Doing business during a crisis is one of the biggest challenges any company will ever face. And the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis like no other we have experienced recently. As I write this in late March 2020, much of the world is at a standstill as the virus continues to spread. Hospitals are overflowing with patients. People are hunkered down in their homes. The personal toll has been huge. And businesses are suffering as well. Many companies are closing stores, shuttering businesses and laying-off or furloughing employees. Last week, an informal poll by Harvard Business School found that 30% of companies expect revenues to be 50% or less than normal next month.
I have lived through a number of crises, including an earthquake in San Francisco, the Dotcom crash, 9/11, and the financial crisis of 2008. Every one of them was a shock to the system and caused massive pain and suffering. But this coronavirus crisis is different in that it is global rather than regional. There appears to be almost nowhere that is not being impacted. It is affecting every industry in some way because it has altered the way of life for much of the world’s population. And we don’t know how bad it will get or how long it will last. And once we get past the shock of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictive measures to combat it, we’ll likely have a global recession to look forward to. Things look pretty bleak.
Every crisis does eventually pass though, and life will go on in a “new normal” kind of way. Not the way it was before but in a new way that will become comfortable over time. That is human nature: fearful of a new danger and the unknown future it brings, but persevering through the challenging times and surviving to thrive once more.
Doing Business in a Crisis
There are many challenges to doing business in a crisis, and one of the biggest is to continue to generate revenue. Your go-to-market engine will never get a tougher test than right now. The pandemic has forced businesses around the world to either shutdown completely or drastically alter business as usual. Expenses are being cut wherever they can be. And companies are hunkering down and trying to ride out this storm.
On top of that, your customers and prospects are now understandably dealing with serious issues on the home front, worried about their families, friends and possibly their jobs. If you thought it was hard to get their attention before the pandemic, now it will be even harder.
In spite of the crisis, most B2B companies have not shut down and need to keep serving their customers and keep pursuing new business opportunities. As a B2B marketer, its time to step up to this new challenge. Here is a roadmap for how to survive this crisis, so you can thrive again when it’s over:
Find an Advantage
A crisis like this means things will change for the short-term and possibly forever for many businesses. Make your value proposition relevant to this “new normal” as a way to help customers through it. If industry events are being cancelled and potential prospects and customers are confined to their homes, find a way to facilitate their journey digitally. A Martech company I work with, Folloze creates personalized digital journeys for large numbers of prospects and customers. They have created new content and workshops on “re-routing your Marketing” away from events and towards digital journeys that can be easily consumed remotely and on-demand. So far customers and prospects have been appreciative and interested in the initiative.
An HR company I work with, OutMatch offers a video interviewing solution. Now with most workers working from home due the pandemic, they have offered the video interviewing solution free for 60 days to all prospects. Both of these are great ways to both help your customers through a difficult time, and highlight how your solution is relevant in this “new normal” world.
Take Care of your Customers
Your customers are going through tough times right now as well, and are undoubtedly looking for ways to cut costs to make up for their own revenue challenges. You don’t want to be part of these cuts. Especially as a SaaS solution that may be coming up for renewal in the next 6 months, you could be vulnerable to the falling knife. Make sure that your customers and their senior management understand the critical value that you are providing to their company. Also, in light that they may be consolidating solutions, look for additional problems inside the customer that you can also solve. And finally, be flexible on terms, on payments and on usage. Your customers will appreciate vendors who are willing to work with them through difficult times.
Customer Marketing should be a huge focus during this difficult period. Not just to secure renewals and maybe even an expansion, but to let customers know that you are ready to stand with them as a compassionate partner, not just a vendor. The attitude is “we are in this together, and we’ll get through this together.” The key is to keep their business through this tough period, and come out the other side in an even stronger position with your customers.
Tune your GTM Engine
Your go-to-market engine is now in for its toughest test. Budgets are being cut. Employees are being furloughed or laid-off. People have serious concerns about their and their families’ safety and welfare. And no one wants to be sold to right now. Yet businesses must keep the lights on and keep serving their customers. Your GTM engine most likely needs to keep running. And it needs to run more smoothly and efficiently than ever.
Analyze your entire GTM engine and look for inefficiencies that can be easily remedied. Is your value proposition clear enough? This is no time for muddled messaging or me-too value propositions. Sharpen your message and differentiation so it is clear, concise and on point to the new world we live in because your prospects have understandable distractions right now.
Analyze which channels should supply the bulk of your inbound leads in this new world. If you were reliant on events and VIP dinners, time to change tactics and adjust your marketing mix. Optimize the mix based on various levels of spending, as budgets will likely shift up and down in the months to come as they react to external events. Prepare ahead for this uncertain world we now live in.
Make sure your website is super efficient in terms of delivering your value proposition and key differentiators, but also in delivering content and simple calls to action. Given that so many people are working from home, your website is now more important than its ever been and should be one of your largest sources of inbound leads.
Most likely, your inbound lead numbers will shrink, and conversion numbers will decline, so every opportunity becomes precious. It helps to have a model to predict the future. Model out how your funnel converted over the past couple of years, and then make adjustments for what you expect to happen this year through every stage of the journey. This will help you figure out how much budget you’ll need to generate enough pipeline to hit revenue targets.
During the financial crisis of 2008, as CMO at Taleo we had a highly accurate model for our funnel conversions from previous years. While we saw reduced inbound during the crisis, the biggest surprise we saw early on was how our opportunity close rate declined from 25% to 20%. Rather than closing one in four deals, our sales team was now closing one in five deals as more opportunities were being pushed out. This may not seem like much, but from $100M in pipeline, which was now more expensive to generate, we were only closing $20M instead of $25M, a substantial hit to our new bookings numbers. Fortunately, we are able to identify this early in the crisis and were allocated more budget for demand generation as a result (CFOs love predictive models!)
The hand-off of opportunities from Marketing to Sales Development, and then on to Sales is now more critical than ever because you can’t afford any waste or breakage in the flow of opportunities. Make sure the teams are all aligned on clear definitions of MQL, SQL and sales opportunities so everyone is working in concert rather than at odds to each other. This is one of the most common disconnects in GTM that I see repeatedly. This is no time for lost leads or neglected opportunities falling through the cracks.
Find the Right Tone in Communications
Given what is going on around us, you want to strike the right tone with customers and prospects. People are dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety about current events, both on a personal and a professional level. Their minds are probably elsewhere and many feel disconnected from their companies if they are now working from home. Rolling out that new critical initiative may not be as important to them, or their company as it was a month ago.
Be understanding of the situation. What they need is help, not a sales call. Show some empathy and consideration. Offer to help in any way you can like rescheduling the call, or shortening it if necessary. Be flexible on timing, follow-up and next steps. This is no time for a pushy sales call, or a contentious renewal discussion. A little empathy will go a long way in these difficult times. And flexibility and consideration granted to customers now will pay off big-time in the long run.
Unfortunately, it looks like we are in for a tough few quarters given current circumstances. Business will continue in whatever form it can, and you’ll need to adapt your approach to survive. Nail the basics of a relevant value proposition, compassionate customer care, a highly efficient GTM engine, all delivered with the right tone to make the best of a tough situation. Not only that, you’ll be in great position to thrive once the crisis passes.