May COVID-19 Marketing Pulse: What Leading Marketers are Seeing & Doing

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It’s been almost two months since we first wrote about The New Marketing Landscape. Since then, we’ve had countless conversations with portfolio marketers via one-on-one conversations, portfolio-wide events, and on our GO community platform. We’ve also attended our share of virtual conferences and sought out the perspectives of external thought leaders – including industry analysts, marketing agencies, and martech providers – to hear what they’re hearing and see what they’re seeing. From these interactions we’ve had the opportunity to learn what leading marketers are seeing and doing today. 

Here’s what we’ve learned.

What Marketers are Seeing

  1. Buying processes have changed and prior strategies no longer work. Previous messaging that worked no longer resonates, prior segments and personas that bought are no longer able to buy, and tactics that were relied upon have become irrelevant because of social distancing and a remote workforce. Even for companies that are seeing strong top of funnel lead flow, creating opportunities is difficult and closing deals even more so as prospects are faced with changing priorities, tighter budgets, and the need for C-level approval. 
  2. Willingness to engage is high – but only when the offer and timing are right. Prospects and customers are searching for information, help, and community. Some marketers have reported unprecedented levels of engagement with C-level leaders who are now more accessible than before in the absence of travel and gatekeepers. However, engagement is contingent on having the right offer and, more importantly, at the right time. Depending on their situation, some prospects may not be in the mindset to engage even if you are offering something highly valuable and relevant.
  3. The situation is evolving rapidly and being agile is an imperative. Companies need to be constantly learning, testing, delivering. What was true last month is no longer true today and what was true today may no longer be true tomorrow. Marketing teams need to vigilantly evaluate what’s working, test rigorously and establish new systems, processes, and ways of working to ensure access to real-time insights and the ability to quickly make decisions, gain organizational alignment, and pivot. 
  4. Replacing physical events is about more than just replacing leads. While the immediate reaction to the loss of physical events was a focus on replacing leads, marketers are realizing that it’s more than just losing the leads. It’s losing the intimacy and excitement of face-to-face interactions, the ability to have a pulse on your market, and the platform to communicate changes in strategy, offerings, and messaging. No one has yet found a complete substitute for physical events, although virtual events are proving to drive leads.
  5. Drastic resource imbalances have been created – along with opportunities to get creative. The sudden changes in strategies, tactics, and priorities have resulted in resource imbalances within the company. Marketers need to be proactive and inventive by shifting budget, changing processes, and deploying team members and executives in new ways. 

