Most of can agree that 2020 has been an unusual and troublesome year. A few industries have benefited (online retailers, work from home technologies, video streamers) and some have been hurt badly (in-person entertainment, commercial real estate, gyms, restaurants). Most of the rest of us have muddled along or made some progress. My B2B clients and colleagues that adapted to, or even embraced the change, have been okay. By contrast, those who are waiting for the pandemic to pass or the business situation to turn around for things to get back to normal may find that “normal” has a different meaning.
We who have been in the marketing business for a while understand that the holiday season always slows momentum. The period from Dec 15 – January 5 (give or take a few days either way) is not a great time to launch campaigns or get the attention of prospects, partners or even colleagues. I know there are some exceptions but a lot of B2B companies go into “maintenance mode”, with some even closing for a week to 10 days.
My suggestion is that if you want to enter 2021 better equipped to deal with whatever the virus, the business climate, the economy, or anything else outside your control, you use some of this otherwise semi-dead time to focus on how to accelerate growth and profitability in the coming year. Things are calmer, distractions (at least business-wise) are fewer and the freshness of the new year beckons. Do get some rest and relaxation and don’t try to conquer everything. Instead, prioritize a few key areas where the right strategy can really pay off. Here are my suggestions for four areas in which your B2B marketing planning can have the most impact:
Differentiate. Unless you are one of the giants in your industry, it is very hard to win with a “me-too” strategy. The big and profitable revenue flows to companies that have a clear and compelling competitive advantage. Non-differentiated companies must usually compete on cost, terms or other factors that cut into profits. Remember that differentiation is as much perception as reality and how you create and share your message has a lot to say about how the marketplace perceives you. So much the better if you can become a thought leader in your industry since this often carries a premium price tag.
Optimize. There are lots of ways to optimize at the tactical level. For example, you can strive to get 10 percent higher click-through rates on your emails or improve the speed and efficiency of your sales follow-up process. But it’s best to first ensure you have the right strategy in place. As I discussed in my 2018 year-end article, Are You Ready for the New Year: Critical Marketing and Sales Planning Questions, you need to understand whether your primary mission is to create demand or fulfill demand. There are companies that have to educate consumers about why they need a product or service and those that are dealing with prospects who already know they have a need. Demand creators and demand fulfillers should take a much different marketing approach.
End of year is also a good time to consider whether your sales model needs changing or updating. There is no faster way to accelerate revenue than adding a new revenue stream. One of my clients shifted from a pure direct to a mixed direct and channel sales model and boosted revenue over 40% the next year.
Align. By align, I mean that you need to create synergy with every department you deal with. As a marketer, this will most often mean the sales organization. This type of alignment can give you double digit increases in revenue performance as well as produce marketing and sales efficiency. Here are some specific areas of alignment to target:
- Numbers of inquiries and qualified leads required.
- Lead scoring criteria (what constitutes a qualified lead?).
- Handoff touchpoints between marketing and sales.
- Processes for responding to, and nurturing, new inquiries.
- Conversion ratios for every process stage.
- Joint objectives and reporting.
Prioritize. I believe it is not the amount of the budget, but rather the judicious use of time, that is most important to effective marketing and revenue growth. It’s not only critical to figure out what you need to focus more time on but also what you should spend less time on. For example, are you spending excess time creating reports that few are reading and perhaps filled with non-actionable data?
Is your first tendency when things go south to ramp the level of your marketing and sales activity? Remember that activity and effectiveness are not always synonymous. You may be spending a lot of time and energy on tasks and programs that have a low ratio of potential reward as balanced against time spent? The Authentic Brand folks have some great ideas on this topic in their article, Make a “NOT-TO-DO” List for Marketing in the New Year.
Many of these ideas (and a whole lot more) about B2B marketing planning can be found in my latest book, The Expert’s B2B Revenue Growth Playbook. Grab a free PDF copy or buy the Kindle version from Amazon. I hope you have an excellent end to your 2020 and use it as a springboard to an even better 2021.