How B2B Sales and Marketing Can Utilize COVID effect

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How can B2B marketers add the most value to their business in this uncertain COVID-19 landscape? 

Let’s find out.

By now, you’ve read the news, seen the reports, remarkable real-time graphs, and updates from the CDC.  Coronavirus is a severe concern and is undoubtedly having an impact on your business. 

But should it stop you from marketing to other businesses? Can’t B2B Sales and Marketing organizations utilize this pandemic driven effect for their own business growth? 

Yes, we do have an obligation to make the changes essential to lessen COVID-19 transmission through closures. And while there will be a period of adjustment, but all these changes do not imply that the work stops. 

It doesn’t mean that B2B businesses now do not need information, solutions, support, products, or services. This evolving environment we find ourselves in actually presents new challenges and opportunities to be even more relevant and useful for clients.

There might be some companies that may be distracted or paused in some of their efforts to find solutions, but it only means that their marketing strategy needs to do a better job of providing content in formats that are relevant in the new environment: virtual events, video conferencing, podcasts, webinars, interactive content, recorded video, live streaming and other forms of online engagement. 

Concurrently with this transition, it’s also important that marketers review their planned advertising, social, and marketing messages to be appropriate to what prospects are dealing with currently. For example, publishing marketing messages as if everything is normal will not resonate or be useful.

Let’s take a look at how B2B marketers can make use of the COVID effect to add the best value to their business.

1. Empathy is the key 

Amidst the COVID-19 emergency, B2B leaders are performing their existing typical roles under the supplementary stress of workforce instability and escalated safety and health risks, in addition to managing their own mounting work-life challenges and staying informed about rapidly changing policies.

With an increased prevalence of mental health issues experienced by workers on the front lines of the pandemic, B2B supervisors and managers have been called upon to recognize when their employees and clients may need additional psychological help as well.

empathy

The majority of the marketers are feeling very uncertain right now, so the key to grabbing their attention is to show empathy and sensitivity towards them. 

B2B arm of British retailer, Marks & Spencer, for instance, did the same effect when they used this opportunity to assure their clients they would continue supporting them through tough times.

To make this happen efficiently, begin sending email campaigns that are more personalized and related to the current situation of the world. No, you don’t have to sacrifice on promoting your brand. But do so in a manner that shows some relevant awareness of the challenges being faced by different people and businesses.

2. Test new audiences

Think about alternate uses for your service/product that might be appropriate in the current scenario. 

The sales and marketing team for CRM software, meanwhile, can try aiming industries like Pharma/Biotech that conventionally relied upon on-field sales but are now remote.

B2B marketers can utilize social media channels like Facebook, where you can test “detailed targeting expansion” for interested audiences. This, in turn, will expand your reach to a broader set of prospects than defined in your targeting at a time when many clients are now engaging with content that they do not usually consume. 

Or you can test opening up targeting with broad audiences and let the algorithm look for new leads who are likely to convert.

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Further, as a B2B sales professional you can use this time to upskill or learn about a new sector or industry that you previously did not cater to. Having a sound knowledge of your clients’ business makes you stand out amongst your competition.

3. Elevate your content marketing

There is a rapid increase in the number of internet users which is being matched by the recent upsurge in online traffic. This has helped many B2B businesses and online forums like Reddit to reach a double-digit percentage increase in traffic across the board – with a remarkable range of 20-50% subreddits, a forum dedicated to business, education, news, travel, sports, and finance. With this great opportunity in mind, elevating your content marketing is a must.

content marketing

You need to do an audit of your content marketing strategy.

Is your content still relevant?

In tough times like these, when the global landscape is evolving at a much faster rate, the identity and values of the communicating brand remain crucial. COVID provides a new challenge for B2B marketers, which shines a light on the importance of relying on strategies outside of traditional channels. 

Content marketing will allow you to become storytellers and provide consumers with the content of value increasing brand awareness and engagement. Clients and prospects seek out content that inspires, educates, and informs – a strong content strategy will give you the opportunity to leverage important elements from experiential marketing online.

