Most can agree that 2020 was an unusual and problematic year. Some industries have benefited (online retailers, working with home technologies, video streamers) and some have been seriously injured (personal entertainment, commercial real estate, gyms, restaurants). Most of us have become confused or have made progress. My B2B customers and colleagues who adapted to or even embraced the change were fine. In contrast, those waiting for the pandemic to pass or for business to change to get things back to normal may find that “normal” has a different meaning.
We who have been in the marketing business for a while know that the holiday season is getting slower and slower. The period from December 15 to January 5 (give or take a few days or so) is not a good time to start campaigning or to get the attention of prospects, partners, or even colleagues. I know there are some exceptions, but a lot of B2B companies go into “maintenance mode”, some even close for a week to 10 days.
My suggestion is that if you want to enter 2021 that is better equipped to deal with the virus, the business climate, the economy, or anything else that is out of your control, you get some of this otherwise half-dead time use it to focus on how you can accelerate growth and profitability in the year ahead. Things are calmer, distractions (at least business) are fewer and the freshness of the New Year beckons. Get some rest and relaxation and don’t try to conquer it all. Instead, prioritize a few key areas where the right strategy can really pay off. Here are my suggestions for four areas where your B2B marketing planning can have the greatest impact:
Differentiate. Unless you are one of the giants in your industry, it is very difficult to win with a “me too” strategy. The large and profitable revenues go to companies that have a clear and convincing competitive advantage. Undifferentiated companies usually have to compete for costs, conditions or other factors that reduce profits. Remember, differentiation is just as much perception as it is reality, and the way you create and share your message has a lot to say about how the market perceives you. All the better if you can become a thought leader in your industry as it often comes with a premium price tag.
Optimize. There are many ways to optimize on a tactical level. For example, you can get a 10 percent higher click-through rate for your emails or improve the speed and efficiency of your sales tracking process. The best thing to do, however, is to make sure you have the right strategy in place first. As I discussed in my End of 2018 article, Are You Ready for the New Year: Critical Marketing and Sales Planning Questions, you need to understand whether your primary role is to create demand or meet demand. There are companies that need to educate consumers about why they need a product or service and there are companies that deal with potential customers who already know they have a need. Demand creators and demand fillers should take a completely different marketing approach.
The end of the year is also a good time to see if your sales model needs to be changed or updated. There’s no faster way to accelerate sales than adding a new source of income. One of my clients switched from a pure direct to a mixed direct and channel sales model and increased sales by over 40% over the next year.
Align. By align, I mean that you need to create synergies with every department you deal with. As a marketer, this mostly means the sales organization. This type of alignment can lead to a double-digit increase in sales performance as well as an increase in marketing and sales efficiency. Here are some specific areas for targeting:
- Number of inquiries and qualified leads required.
- Criteria for the lead evaluation (what constitutes a qualified lead?).
- Handoff touchpoints between marketing and sales.
- Processes for answering and maintaining new inquiries.
- Conversion ratios for each process stage.
- Common goals and reporting.
Prioritize. I believe it is not the size of the budget but the judicious use of time that is most important for effective marketing and sales growth. Not only is it important to figure out what to focus on more, but also what to spend less time on. For example, do you spend too much time creating reports that few read and may be filled with unworkable data?
When things go south, is your first tendency to increase the level of your marketing and sales activities? Remember that activity and effectiveness are not always synonymous. Perhaps you spend a lot of time and energy on tasks and programs that have a small ratio of potential reward to time spent? The folks at Authentic Brand have some great ideas on this topic in their article, “Make a” NOT-TO-DO “list for New Year Marketing.
You can find many of these B2B marketing planning ideas (and more) in my latest book, The Expert’s B2B Revenue Growth Playbook. Get a free PDF copy or buy the Kindle version from Amazon. I hope you have an excellent end to your 2020 and use it as a stepping stone to an even better 2021.