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Leaders Roundtable Batten down the hatches

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Propolis downturn prep roundtable findings

Propolis Leaders Roundtable findings: Batten down the hatches? What B2B marketers can do to prepare for a downturn

How are B2B marketing leaders preparing for a downturn? What are they doing now, and what could or should they be doing? Most important of all, how can they prepare for the opportunities which will inevitably emerge during or immediately following this period?
 
These were the questions we were seeking to answer in our recent Propolis Leaders roundtable, where we brought together 15 CMOs, VPs and marketing directors from across B2B marketing, to discuss compelling topics in a Chatham House rules environment.
 
Although that prevents us from sharing specific anecdotes attributed to individual marketers or companies, there were some key lessons and advice that emerged, which we've compiled below, strictly anonymised!
1. Rebalance your new versus existing customer efforts.

If the recession starts to bite, it’s likely to become progressively harder and more expensive to recruit new customers. That means marketers may have to focus more and more customer renewal and cross-sell/upsell.

That, in turn may demand a reorientation of marketing effort and employees – focusing more on ABM, for example. Is your marketing team equipped in the right way, and do you have the right skills?

2. Check customer sentiment, and then recheck it, regularly.

Do you really know what your customers are thinking and feeling? It’s likely that will be in a state of flux, and that will dramatically influence their propensity to engage, let alone spend.

3. Review your content output.

Is your content aligned with the above, in terms of sentiment and tone of voice? As well as changing style or angle, do you need to start generating entirely new forms of content respond to changing buyer needs at a time of increased uncertainty and therefore purchase scrutiny – such as deeper forms of technical output, showing things like total cost of ownership?

4. Redouble your advocacy efforts.

Too often this is seen as a nice-to-have for B2B firms, but the validation that happy customers being explicit about positive experiences is even more powerful at a time when additional validation for purchase may be needed.

5. Recalibrate internal reputation management.

How can you demonstrate to senior stakeholders that marketing is making a difference in the current operating context. What value looks like is likely to become a moving target if economic prospects fluctuate.

6. Be prepared to say ‘no’.

Don’t acquiesce to requests for content, campaigns, events or other activities from sales without genuine evidence – and that means quantifiable data. Clarify to all stakeholders that it’s a trade-off.

Marketing can’t do everything, and that if you especially want a particular marketing output or activity, it might mean stopping doing something else. Now more than ever, prioritisation is critical. Marketers have always have to be savvy about this – they just have to be doubly so today.

7. Above all: Look after your team.

Mental health is worse in marketing than any other functions (according to more than one respondent), mostly because marketing ends up involved in so much, and often unable to say ‘no’.

Various tactics were suggested for this, including banning meetings on a Friday, monthly or quarterly ‘wellbeing’ days, allowing people to set Friday afternoon aside for training and providing recognition/celebration of achievements wherever possible. In other words, ensure you have the right culture.

8. Review what your resource allocation.

Headcount freezes are already in place for many organisations – see what functions can be allocated to agencies to ensure objectives are met without a decline in service, and meet short term fluctuations in demand.

As regards spotting growth opportunities in a downturn: it was interesting that around 30 per cent of those attending had already identified upsides, due to the alignment of product or service offerings with changing circumstances. But all were still having to tread carefully around getting the fundamentals of marketing right in a climate that has become cautious than normal.

So any suggestions that there might be a kind of ‘two speed’ B2B economy, with those whose offerings are relevant accelerating whilst everyone else slows down are certainly false. All B2B marketers are likely to need address the points above, to a greater or lesser extent, sooner or later. Perhaps the most interesting affirmation (if not revelation) from this roundtable was that it demonstrated how far B2B marketing has come as key strategic discipline which is instrumental in driving businesses forward.

A number of attendees commented that these days, as CMOs they are involved in numerous conversations about business direction, opportunities and strategy – far more than they had been in the past. And that’s wonderful from the point of view of a marketing as a discipline achieving its potential, but it does mean that marketing leaders themselves are carrying a heavier burden than ever before. “It’s exhausting,” has one attendee put it, and this accounts for higher rates of burnout amongst senior marketers.

9. Anticipate new growth opportunities

As regards spotting growth opportunities in a downturn: it was interesting that around 30 per cent of those attending had already identified upsides, due to the alignment of product or service offerings with changing circumstances.

But all were still having to tread carefully around getting the fundamentals of marketing right in a climate that has become cautious than normal.

So any suggestions that there might be a kind of ‘two speed’ B2B economy, with those whose offerings are relevant accelerating whilst everyone else slows down are certainly false.

In conclusion...

All B2B marketers are likely to need address each of the points above, to a greater or lesser extent, sooner or later. Perhaps the most interesting affirmation (if not revelation) from this roundtable was that it demonstrated how far B2B marketing has come as key strategic discipline which is instrumental in driving businesses forward.

A number of attendees commented that these days, as CMOs they are involved in numerous conversations about business direction, opportunities and strategy – far more than they had been in the past.

And that’s wonderful from the point of view of a marketing as a discipline achieving its potential, but it does mean that marketing leaders themselves are carrying a heavier burden than ever before. “It’s exhausting,” has one attendee put it, and this accounts for higher rates of burnout amongst senior marketers.

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