As we try to navigate Agent3’s direction through the immediate term and then to ensure we are well positioned for the medium to long term, it’s been essential to understand how our customers are coping with the current Covid-19 crisis. So, as you’d expect, I’ve spent a great deal of my time during the last two months talking to customers to gauge how they are doing, both professionally and on a personal level. Post the initial confusion that surrounded the outbreak of Covid-19 where everyone seemed to scrabble to make sense of a truly chaotic environment, some patterns are now starting to emerge as we settle into our ‘new normal’. And the message I am hearing is that this ‘new normal’ is likely to be the de facto approach for B2B marketing moving forward. Based on my customer conversations to date, here’s how the ‘new normal’ is looking:
- ‘Digital First’ is now the default strategy
As one CMO said to me recently, ‘previously we had a dual digital strategy that aligned to more traditional engagement activities but today, for obvious reasons, we have been forced to think ‘Digital First’ in all we do. And you know what? We’re driving better engagement, more efficiently and with more predictability. I can’t see us returning to conducting many of the activities we previously invested in’. This is a sentiment that I am hearing consistently from many of the people I have spoken to, convincing me that B2B Marketing is rapidly (and successfully) pivoting to a ‘Digital First’ mindset, and that this approach is here to stay.
- Skills to adapt to Digital First are in short supply in marketing
A lament from several of the senior marketers I have spoken to has been that, while they may be pivoting their activity rapidly towards digital engagement, a significant challenge to their execution ability has been the dearth of internal skills to facilitate the shift. To directly quote one senior UK marketing leader; ‘I know what I want my organisation to do, but am hampered by the lack of skills to make it happen quickly enough. I have too many generalists and not enough specialists’. Those marketers with specialist digital skills are therefore going to be in even greater demand as the market conditions improve and the race for talent is going to be fierce. The flip of this is that marketers who are ‘generalist’ need to shift their skill sets quickly in order to remain relevant.
- Selling, and therefore sales enablement, is changing
Given the forced shift from face to face sales engagement to digital engagement, it makes sense that the support tools required to drive a sale are also going to need to change. Again, a common refrain I’ve heard is ‘in a digital sales environment, sales enablement tactics have to change; social selling, digital assets such as ROI calculators and simple tools such as infographics or good quality, shareable video are suddenly on my shopping list’. What is clear from the marketers I have been speaking to is that they are refocusing spend very quickly to reflect new sales engagement models and to help their sales colleagues be correctly equipped in the hunt for revenue.
- Outcome based activity is a prerequisite for all CMOs
A US west coast CMO of a large enterprise software company recently told me ‘if you come knocking on my door as a marketing services provider and talk ‘brand awareness’ to me, you won’t get to see my assistant’s assistant, but if you can help drive pipeline velocity, then come and have lunch with me today.’ I wondered if this was a prevailing opinion and so recounted it to a number of senior marketer clients at a recent (Zoom!) roundtable for their reaction. Guess what? Every one of them agreed; the collective view was that pipeline has never been more important given current pressures. But furthermore, the view was that any shift from bigger brand building or awareness building activity, was likely to be largely one way. As someone said to me ‘if I can drive the pipeline I need, predictably and confidently with many of the new activities I’m now undertaking, why would I ever go back to spending a fortune on Ads at airports?’
- Humanity and personality is here to stay
I think we’d all agree that the Covid-19 experience has been an immensely challenging one on so many levels, both professionally and personally. But if there was one silver lining from a professional perspective, it has been that being forced to work from home and to engage with colleagues, customers or prospects from our front rooms, bedrooms or studies, has led to a much greater level of ‘human’ engagement. Many of the customers I have spoken to have said how much they have enjoyed seeing the human side of the executives they support or the customers that they are engaging with. But more crucially, they recognise that this shift means that their brands also have to reflect a new sense of humanity and personality, suggesting that ‘purpose’ for an organisation, and the expression of that purpose, are going to be increasingly important in a post Covid-19 world. The best description for how to act was that ‘confidence with humility’ was the way to go. I like that a lot.
I’m sure B2B Marketing is going to continue to flex and shift as we progress through the Covid-19 crisis and that we’ll see other trends emerge, alongside the ones I’ve listed above. I’d love to hear people’s views on whether I’ve missed anything above? Whatever does happen, as a senior marketing leader said to me recently; ‘I’d say that the future for B2B Marketing looks really exciting from where I am sitting; it’s a chance for us to re-position ourselves and add real value to our businesses in measurable, outcome driven ways.’ Regardless of what the ‘new normal’ ends up looking like, I’ll be happy if that is one prophecy that comes to pass!