The Pandemic Playbook for B2B tech marketers

Marketing, even at the best of times, is challenging. Expectations from the function have skyrocketed in the past few years as CMOs have slowly but steadily established marketing as a strategic driver of growth rather than employ it as just a brand enabler. With CMOs taking greater accountability for revenue, growth and profitability, the complexity of the role and function has evolved manifold in recent times.

Building brand awareness through impactful storytelling, and leveraging data to drive strategic campaigns that can help acquire, retain and engage customers profitably, all while still being able to articulate the RoI of the efforts, put tremendous pressure on the function. Add a global pandemic to this mix along with rapidly evolving consumer behavior and expectations, every marketer is now forced to unlearn everything they know.

Specifically, the B2B tech marketing landscape is witnessing sweeping changes during this pandemic. Demand is drying up with lesser access to in-person and high-touch prospecting avenues such as events and meetings. Business and sales development representatives are experiencing dwindling response rates for their cold outreaches. Meetings and demos are either postponed or canceled. Many marketing org structures are getting re-designed for optimal operation during these unprecedented times. Layoffs and furloughs are not uncommon to the function as well.

Needless to say, budgets are scarce and marketers need to prove their value to the business, even more now than ever before. Conversations with CEOs and CFOs are tough and uncomfortable, and vanity metrics are no longer tolerated. While in the past, forward-looking startups leveraged marketing as a driver of growth, the conversation has now shifted to efficiency as companies battle for survival.

How should marketers pivot during this pandemic?

While major shifts in marketing started several years ago, the transformation is certainly accelerating now. CMOs must use the opportunity to take the problem head-on and forge a strong partnership with their CEOs and C-suite peers to effectively navigate the pandemic by becoming an equal partner. There is an opportunity to drive both growth and efficiency simultaneously. They can do this effectively by taking ownership of the three pillars of the company’s success—the customer, the market, and the channels.

1. Recommit to the customer

CMOs must embrace a service-mindset rather than a selling-mindset when engaging with customers during these times. Empathy is the most important currency in today’s world. From salespeople to marketers and customer service agents, it’s imperative to ensure a consistent tone of empathy and authenticity in every customer interaction. CMOs must take charge to revamp messaging across all channels and train employees across levels to speak in the same voice.

Empathy needs to extend into action. Ask yourself if you are genuinely helping your customers and prospects. At Freshworks, we reached out to most of our customers with no commercial goal in mind but to simply check-in on them. We asked them how their business was doing and if they needed any help.

Feel free to extend relief where it is truly deserved. Remember, it’s always better to lose money in the short term and extend a helping hand to your most valuable customers than to lose them forever. After all, you spent precious dollars acquiring them in the first place. Focus your energies on going above and beyond to help your customers, even if it comes at a cost. The goodwill you earn now will help you win customers for life.

As we reached out to our customers, we realized that not all of them needed discounts or relief. Some merely wanted other forms of help—e.g., additional training on our products to help their agents use some of our modules or features more effectively to manage their customers better. Leverage this opportunity to ensure that your product is truly enabling your customer’s business and delivering the value it promised at the time of sale. A decline in usage and adoption of features is an early warning of an impending churn.

CMOs and marketing teams are often too focused on new demand generation. It’s time now to balance that approach with a renewed focus on customer marketing.

2. Customize your approach for different market segments

While the pandemic has certainly wreaked havoc on most businesses, new opportunities have emerged as businesses learn to adapt to the new realities. At Freshworks, we combined a data-driven approach with real-world insights culled from our vast customer conversations on the ground to uncover opportunities worth doubling down on.

Recognizing that a peanut-butter-spread approach is unlikely to succeed we segmented our universe of prospects into industries/verticals that are thriving, surviving and declining during the pandemic. Creating cross-functional pods across verticals, we re-engineered our sales and marketing playbooks to approach each segment differently—with differentiated messaging, offers, and campaigns.

We also doubled down on leveraging AI-based lead scoring and propensity-to-buy models to identify and prioritize opportunities that were already in play to ensure we drive higher conversions. Thanks to our multi-product, multi-segment and global business model, we drove significant growth and built a healthy pipeline even during the past few months using this approach.

3. Innovate and cut through the clutter

With offline events vanishing, most marketing efforts have become digital. At Freshworks, this was no different, and our team quickly made the pivot toward building an ‘all-digital’ marketing strategy. But with every brand going digital, how do you really cut through the clutter and avoid digital fatigue? Open any marketing calendar and one can see the deluge of webinars and online summits. It’s imperative to stand out and be creative to win the attention of decision-makers.

Marketers need to strive to create compelling content in refreshing formats to reach their audience. For example, at Freshworks, my team came up with the idea of launching an online video series that was filmed in a Netflix-styled documentary format that brought together over 30 IT influencers across the globe to share their thoughts on the most compelling topics. The content and its refreshing format brought nearly 7,000 registrations within a few weeks of launch and drove tremendous engagement within the community.

Building clutter-breaking content is great but don’t shy away from trying new channels for marketing. As Linkedin, Twitter and other social media channels get saturated, marketers must find unique ways to distribute their content, build awareness, and drive leads. At Freshworks, we leveraged locally relevant messaging channels such as WhatsApp to host group chats and conversations with key prospects to drive mindshare.

When defining a content and campaign strategy, it’s important to understand what content your audience would truly value during these times. I would even go further and recommend making that content free to access for all. While delivering ungated content might make you nervous about losing leads, building goodwill with prospects and customers by lending a helping hand will allow you to build authentic relationships that will unlock exponential value over time.

At Freshworks, we launched three comprehensive content hubs around remote-selling, remote-support, and enabling remote-work, offering insightful content for sales, support, and IT professionals who are our primary audience. Over the past two months, the content has scaled significantly, contributing to more than 60% of our website’s non-paid traffic growth.

4. Take greater accountability for revenue and provide transparency around RoI

This applies equally to other times, but now, more than ever, CMOs must articulate the value of their efforts to the business. To earn a seat at the table, marketers need to demonstrate their direct influence on revenue and take greater accountability for the same.

Invest in a robust marketing technology stack that allows you to track every lead generated across various touchpoints until a deal is closed. Using a robust attribution model, articulate how much of the company’s revenue is directly sourced or influenced by marketing.

Using this metric to drive conversations with sales leaders rather than top-of-the-funnel metrics like traffic, sign-ups, leads, and marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), will help marketing teams earn their rightful seat at the table. Building a joint go-to-market strategy and execution plan between marketing and sales ensures strong alignment and synergy between the teams.

Driving efficiency is top-of-mind for all CEOs during the pandemic, so hold your teams accountable for every dollar spent, and ensure you provide transparency around RoI against all expenses. Urge your teams to learn to do more with less. The pandemic is not going away anytime soon.

Like I often tell my teams, it’s better to lose your budget than to lose your job. Create a culture of responsibility to ensure that everyone feels accountable for the company’s success.

The road ahead

While we don’t know how long the pandemic will last and what other externalities it will compel marketers to think about, it is clear that marketers should be flexible and willing to innovate their way out of this ever-changing environment. So use this opportunity to revisit your business strategies, build lasting relationships with your peers, experiment with innovative ideas, and above all, humanize your brand to connect with your customers in the most meaningful ways.


[This blog was originally published on LinkedIn]