April 02, 2020
By Brad Gillespie

What B2B Marketing leaders can be doing right now

If you are like most of us, you are likely spending significant energy thinking about how to adapt to the effects of a global pandemic.  If you are in a leadership role, that has been compounded by your responsibilities for your team and numerous other stakeholders. If you are a CMO or marketing leader, that is compounded even further by the critical role you are playing on the front line of maintaining business continuity with your customers. Your annual plan has just been turned upside down, and you are likely spending a significant portion of your day dealing with the fallout. Uncertainty can be paralyzing, and during a crisis, teams need leadership more than ever. So, as marketing leaders, what can we be doing to steady the ship and get our teams focused on the future? 

I’ve spent the last few weeks speaking with our clients on just this topic – helping them to answer this exact question. It is these conversations that inspired my desire to put pen to paper to offer marketing leaders the insights they need to weather this storm. I’ll share thoughts that may be helpful as marketers work through this crisis within their organization – and be better off for it.

Part 1 of this series will address, in my view, what B2B marketing and go-to-market leaders can be doing right now. In Part 2 we’ll shift the focus to adapting your approach for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021. Part 3 will focus on the long-term impact of a global pandemic on B2B marketing, and how you can prepare for those changes to come out stronger on the other side. I’ll also provide a few helpful resources along the way.

Acknowledge the crisis' impact on your customers and team

It's a simple first step, and you are likely (hopefully) past this step by now, but if not, address it immediately. Go give a virtual hug to your customers and your team. Let them know we’re in this together, and together, we’ll get through it. We are all working to ensure business continuity and learning how to lead a 100% work-from-home team. Your customers are dealing with these same challenges as are their customers. I’ll address this topic in much more detail later on in the series. As you work through this first step, I’ve found a number of incredibly helpful resources that I’ve referenced throughout my career. My go-to is McChrystal Group. They happen to be hosting a webinar and Gen. McChrystal (RET), Chike Aguh and Chris Fussell of MG will be walking through the teamwork methodology that underpinned Gen. McChrystal’s ability to create a Special Operations Network to defeat the Al Qaeda network). This guide from MG is also an excellent resource.

Triage

It's critical to get your arms around the situation and you need a simple process to do that. Our healthcare workers are relying on a triage approach right now for good reason - it’s a proven method for identifying the most critical things that require your attention. For our purposes, I've simplified the typical five-level system down to three levels:

Level 1 – Urgent

Understand the commitments to marketing programs and spend that require decisions NOW. In a crisis situation, we must quickly determine the go/no-go decisions that need to be made immediately. Ask your direct reports to summarize all of the potential Level 1 items that are on their radar and get them documented in one place. Make the decisions that are yours to make and bring the others to the table for discussion. For these, have data to guide the conversation and bring your point of view. For external communications, reach out to your customers with a very basic message of acknowledgment and support - “We’re are all in this together, and together, we’ll get through it.” Again, if you haven’t done this yet, go do that now. It’s never too late to let them know you’re here for them. As best you can, pause external communications and paid media that don’t convey this basic message. Level 3 items will be easier to identify, so we’re going to address those next.

Level 3 - Not Urgent

After the Level 1s are identified, look for things that can be immediately de-prioritized. This should be an easy step. Go with your intuition and trust your instincts. These may include projects slated for later in the year, program spend that won’t hit until Q4, items from your idea board, etc. Work with Product to understand the impact on major product releases for the next two quarters to determine what should be pushed out. What should be left are your Level 2 items.

Level 2 - Important

Give this list an extra level of scrutiny as you may find one or two items to elevate to Level 1. That’s all you need to do for now. Go back to your Level 1s and get those plans in motion. Once you are through the immediate crisis of addressing Level 1 items, you’ll be coming back to this Level 2 list for another round of prioritization. Part 2 of this series will go into more detail on these Level 2 items.

Delegate

You have a great team and now is the time to leverage your bench strength. Trust your direct reports to make decisions and move things forward. Empower them. Don’t be tempted to hold on to Level 1 action items. Delegate 99% of the Level 1 items and keep for yourself only the 1% that you can’t possibly assign elsewhere. Be very clear about the decision space your team has. Also impress upon them the importance of clear instructions as they work with their teams – this is even more important in our current work from home situation where teams can’t connect face-to-face.

Your focus over the next few weeks is now to:

  1. Work your shortlist of the Level 1s you kept
  2. Daily status updates with your direct reports on the other 99%
  3. Daily check-ins with your broader team
  4. Daily updates to leadership on your plan

Your role here is not to take on more of the tasks, but to help your team work through any roadblocks to getting things done with theirs.

Over-communicate

You’ve acknowledged the crisis and delivered initial communications to your customers and teams, but the communication job is just beginning. Your leadership team is likely meeting regularly to assess and reassess every business decision. At Cvent, we receive coordinated daily briefs with updates on the crisis from a global perspective and relevant information that we can use to action with our teams. Be as transparent as possible with your teams and with customers. Communicate your plan to address Level 1 items to your team and other stakeholders. Provide both daily and “as-it-happens” updates. There is no such thing as too much communication in a crisis.

Finally, whenever possible, use video with your teams. At Cvent, our default Zoom setting is “video on” – and that’s been critical to our ability to stay connected and engaged. With all of us working from home, email and phone are not sufficient. Let your teams see your face and hear your voice. Host virtual happy hours, lunches, or coffee dates to just check in on morale. There is a reason why in-person events are so impactful – because face-to-face is powerful. While in-person isn’t an option, video conferencing is your best option.

Listen

Active listening is the most important muscle we can use on a good day. During a crisis it’s critical. Listen to hear what’s on the minds of your team. How they are feeling? That should be your first question every day – because every day is different. Listen for cues from leadership about changes to come as there will be some that will impact your priorities (more detail on this will be in Part 2). Listen to the market to understand how your customers are feeling and what they want to hear from you.

Continue to reassess

I’ve spoken with a few clients recently that are through the triage process and are working their plan for Level 1 items. If you’re at this point, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Before you revisit your Level 2 items, take inventory of the changes in landscape and priority. It is likely that your annual plan is now irrelevant, and priorities may have dramatically shifted - rendering some of the Level 2 actions obsolete.
  • Short term constraints will mean you can’t pursue a Level 2 if it pulls resources or focus from a Level 1. 
  • Each day, you’ll undoubtedly have dozens of new tasks land on your lap that need to be addressed – and assigned an appropriate level. Level 2s are so categorized because they couldn’t be pushed out into the future like a Level 3. Deciding how to address your Level 2s, and how you categorize the new tasks funneling in, will ultimately determine how your team can contribute and have a positive impact beyond dealing with your urgent Level 1s.

In Part 2 we’ll dive into how to prioritize Level 2 items, and how to begin to adapt your approach and strategy for the remainder of 2020.

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Brad Gillespie

Currently serving as Vice President of Enterprise Solutions Group at Cvent, a global leader for Meetings & Events technology. The Enterprise Solutions Group works with select enterprise customers to modernize event marketing and management. We collaborate with Marketing, Events, Procurement and IT Leaders to support strategy, planning, process design, technology evaluation, integrations, and analytics. We're currently working with organizations in Financial Services, Advanced Manufacturing, Software, and Business Services.

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