The goal of experiential marketing during the pandemic outbreak is to invest in content marketing strategies delivered through online platforms. Ensure that your clients are aware that you are still available and interested in their business throughout 2020.

4. Invest more in digital marketing

In the upcoming months, B2B businesses are going to become more reliant than ever on their digital strategy. Without sounding too alarmist, in many cases, it will be the deciding factor in whether they make it through the tough times ahead.

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One of the primary reasons why B2B marketers turn to digital marketing during the COVID outbreak is to take over where their competitors have given up. The majority of businesses can take advantage of the crisis to achieve faster results in terms of growth and market share.

Staying visible to your target market during and after the crisis can help your brand stay fresh in the minds of your prospective clients.

The relevant example of this is the electronics manufacturer Sony. The company concentrated on its research and development and marketing efforts to launch new products and new business models during the 2008 US economic crisis. Sony used an “umbrella branding strategy” as it uses the corporate name while promoting its products and services across different digital media segments.

Moreover, B2B marketers that previously did not fully boost their digital marketing strategies have the opportunity to switch gears and transform the loss into potential gain through updating the company website, upgrading content marketing and SEO, and enhancing their social media engagements.

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5. Build awareness through demand generation

B2B sales cycles tend to be time-consuming, so making drastic changes to your paid media strategy could have lasting effects. 

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While you may be cutting budgets overall, it’s important to keep feeding the upper funnel so that your brand remains on top of your client’s mind when demand bounces back. 

Think about other ways that you can repurpose existing content to fit the current times, like promoting a whitepaper with a lead gen form or turning a summit into a virtual event. 

Above all, maintain empathy for your users and their changing needs and challenges, and focus on the data, not fear or anxiety, to make the right decisions for your business. 

Staying strategic in this time means making quick adjustments as news cycles and performance reports dictate, so make sure you’re monitoring the macro landscape and your company’s internal and competitive reports aggressively to set your course with confidence.

6. Set up dashboards

What’s the best way to tell if your performance is dipping? 

After all, not all verticals are being impacted the same, and even within verticals, the trends can vary dramatically by companies.

 There are a few ways to look at this: brand search volume reflecting demand changes (if typically steady), conversion rate changes, year-over-year trends. You can set up dashboards in Search Ads 360 and Google Data Studio to monitor performance.

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For global brands, examine trends at a country level. Some B2B brands we work with in APAC did not see performance declines through February, in part because of high spending in countries like Australia and India, where COVID-19 cases remained low to that point. For B2B, you should especially look for changes in front-end performance, as conversion latency may cause a delay in an impact on back-end results.

Also, look out for changes in media consumption. Mobile traffic will likely increase. Is your site optimized for mobile conversions, or should you incorporate mobile bid modifiers? YouTube viewership for certain content is on the rise, potentially resulting in lower CPV. Now might be a good time to explore new digital channels.

7. Switch to remote working

Remote working has been a crucial part of maintaining business operations over the past few months, and will no doubt continue to hold teams together as lockdown restrictions evolve throughout the year.  

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WFH enabled business can communicate in a time of crisis, both — internally to your employees and externally to your business community. 

Businesses across the world are now settling into new ways of operating with a WFH (working from home) team:  time-consuming, inefficient meetings can be replaced by an email, fly-in-fly-out business appointments can be a video conference. 

Gartner, the world’s leading research and advisory company, surveyed about 75% CFOs and it is expected some of their employees who were forced to work from home (WFH), because of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue working remotely even after the pandemic ends.

B2B leaders who are already under pressure to tightly manage costs, clearly sense an opportunity to realize the cost benefits of a remote workforce.

 In fact, nearly a quarter of marketers said they will move at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.

CTrip, a travel agency, allowed some of its call center staff to work from home. A group of economists measured the impact of working remotely and found employees were happier, more productive, and saved the company money by reducing the need for office space. That means workers could tackle individual tasks that require a lot of focus from home in the future and go into the office when they need to work on projects together. 

While the working world was headed in this direction anyway, we think the current situation will speed up the shift. 

