The shape of ‘COVID normal’ for your business will undoubtedly continue to change through the year ahead and will also depend very much on the countries in which you market.
But what’s abundantly clear is that your B2B marketing plan needs to change for 2021 – and you should be planning for the change now; preparing for it over the next few months.
What do we know will change?
Some of your market has already disappeared or will over the next year. While we can expect some recoveries in 2021, the OECD expects 2020 to be ugly. Italy, France, Spain and the UK are predicted to contract up to 14%, Germany and the US up to 8%, and Australia up to 6%.
Even countries like China, for whom the decline is predicted to be less, must be dragged along by this shift. So, expect less, and expect many companies to fail.
We can also expect some businesses to prosper (I’d like to have bought shares in Zoom and Slack last year).
Not news, right? Maybe not, but here’s what we need to take from this: Expect much of your market to be looking for new ways to retract some elements of their business and expand others radically faster than they have in the past.
Boards will be thinking about new challenges like “will our systems allow us to pivot?”, “do we have reliable data to make good decisions?”, “are our strategies attuned to a new reality?”, and “how often must we reassess (and with whose help)?”.
In short, the problems you set out to solve for customers in 2019 won’t cut it in 2021. Forget 2020, that’s already a wipe.
How does this impact strategy?
We need to identify those new 2021 problems now. In our B2B marketing planning workshops we don’t just list possible ‘pain points’. We look for the one problem that is both pressing enough to warrant focus, and for which you are uncommonly good at solving.
If the problem you choose to focus on is not big enough, the market won’t move. And If you are not unusually good at solving that problem, then you might be creating demand for your competitors (or at the very least, making life tough for yourself.)
So, you need to identify a pressing 2021 problem that is yours to own. Then you need to adjust your strategy. The main shifts are:
Reconsider which part of the market most has that new chosen problem. They ought to be your focus market. Also consider the role – who in the business will most be feeling that pain on behalf of the business?
Adjust your products and services so that a buyer with that chosen problem would look at your solution, and that of your competitors, and see that yours is materially better at solving the problem. There is no point creating awareness of a problem that doesn’t create unfair advantage for your business.
Consider whether your sales channel, including referrers, is good enough to bring that problem to light for that market. If they are not, consider whether to change the sales channel or reskill them and provide better tools.
There is quite a lot you need to consider, and it can be hard to determine the answers to all these questions coming from the position of the seller, rather than the buyer. So, how do you find the answers?
Go and talk with your customers and your non-customers and ask them what problems they think will occupy their attention in 2021. Consider unprompted and then prompted questions. Ask the general question first to allow surprise insights to emerge, and then lead the conversation to see if any of the problems you think will emerge resonate. Avoid the temptation to conflate selling and learning – your objective is to find answers that will shape your whole strategy for 2021, not to find a handful of prospects.
Consider running these in small groups. I’m not really suggesting focus groups per se, but getting a handful of non-customers together on a Zoom call will allow individual thought as well as derivative thought; one idea prompted by another.
A new B2B marketing plan for COVID normal
When you have the candidate problems identified, each needs to be clinically assessed to help you to find ‘the one’. Here are the factors we ask participants in our B2B planning workshops to consider:
- Which of the problems is likely to be the most common in your market?
- Pain – which problems cause the most pain?
- Growth – which problems will become more common through the year?
- Competition – for which problems are there fewest competitors?
- Barriers – which problems will be hardest to solve (barriers protect and are good in the long run)?
- USP – for which problems do you have the strongest solution for vs. your competition?
- Recognition – for which problems are you already best known?
- Cost – for which problem (if any) do you have a relative cost advantage vs. your competitors?
- References – for which problem do you have the best references (whether documented or not)?
Having chosen the one ‘best’ problem, you will then need to make the strategic decisions referenced above for market, product and channel.
Then the process. How will you find those buyers, position with them, help them to identify with this chosen problem, identify a need only you can meet, ensure they understand your solution, prefer it and buy it?
That process needs to be built by Sales and Marketing together. Ideally, with the product owners, delivery, and pre-sales folks in the room too.
Now’s the time to plan
The tactics that emerge from your planning and the problem that emerges from your strategy will all need to be built or changed for your new B2B marketing plan for COVID normal. I’m writing this in late 2020 and would suggest that the balance of this year is your time to plan and build all the pieces.
None of us knew in January 2020 what the rest of the year was to produce. While I’ve argued some shifts are likely in 2021, it’s arguable that we don’t know much about 2021 either.
So, build a cadence into your strategy and planning. Past research into alignment has suggested to us that plans should be built quickly and revised quarterly. Nothing about our current reality suggests a better cadence.
Oh, and if you’d like a little help, holler.