PHOTO: Gaelle Marcel
The first half of 2020 caused shock waves across the company, causing marketers to work overtime trying to find viable ways to support rapidly evolving customer journeys and sales targets.
A few months after the “new normal” began, some marketers can finally take their time to pause, reflect, and plan for the year ahead. While there’s no way of knowing what 2021 will be like, it’s a good guess that it won’t look like our pre-pandemic world.
Restoring a healthy, productive marketing function at a time of unprecedented sociocultural and economic uncertainty is no small feat, but any marketing director can take steps to prepare for the year ahead and face it with confidence.
Be prepared for changing priorities
The role of a marketing director is to translate organizational goals – including sales objectives, market positioning, and market penetration – into effective, relevant strategies and tactics.
As your organization continues to absorb the aftershocks of the pandemic, you will need to prepare for changes in strategy that will affect marketing priorities. Stay close to the CEO, the broader leadership team, and the board of directors so you can understand and support the changing priorities and challenges. Which market geographies or industries have stalled? Which products or business areas are performing poorly? What new opportunities could arise on the horizon? These considerations must fit easily into your evolving marketing plans.
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Look for optimization, not transformation
The conversation between many B2B thought leaders and market analysts has shifted from digital transformation to optimization. In today’s economic climate, where even Google has cut its marketing activities in half, digital transformation initiatives have been halted or redesigned, and optimization, ie doing more with less, is the focus.
Marketing optimization involves reviewing, and most likely reengineering, the effects of marketing on sales and revenue:
Every CFO is looking for ways to reduce waste, and marketing directors must address this trend by proactively eliminating underutilized or underperforming resources. Let the data show how each platform, initiative, and campaign is adding value and where they may be under delivering. Many marketers have an impressive stack of technology, but they use a fraction of its capabilities. Are there any unused features that you can use to improve efficiency, enter a new market segment, and open up new channels? Small optimizations can have a big impact: A Martech stack audit that covers all connection points between marketing and business partners such as IT, product and sales can lead to savings and new growth opportunities. Immerse yourself in data reviews and deduplication processes to dramatically reduce the burden of managing campaigns while improving campaign effectiveness and reporting accuracy.
Marketers need to be able to demonstrate (and continually increase) the value they deliver. See your marketing mix with clear eyes. What generates engagement and leads? Where does the pipeline collapse? The advertising channels you use, the content you produce, the way you rate leads, and the support you give to sales: all of these elements may need retooling due to market changes. For example, one of our customers, a global technology company, found that without live events and face-to-face demos, lead volume decreased and opportunities never closed. They took their budget for live events and invested in virtual demo and event tools. This enabled them to support a large number of lead-gen and demand-gen webinars and enabled the sales team to replicate the personalized high-touch relationships they had previously personally established.
By identifying the marketing drivers that are below average, material, and high potential, you can optimize the marketing function.
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Establish a benchmark
Data-driven decision-making is a critical skill for marketing leaders who need to continually optimize their operations and identify new opportunities.
The first step is to establish a benchmark against COVID-19. Look at the data points that measure and predict the sales pipeline. How did the generation of demand look like? How many leads have you generated each month? How many of these became Marketing Qualified Leads (MMS) and then moved into a sales cycle? What was the speed of these conversions? What was the quality of the leads (how many were thrown out of sales because they weren’t profitable)? What was the opportunity close rate? Use all of these data points to create a baseline against which to measure the effectiveness of future initiatives.
The next step is to use this data to predict what is likely to happen three, six, or twelve months later. Given the scale of the downturn, what are realistic goals (and how will this affect your industry)? Once you’ve set goals, you can regularly evaluate your performance and proactively respond to markets, channels, and approaches that are underperforming.
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Focus on attribution
At a time when many businesses are struggling to remain profitable, marketers need to focus on building revenue allocation systems. Marketing is mistakenly viewed as a cost center, in large part because the majority of marketers have no way of taking ownership of the revenues they generate. A 2019 report by Demand Gen found that 90% of marketers said measurement and mapping is a growing priority, but only 11% rated their ability to measure and analyze marketing performance and impact as excellent.
With predictions for a longer, U-shaped recovery, marketers need to accelerate efforts to build attribution systems that link early-stage clicks, likes, and visits to metrics, opportunities, and ultimately, later-stage engagements and conversions, revenue. Not only does this speak for the organizational contributions of marketing, but it also provides marketers with an analytical framework that shows them exactly which channels, campaigns, and market segments are most profitable.
Despite the flood of predictions, nobody knows what 2021 will bring. But that doesn’t mean marketers can play turtles. In fact, several studies show that companies that continue to invest in marketing during times of economic downturn outperform their competitors. Marketers who use this time to realign, optimize, and measure performance are instrumental in ensuring that their companies are successful over the long term.
Rhoan is the co-founder and CEO of DemandLab, an agency she launched in 2009 in response to the disruptive impact technology has had on marketing. She is a leading authority on marketing-driven customer experiences and continues to research next generation technologies and analytics that accelerate sales, demonstrate the impact of marketing, support customer journeys, and deliver valuable customer insights.