What Marketers are Doing

  1. Listening to, and learning from, prospects and customers. Focus has changed for prospects and customers and it’s critical for marketers to understand what these new priorities are. Leading marketers are gathering insights by hosting customer or industry events (with no selling), creating customer slack channels, offering open office hours, monitoring discussions on social platforms, looking at keyword search data or content downloads, and surfacing insights from sales and customer success (with some creating internal “newsrooms”). Regardless of tactics used, the most important thing is ensuring that the insights are being shared across the organization and that a process is in place to continually refresh and act on these insights. 
  2. Rethinking strategy, with an emphasis on account based marketing. Marketers are rethinking every part of their strategy including messaging (e.g., how does your product help today), target segments (e.g., who is most likely to buy), target buyers (e.g., who has purchasing power) and tactics (e.g., how do we fill the gap left by physical events). There also needs to be cross-team alignment on this strategy from marketing, sales, and customer success. Given the need for a new strategy and for company alignment, along with the need for more efficient and effective demand gen, many leading marketers are either testing or doubling down on an account based strategy because it requires strong targeting and emphasizes quality rather than quantity (learn about ABM/ABX from the experts here and here)
  3. Focusing on customers to protect the base and expand (where possible). With customers facing financial uncertainty and budget pressures (and some being aggressively wooed by competitors), leading marketers have increased focus on customers to drive additional engagement and product usage, thereby reinforcing ROI to help minimize churn. Tactics include unlocking premium features and increased access to support, services, and training. Along with customer success and sales, marketers are collaborating to provide extended usage to new customers who need more time to onboard, and payment flexibility for existing customers who are cash constrained at the time of renewal. Marketers are also looking for opportunities to drive expansion within existing customers to compensate for the slowdown in new bookings. 
  4. Providing meaningful engagement and real value. Decision makers are drowning in personal and professional priorities. To cut through the noise and earn their attention, prospect and customer engagements need to be meaningful and deliver real value. This includes updated messaging to ensure the product offering is relevant, as well as free-trials, premium features, industry insights and research reports, free training, education, or services, and high-value virtual events – whether it be a highly topical webinar or an intimate roundtable with peers. 
  5. Focusing on relationships, not just pipeline and bookings. Following from the previous point, marketers are focused on building strong relationships now, with the understanding that revenue will come later. Almost all companies are seeing slowdowns in opportunity creation and closed won deals, but the relationships that can be built now will secure growth in the future.  Rather than gate content for leads and try to sell, sell, sell – the ungated information, training, and free access to parts of your product will position your company as a supportive partner that is helping prospects and customers succeed through this crisis.
  6. Revisiting existing tactics and testing new ones to increase reach and engagement. Leading marketers are using a variety of existing and new tactics to fill the demand gap left by in-person events. Revisiting existing tactics – for example, testing new keywords for paid search and taking advantage of plunging CPMs – and testing new tactics – for example, sending virtual direct mail and testing OTT ads given social distancing – will help marketers find the right mix of programs to reach prospects. Marketers are also leveraging external resources to further their reach and ability to engage with prospects. In particular, increased communications with industry analysts, extending free-trial offers through partners, and encouraging customers to “invite-a-friend” to exclusive virtual events. 
  7. Getting sophisticated with virtual events to drive variety and intimacy. Virtual events have shown efficacy even if they are not complete substitutes for in-person events. That said, although there was record webinar attendance in March, prospects and customers are showing Zoom fatigue and are less compelled by yet another webinar. Instead, leading marketers are getting creative – whether it be open forums, drinks with the CEO, or a highly-branded virtual cooking class with a celebrity chef. It’s also important to note that not all virtual events need to be the same. Instead, marketers are being strategic about the event goal, size, production value and format. 
  8. Using resources in new and creative ways. With changes in company strategy, customer buying process, and sales cycle, some company resources may find themselves with extra time. Leading marketers are using this opportunity to retrain resources and re-deploy them in new ways. For example, field marketers can become adept at virtual events, sales engineers can streamline deployment (better yet, market this as a new value-add offering), or executive team members are useful for outreach and hosting virtual events. 
  9. Revisiting tech infrastructure and processes. With the slowdown in deal volume and velocity, leading marketers are using this time to rationalize each component of their tech stack and negotiate better deals. They are also fixing their systems and processes (along with how they forecast) to ensure performance visibility as they become more agile. Some are also adding a new lead status to identify promising prospects who now need to get additional approvals to buy (e.g., “Internal Selling/Approval”). Lastly, they are investing in new technology that allows them to be successful in the world of remote workforce marketing. This includes trialing and negotiating new contracts for chatbots, direct mail solutions, intent data, and account based platforms. 
  10. Being proactive – and agile. Leading marketers were ready to act at the first signs of COVID-19. They updated strategy, redirected people and spend, and mobilized the organization to be among the first to market with relevant messaging, content, and offers. As a result, they benefited from increased share of voice in the press, with analysts, with partners, and within their industry and prospect communities. More important, they aren’t resting – they are maintaining an active stance. They realize that they need to remain vigilant and agile – to listen, learn, test, and act. This agility allows them to stay ahead of the market; to deliver the most relevant message and content. 

Insight Partners works with many leading marketers. While executing the above strategies, they also realize that the next normal is coming. And they’re prepared. Just as they were ready to act at the first signs of COVID-19, they are also ready for when markets and customers emerge from this crisis. More on this next time.

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  • Charlene Chen

    Charlene Chen, Senior Vice President, Marketing COE

    Charlene is a Senior Vice President on the Insight Onsite team. She first joined Insight in 2007, working with cross-functional teams at portfolio companies on various strategic and operational initiatives. Charlene left in 2010, rejoining in 2016, to work with portfolio companies on driving marketing performance and accelerating growth. During…