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

With economic stormclouds gathering, we brought together marketing leaders from various B2B sectors for a Propolis roundtable to discuss how to prepare for the turbulence ahead – and how to come out of it in the best possible shape.

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 the latest 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.

As always, the conversation was informed and enlightening, with a wealth of advice, learnings and guidance emerging. A comprehensive list is available on Propolis, our community intelligence platform for B2B marketers, but I’d like to share a few highlights here – strictly anonymised of course!

Just say 'no'!

Firstly, now more than ever, marketing leaders need to 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.

Most important of all, throughout this process, B2B CMOs must look after their teams. 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. We also ran a separate session within Propolis on this last week, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness day, and I also did a session to help launch The State of Us network. Suffice to say, we many of us are aware, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, and this is a topic that we’ll be returning to in Propolis, frequently.

Is there an upside to the downturn?

Although there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, there will also be opportunities. 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 recalibrate 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. A cynic might say that with every silver lining, there is a cloud.

Membership of Propolis provides marketing leaders and CMOs with access to monthly roundtables, where you can network with peers and benefit from their experiences. This is just one of a wealth of amazing resouces available to Propolis members. Find out more about Propolis here or email propolis@b2bmarketing.net