Marketing and Sales Planning During Turbulent Times
The funny thing about marketing is that it’s often a moving target, even at the best of times. If there was one ‘right’ way to do things to guarantee results, then everyone would be doing it! But marketing more often looks like a series of well planned scientific experiments; identify an objective, form a hypothesis, develop a plan, execute it, and then measure results. And if something isn’t working, shift priorities to one of the other ‘experiments’ that is working. It’s no different during turbulent or uncertain times, it’s just a matter of setting things up with a different set of variables and a different resource base.
As I write this, we in Alberta in are in Day 25 since our first reported Alberta case of Covid-19 and one thing is for certain: Nothing feels certain. This leaves us collectively hanging on the question of “what does the future look like”? And while business owners are evaluating their options on a daily (almost hourly) basis, many will make decisions that will have a lasting impact on their business for months and years to come. My hope is to add some value to the conversation with a few strategies as it relates to your own marketing and sales ‘experiments’.
When some say duck and cover, I say tuck and roll.
The bombardment of media coverage on a daily basis provides little reassurance that there is a foreseeable end to all of this. But human history proves otherwise, and we all know in our hearts that this a tunnel, and like all tunnels there is a light at the end of it! It may be distant at the moment, but the light is inevitable and the crisis will end. According to Pierre Cleroux, Vice President, Research & Chief Economist at BDC, the Canadian Economy will start to rebound in the 3rd quarter with a strong surge expected in the 4th quarter of 2020. You can watch the webcast here.
This ‘time out’ bestowed upon us by the universe gives us all some time to evaluate our priorities and realign in a way that will suit our new near term economic reality, and ready ourselves for long term economic prosperity once again.
First off, the severity of the impact to your business should be the first point to evaluate, and every industry will be affected differently. For the hospitality industry (bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines, tourism), the short term impact of this is devastating for some, with a near zeroing out of normal activity, or straight up (hopefully temporary) business closures.
Others are finding novel ways to service customers in a limited fashion that they never had to focus on before. Online fitness training, contactless delivery of goods and services, even photoshoots of families on their porch from a safe distance! Like the incredibly resourceful species that we are, we adapt.
We all know that a year from now families will be steadily making vacation plans and dining out, visiting parks and museums and living life. For some B2B companies, the impact will be less of a shock but will certainly have a lasting residual effect. And some companies are experiencing the opposite effect, being fully over capacity and desperately in need of more resources & manpower. Based on your own self evaluation, here are a few things to consider immediately as you wrestle with planning decisions in the coming weeks and months:
Consider your ’tone’ as it relates to your audience.
We’ve all seen very sage advice from business leaders on the importance of reaching out to your community to offer a helping hand, and this is the right thing to do. Yet I’m still seeing ‘offers’ and promotional emails that are relatively unfitting for the times, and frankly might be doing brands more harm than good. There will be a time to put everything on sale and attract customers back to your brand but now is probably not the time, at least not in North America. We’ve written more on tone-of-voice here.
Be realistic about your resources and optimize accordingly.
In a time where many businesses are evaluating expenses, cutting jobs and making tough decisions, marketing and sales expenses are a line item just like any other. As a marketer, I would never advise those with diminishing means to hold the line on marketing and sales expenses, not just because it comes off as self-serving, but because it’s not the right thing to do. Make the cuts you need to weather the storm.
What you won’t hear me say is to cut the energy put into marketing and sales. When we think about ‘resources’, it’s not just the cash you’re spending on ads and digital media, but the people who are spending time on sales and marketing in your business, and the people who could be spending time on marketing in your business.
Your business is likely full of thought leaders and subject matter experts who know a lot about your industry, customers and products. If their productivity has been hampered by this situation, redeploy them to start creating content that your business can deploy in the future. Product guides, blog posts, webinar outlines, you name it, the sky’s the limit.
Not everyone is a gifted copywriter, but they all have something valuable to contribute, and a skilled editor can turn flashes of brilliance into brilliant prose.
Shift from short term priorities to long-term sustainable planning.
Sustainability in marketing and sales is about creating long-term compounding value instead of quick wins. For marketers, this means creating content that will endure well beyond the end of this crisis. For sales teams, that means forging new relationships that will blossom once the dust settles, and fortifying existing relationships that will multiply through word of mouth and referrals.
Running heavy ad campaigns may not be the best use of resources in your marketing spend, at least not right now. Businesses aren’t in spending mode, they’re currently in planning mode, specifically in crisis planning, reviewing every what-if scenario imaginable for the short term future. If you’re serving promotional digital ads (or even traditional print, radio or television ads), consider redirecting them to helpful planning resources, or pump the brakes on your spending for a short time. This will undoubtedly impact traffic to your website, but were you getting quality traffic at this particular moment anyways? If your ads are still resulting in bona fide conversions, then great, keep the lights on! But otherwise make this your first stop on your sustainability tour. And keep an eye out for the signals of change in the marketing place to ramp up media placements when the fog starts to clear.
Find solstice in the planning process
Nothing gives me more calm than diving into a good spreadsheet and doing some planning (I’m weird like that). Whether it’s forecasting, creative planning or product planning, it’s important to create order amid chaos. As with financial planning and operational strategy, creating a short term sales & marketing plan is critical. We normally recommend planning in 90 day ‘sprints’ for the most part, but in this case it’s wise to plan in a 30/60/90 day format. Here is a quick table to illustrate what this might looks like:
Without a doubt you plan on still having a business when this all ends (we all do), so it’s imperative that you not only maintain operational readiness (in whatever form that looks like) as well as sales and marketing readiness.
Recalling people and resources will have a cost and take time, that is undeniable. But if your marketing cannons are fully loaded, lighting the fuse will be the easiest decision you make when the timing is right.
Stay Healthy. Be Vigilant. Let’s get through this together!