develop a plan for your sales team to follow up and nurture these leads.

Leverage Slideshare:

Speaking of Slideshare, this is an often forgotten social platform that allows brands and everyday users to post slide decks — in PowerPoint, Keynote and PDF formats, among others — for the general public to discover. Not many brands invest time in SlideShare, but since it was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012, its importance has increased as well as its Google ranking. It’s an excellent platform for prospect research, and it can be used to generate leads as well given its now stronger Google search performance. Slideshare is a great place to post capability decks, case studies, how-to presentations and other educational content that connects to your brand. What’s more, there is far less brand competition on this platform than the more mainstream contenders like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Strategically Redeploy Event Budgets:

Traditionally, trade shows and conferences rank number one or two in terms of most B2B sales and marketing budget priorities. However, the trade show and live-event space will be vastly different over the next two to three years, and maybe forever. The B2B marketing space had been moving dollars from the event world to the digital space over the last three years, but this will accelerate notably over the next 90 days thanks to COVID-19. Below are where B2B businesses are reallocating those funds, according to a recent study by technology-focused investment group, Viola.

•  32% Content production
•  24% Webinars and virtual conferences
•  18% Social networks
•  11% Paid inbound marketing campaigns
•  8% Increased outbound marketing efforts
•  8% Other

Also, as I wrote about in “Just Follow the Footprints,” historical geofencing allows you to capture device IDs and ultimately email addresses for attendees of past or current tradeshows, making your physical presence at these events less critical.

Reinvigorate Sales Email Campaigns:

Spice up your sales emails with something unexpected so that you stand out in the crowded inbox of your prospects. For example, consider using one-to-one prospecting videos which I covered in “Hyper-Personalized Video Triggers Law of Reciprocity.” If, after five days of sending a batch of personalized videos to prospects by email, several still haven’t opened them, change the subject line and resend the emails to see which subject line performed best. It’s great learning for your next batch of emails.

Develop a YouTube Strategy:

Few small and middle-market companies are properly leveraging the mighty power of the world’s second largest search engine — YouTube. It’s surprising that, generally speaking, only global brands have consistent YouTube strategies given that video has five times greater recall than the written word. Now is the time to plan a series of sales videos that will educate your prospects on how your offerings benefit them and what your customer experience is like. Ask your best customers to be featured as there is nothing like the value of third-party credibility, especially on camera.

Dramatically Adjust Targeted Verticals:

Nearly every sales team should be re-casting target account lists to focus near-term efforts on accounts that, one, are still in a financial position to acquire your solutions, and two, have mission-critical problems solved by your products or services. As a second part of that exercise, determine which of your products and services are most likely to benefit that new vertical at this moment which could mean making modest or significant adjustments to that offering. Lastly, develop supporting content that is customized for each of these new verticals that the sales team can deploy as a way to warm up otherwise cold leads. Consider a written case study, video case studio, white paper, and downloadable tools to name a few — all customized for each vertical/industry of focus.

Watch Competitors Closely:

In times like this, your sales team must be prepared to pivot on a dime based on both the needs of your market and the actions of your competitors. Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea.” While I don’t endorse that thinking in full, I do believe that you shouldn’t hesitate to replicate a winning idea from a competitor, assuming it’s not legally protected. There are several digital platforms that allow you to easily stay tuned into what your competition is up to. These platforms will automatically capture vital information on your competitors such as:

•  their latest social-media posts,
•  trends in their website and social content over time,
•  the demographics of their social-media following,
•  their Google Ads keywords, estimated budget and ad copy,
•  consumer sentiment about their brands,
•  tech used on their websites,
•  the pricing and inventory availability of the products on their e-commerce platforms,
•  and the content, frequency and timing of their email campaigns.

There are countless competitor tracking tools available for these purposes, but here are a few of my favorites: Perch, SEMrush, Kompyte, SimilarWeb, Brandwatch, SpyFu, BuzzSumo, iSpionage, Whatrunswhere, Prisync and Facebook Transparency.

Adapt to Elongated Sales Cycles:

Given current market conditions, it’s vital that your sales team prepare to support an elongated sales cycle as prospects are just slower to make decisions right now, especially for big ticket, non-essential purchases. Treat every targeted account — whether it be a former customer or a new prospect — like an early stage opportunity, and deploy tactics to keep that opportunity relevant and your prospects interested until they are comfortable investing again. This could include thought-leadership events like webinars, custom content, creative direct mail that acknowledges the current environment, video case studies and testimonials, and outbound calling.

Digitize Account-Based Marketing Outreach:

Account-based marketing is a more strategic form of lead generation where you are focused on growing business from highly targeted prospective companies that look a lot like your best customers. It’s about targeting more than one prospect within each targeted company and doing so in such an innovative and personalized way that you shake them up and make them take notice. It’s a clear path to improving close rates, shortening the sales cycle and reducing the cost of customer acquisition, and it ought to be where most B2B sales teams are spending their energy. Now, more than ever, the companies that do this best will emerge as the winners, as they will gain the ear of their prospects and become the vendor of choice when budgets free up.

Behind every account is still a person, and during this time of uncertainty we have to appeal 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 are that person’s frustrations and pain points at the moment? How can they be seen and acknowledged as people?

People are yearning for more human connection while being isolated. Now is the time to let your marketing creative juices flow and be bold in trying unorthodox ways to bring humanity and human connection back. How do you connect with prospects in a meaningful way when many are still remote and often not available by phone, let alone in person? It’s a complex topic and one that a colleague and I are covering in a webinar on June 23rd called, “From Funnel to Flywheel: B2B Sales in a Global Pandemic.” Like all of our COVID-19 resources, this webinar is free of charge as one of several ways the RedRover pack is giving back to the community during this crisis.

As long as COVID-19 is decimating our economy and business outcomes, each week I’ll be sharing the most effective growth strategies, like these, that forward-thinking companies are executing during this crisis. My hope is that you’ll find additional inspiration to advance your vision forward with a full-on strategic offensive, and that includes the sales and marketing front.

We are all in this together. RedRover is deeply committed to Memphis and any business working to support our great city. Let us know if you’d like a hand retooling your sales and marketing strategies in order to ensure growth during and after this crisis. Knowing what to do next can be difficult. There are resources and partners all across our city ready to help. RedRover is here for all Memphians working to save their businesses.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.

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