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Straight From the Stage: Smart Marketing During COVID-19 with Katie Martell

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted B2B buyers’ purchase behavior?

Many organizations are slashing forecasts, laying off market-facing staff, and pulling back on growth expectations due to the pandemic. This is in response to changing B2B buyer behavior.

It’s very soon to make lasting predictions as we deal with such unprecedented dynamics, but early research from TOPO found a 150% increase over a two-week period in B2B buyers not booking meetings, while 79% of marketing and sales leaders indicate that pipeline has moderately or significantly decreased due to the coronavirus.

Q: What state of mind are B2B buyers in, currently?

Marketing to buyers during coronavirus requires us to understand them and their current mindset.

Working from home, caring for loved ones who may be sick or at-risk, schooling at-home and 24/7 childcare have all taken priority over B2B buyers’ day-to-day work lives.

In addition, many are managing professional responsibilities with fewer resources due to layoffs or budget cuts / freezes. For those buyers who are going to work – e.g. in essential businesses such as pharmacies and grocery stores – there is a constant additional layer of stress and uncertainty about their safety.

It’s important to understand what stress does to the human brain. Stress prohibits us from reflection, contemplation, and thoughtful decision-making, making complex B2B purchases especially difficult and lengthening sales cycles.

Marketing and sales teams must ask: How can you simplify buyers’ decision-making?

Dumping more information onto buyers who are already living in our 24/7 news cycle won’t help. Be prescriptive and practical with interactive content like calculators, diagnostic tools, benchmarking tools, simulators, or recommenders.

Help the buyer get to the personalized information they need, faster.

Q: Should we continue marketing in a pandemic?

Stopping all marketing simply isn’t an option – the wheels of industry must continue to turn, so says Mark Ritson.

If we look to history to teach us, we may take some signals from the behavior of companies during another global event, WWII. Ads from this time period promoted products that Americans couldn’t buy, such as those from Bell Telephone Systems and GM, thanks to government-enforced rationing.

Why did these brands continue to advertise? They wanted to keep their names in the public consciousness, and to improve the public image of business after the Great Depression, for which this institution was largely blamed.

The pandemic is a similar global event that presents brands with an opportunity to respond thoughtfully, and in a way that accelerates their recovery post-pandemic.

Q: How can B2B brands earn trust?

Before the pandemic, 42% of buyers did not know which companies to trust (Edelman). In a time of heightened uncertainty, that trust is especially precarious.

And, we do not do business with people or organizations we do not trust.

That means the imperative is clear for every marketing team: earn trust, or stall.

To build trust, we need to prove our competence – that means proving we can do what we say we will, and making our expertise clear. 48% of decision-makers will pay a premium to work with a vendor that has publicly articulated a clear vision for the future. Make that vision clear in thought leadership, content marketing, and all customer communications.

In addition, we need to be transparent, providing validation in the form of empirical evidence (original research that proves we do what we say we will) and the opinion of others (buyer reviews, case studies, and referral programs.)

Finally, we need to be relatable by speaking to the personal concerns of buyers at an emotional level. What are they scared of? How can you improve their job security in a market where they’re worried about losing their job? How can you help them to anticipate change, no matter what comes next?

Q: What are the risks of pandering to the pandemic?

One thing brands must avoid during COVID-19 is simply pandering to the pandemic. In other words, back up your words and promises with actions. Don’t say you care about customers or their well-being during the pandemic. Show them.

Words are empty promises without action.

How can you directly impact the lives of your buyers, or the effort to fight the virus on the front lines? The best question brands can ask right now is: “how can we be helpful during this time?”

Have you asked your customers?

Some brands are stepping up in big ways. We see CVS Health hiring furloughed employees of Marriott and Hilton, Ford partnering with GE and 3M to build ventilators and protective equipment, 3D printing firm Formlabs aggregating thousands with printers at home to produce materials for facial shields and other PPE, and Harbor Freight donating their entire supply of PPE.

These moves not only earn the brands well-deserved PR and brand affinity, they create positive and meaningful change in the real world.

If actions speak louder than words, Marketing that promotes real action will break through a wall of noise in where every brand issues well wishes.

What will you do next?

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Named one of the "most fascinating people in B2B marketing," a “marketing expert to follow,” and a top marketing writer on LinkedIn, Martell is a millennial CMO and the world’s first “Director of Buzz” who now advises high-growth brands as an on-demand marketer. Martell is a frequent speaker and emcee at conferences including TEDx, INBOUND, and Spiceworld, and serves as the Co-Executive Director of Boston Content, the city's largest nonprofit community of content professionals. She is the author of the forthcoming book “Rabble Rousers: How Transformative Voices Change Apathy into Action.”

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How Do I Continue to Market and Sell During COVID-19? 

We spoke with industry thought leaders about how to continue SMART and RESPONSIBLE marketing and sales activities during a pandemic. Topics include video strategies, email marketing, how to reach your missed trade show/meetings audiences, and more.

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