COVID-19 has been disruptive for marketers and advertisers in almost every industry, but for some B2B fields, the impact of the virus has been particularly significant.
There are a number of challenges for marketers while stay-at-home orders are in effect, including budget cuts, operational shutdowns, sales uncertainty and advertising ethics. We’ve detailed some of the most important considerations for B2B digital marketers as they grapple with the new norms of social distancing policies and consumer behavior during the Coronavirus crisis.
Budget Cuts and Limited Resources
Unfortunately, marketing is often one of the first departments that’s considered for budget cuts when an economic downturn occurs. That usually takes hold in the form of reduced advertising spend, staffing cuts, postponed new projects and cancellations of tools and software subscriptions.
However, especially for B2B companies with longer sales cycles and multiple touch points, executives should be asking themselves: “What condition do we want our sales pipeline to be once this crisis ends?”
Buyers may be reluctant to make big purchase decisions in the near future with so much economic uncertainty, but a dramatic reduction to your marketing presence today could decimate your sales pipeline and put you at a serious disadvantage when the crisis is over.
While cutting your budget for off-line events and some traditional advertising mediums is appropriate, people are spending an unprecedented amount of time online while working from home, especially under the current stay-at-home orders. Even if sales are down, many digital advertising platforms’ users are as active as ever, so it’s crucial to consider the digital mediums and social media channels that have historically been effective for generating quality leads for your business.
Outside of advertising, long-term digital strategies like SEO and content marketing offers can provide lasting benefits once the economy rebounds. It’s also an opportune time to ensure digital analytics and conversion-tracking are properly configured on your website property – making budget cuts without data to back up your decisions could have disastrous effects.
Shifting Sales Activities Online
So often in B2B fields, you hear about the value of in-person sales visits, networking, trade shows and conferences. Unfortunately during the current crisis, in-person sales activities are no longer an option.
Marketing and sales teams need to shift to virtual-first sales activities as quickly and swiftly as possible and should re-imagine how they’re able to virtually pitch and engage with sales prospects. That means embracing tools like video pitches, webinars and online demos and reinforcing an inbound lead generation strategy.
The B2B companies thriving in the current situation depend on strong inbound strategies, valuable content offerings and targeted digital advertising. While trade shows and conferences are no longer an option, companies should be prepared to shift conference-style presentations or product demonstrations to webinar or video formats. Having this digital infrastructure in place will offer long-term benefits beyond the COVID-19 crisis and will supplement and support in-person sales activities after the stay-at-home orders have ended.
Brands will want to take extra caution with how they’re currently positioning and phrasing their advertisements. It’s an important time to audit all of your active ads to ensure your copy or creative doesn’t come off as inconsiderate or ignorant, and you may want to pause some campaigns indefinitely if they’re not appropriate at this time.
It can feel insincere to try to sell during the current crisis, so advertisers should think deeply about how their products, services or resources can be deployed in a way that’s helpful or compassionate in the current climate. If there’s a way you can help directly or facilitate success during this social distancing phase, try to lead with that approach.
All brands should consider how they’re uniquely positioned to support others affected by the pandemic, even if that means temporarily offering services or resources for free. In the digital marketing space, some of the digital learning resources that have temporarily been made free have received widespread praise and attention (we’ve compiled a list of free COVID-19 resources here). A good gesture goes a long way in demonstrating compassion and thought leadership, and these strategies can offer long-term benefits to brand recognition and domain authority.
Advertisers should review all of their active campaigns and, to the best of their ability, try to incorporate personal and human elements into their messaging. Video advertising tends to offer more humanity than search or text-based advertisements, so there may be an opportunity to work compassion and empathy into your video ads and sales pitches.
However, brands shouldn’t lay off of search and text ads altogether. Digital advertising costs have dipped overall since the start of the crisis as less people are advertising, so if you have a message you think will resonate with your audience, it’s still a good time to deploy text-based search, social media and retargeting ads.
Metrics and KPIs
Making hard decisions with your marketing budget is even harder when you don’t have solid data to depend on. You’ll want to continue to monitor all of the metrics that are important to your business and bottom line, but bottom-line conversions are likely to dip during this time of economic uncertainty.
Due to the increased dependence on digital activity, it’s crucial that you have a solid tracking plan in place for your digital presence and your website’s conversion opportunities. However, marketers should consider giving more focus to brand reach and engagement metrics to ensure they’re still top of mind, even if their target audience isn’t ready to commit to purchasing at this time.
One way to build up your future sales pipeline is by focusing on your website’s SEO strategy. Even if search volume is down for the time being, a winning SEO strategy offers long-term visibility and traffic, so you’ll be in a prime position (literally and figuratively) to attract inbound leads once this crisis is over.
Considering technical website structure, content strategy, backlink acquisition and on-page optimization, there’s no shortage of work when it comes to expanding search visibility. If you’re looking for a good place to start with your website’s SEO strategy, check out our podcast episode on initial SEO research and discovery. We’ve also detailed some key questions to ask yourself if you’re evaluating your website’s current SEO strategy. You can check out that blog article here.
It’s a Great Time to Refine Your Digital Strategy
All in all, there are still opportunities to attract prospective customers and generate sales – especially on digital channels. While B2B marketers may have to take more of a long-term approach for the time being, the economy and consumer behavior will bounce back eventually. What your sales pipeline looks like at the end of the COVID-19 crisis depends on your marketing strategy and activities today.
Looking for more resources to help you navigate the current crisis? Check out our compilation of free resources here, which includes ad credits, temporarily free marketing and sales software, free digital training courses, crisis-management tips and more.