Across industries and geography, 2020 had a real, transformative impact on business and marketing. As businesses went fully digital, it became abundantly clear that marketers are the digital savvy leaders in their organizations. Marketing creates the digital front door to the brand, unearths critical insights on prospects and drives revenue and pipeline through digital channels.
As a digital-first approach continues to spread across all business units and disciplines, that expertise puts marketing in the driver’s seat for leading success as they reimagine their strategies and guide their organization’s digital transformation.
Pressure-Test The Best Digital Mix
Marketers must ensure they have safety nets in place so they can continue to drive revenue, even if unforeseen changes drastically impact strategy. This is something we already do in our personal lives — many of us want to retire in the future, and creating a range of marketing streams is like developing a retirement portfolio. You wouldn't keep your entire retirement savings invested in a single stock, so you must diversify to minimize risk.
There are no silver bullets, which is why it's important to find the right mix of channels. But it’s important to have that mix in the first place.
Prioritize Deep Digital Engagement, Not Just Scale
Marketers must move quickly to scale and meet demand, but at a certain point, the volume of leads has diminishing returns. For example, we had an influx of chatbot conversations at the start of the pandemic. That wasn't necessarily an indicator of pipeline — most of the time, it was people simply price shopping.
Our marketing team used to count all digital interactions as engagement. In the pandemic era, however, a website visit is akin to someone walking by a tradeshow booth and not stopping; a content download is the equivalent of someone picking up a brochure. You want the people who pause for a conversation and ask questions in your funnel, so you need to create two-way experiences that enable those conversations.
Marketers need to revisit what counts as a signal to buy vs. a signal to consume content. Create processes that can filter your lead flow and operationalize your processes: Figure out how to automate and focus on building a proactive system for lead prioritization, qualification and follow up.
Structure Teams For Adaptability
As marketers, we spend a lot of time making plans annually, semi-annually, quarterly and weekly. I get it; these painstaking measures make us feel on top of things and present the feeling of being in control.
We never learn, however, that these well-intentioned plans usually fall by the wayside, despite the tremendous amount of time, effort and resources that went into creating them.
If we’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s that we'd all be better off focusing on building an adaptable team rather than an immaculate master plan. We should concentrate on making our teams agile and our processes iterative, so we can move quickly to jump on new opportunities and react in real time.
We need to remove this illusion that we are in control all the time, because we're simply not, and that’s OK. We're at the mercy of complex market conditions, economic headwinds and evolving consumer behavior (even in the B2B space). The sooner we face the reality that we're not in control, the better off our teams and companies will be.
What we can control is readying our teams to move quickly and nimbly in the face of unforeseen events. Each marketing campaign needs to have the same set of parameters, assets and timing. A modular construction approach helped China build a new hospital in Wuhan in just two days. We need a modular marketing approach that can be replicated to scale in new industries and geographic regions as demand spikes.
Use Data & Internal Experts As Your Guides
As you become nimbler, data can shine a light on accelerating trends and help navigate uncharted waters. Real-time data gives adaptability direction: It can assess which content is performing the best and allows you to prioritize new marketing assets on the fly. This data also helps marketers deliver unprecedented ROI: We all need to invest in high-value content that can be always-on, but it doesn’t need a huge production. Intelligence and data empower marketers to quickly create content — from a weekly coffee chat to an in-depth whitepaper or even a video tailored to specific industries — that is timely, relevant and drives pipeline.
In addition, now is a good time to rethink how you structure your internal teams. Your team should help fuel your adaptability through their proficiency in potential new market opportunities. Each person on your marketing team plays a critical role, but they should also have secondary expertise in certain industries. This creates a stable of experts who the rest of the team can go to for insights on certain prospects and industries. It's great to reach thousands of more leads, but it's more important you have a plan for what to do with them.
The entire team must be oriented around this new proactive and agile mindset. Put a standing agenda item on your recurring team meetings: What emerging trends may impact our marketing and have the potential to amplify demand? Think back to January 2020. In many regards, the writing was on the wall that this pandemic could greatly impact business. Were you paying attention, or did you not change your strategy until April? Marketers need to identify trends, be receptive to ideas to take advantage of these trends and act quickly and boldly.
We’re Just Getting Started
The power of digital is not a post-pandemic phenomenon, it’s the way modern businesses grow. McKinsey found that 70% of B2B decision makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27% would spend more than $500,000. The same report found that only about 20% of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales.
Certainly, more traditional sales tactics, such as conferences and tradeshows, will gradually re-emerge. But digital is here to stay: Forrester analyst Mary Shea predicts that 80% or more of the sales cycle will happen in digital/remote settings.
The task is on marketers to embrace this new role as digital leaders. For so long, marketers have been the department that makes PowerPoints, brochures and websites look pretty. We now have the power to make bottom lines look pretty, too.
Tessa Barron is the VP of Marketing at ON24 and leads the company’s brand, digital and demand generation strategy. She brings with her a wealth of marketing expertise from both in-house and agency roles. In 2019, she was named to DMN’s “Top 40 Marketers under 40” list and is a founding member of the Women in Revenue Marketing organization in NYC.