8. Lead ahead with flexibility and resilience

Lead ahead

Companies need to leverage a systematic approach to strengthen the flexibility and resilience of their current business models to ensure their ongoing operation during COVID-19, as suggested by Gartner. 

B2B leaders must think creatively, exercise agility, and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, during this time of crisis. Not only should you monitor the current situation and look for ways to cut losses but also learn to adapt.

Some B2B businesses are taking this opportunity to adopt advanced technologies and learn new skills. They are constantly reflecting on their ability to adjust to modern norms, to consider how to better meet client’s requirements, and even re-evaluate how they do business.

Xanadu Realty a B2B Real estate consultancy firm, is planning to create a seamless customer journey that links all the dots in the entire value-chain, starting from demand generation and going beyond final closure and mortgage facilitation, online. Xanadu Realty leans in a significant way on the Virtual experience tool strengthened with Augmented Reality and AI amongst others to ensure that they adapt to future-ready technical advancements that are accurate and well evolved. 

What will help traditionally remote B2B teams is their focus on trust, autonomy, and responsibility? This simply means timely recognition of goals reached, a hands-off approach to management, personal relationship-building initiatives, transparency, and even displays of vulnerability.

The key is to ensure that your business model is as resilient to outside disruptions as the rest of the B2B business world. 

9. Rethink your supply chains

As the news of COVID-19 scattered, B2B organizations began considering how it would affect their supply chain access, product launches, employee well-being, and business continuity.

Besides the human factors brought on like stay-at-home orders, the pandemic also highlighted a lack of capability to manage supply chains.

B2B businesses relying on tier-1 suppliers have been working with restricted visibility in inventory, production, orders, and fulfillment status. Also, sourcing alternate supply sources have decelerated.

The pandemic triggered pre-existing plans to reduce supply chain dependency on China, particularly in the medical and manufacturing sectors. As we enter a normalized state, the talk of homegrown alternatives to Chinese manufacturing will continue.

There is a lot of talk about robust supply chains. Anti-fragility takes this a step further. Anti-fragile supply chains aren’t just strong, they’re malleable to ensure they continue working no matter the disruption. But, most crucially, they don’t just survive the disruption—they improve because of it.

To get there, businesses need to go digital. It sounds elementary saying this in 2020. But the fact is paper and manual process power most supply chains. And there is zero chance of building a robust supply chain, let alone one that’s anti-fragile when you aren’t digitally connected to your prospects. 

10. The opportunities to adopt B2B eCommerce

adopt B2B eCommerce

 COVID affected B2B companies have already moved from crisis response to post-recovery planning. Complete digitization, for manufacturers in all B2B industries, is at the forefront of many such plans.

Many B2B companies believe that better eCommerce technology can help shape and improve the world of the future. Although, It’s the kind of a statement that others read and think it is hyperbole or just a bold marketing claim. Alas, it’s becoming a reality.

Let’s face it: eCommerce has become the sole channel for ordering everything from essentials to services, including B2B products. 

B2B eCommerce is increasing, and it’ll only continue steadily to grow because of more sophisticated digital networks and more and more online buyers.

The U.S. B2B eCommerce market alone has doubled its worth at the start of 2020 (reaching $1 trillion), and with the COVID-19 locking down most cities on the globe, this number is expected to increase, drastically! 

The traditional B2B industries are to reap the benefits of these developments. Initial data indicate that increasingly more retailers prefer contactless or online purchases off their vendors, which is only going to increase.

Lesson learned?

Now is the best time to review your existing B2B eCommerce processes in light of higher customer expectations.

This too shall pass:

No doubt, COVID has been wreaking havoc across the globe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your business should suffer adversely.  

This is actually a good time to reassess your business fundamentals, including how the global pandemic is affecting your business

How will you deal with a crisis the next time it happens? Are there things you’d do differently to be more prepared or prevent losses?

Our B2B Sales and Marketing Consulting firm can help you with that. 

Like everything else in life, this is a learning experience. Stay healthy, safe, and positive!