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What’s Plan B? Maintaining B2B sales lead volume during a global pandemic

The outbreak of COVID-19 is forcing many businesses to completely rethink their sales and marketing strategy for 2020. In addition to cancelled face-to-face meetings your sales team depends on, the second quarter is often peak time for B2B marketing and sales teams to exhibit at major trade shows to fill their pipeline with the leads that will sustain them for the remainder of the year. In fact, The Center For Exhibition Research reports that the average company allocates about 32% of their marketing budget to exhibiting and trade show events, and more than $24 billion is spent annually by U.S. exhibitors. With meetings, trade shows, coffees, and meals being cancelled left and right, the practice of “social distancing” has many businesses left wondering, What’s plan B?

The first movers in the new remote sales world have a big advantage to grab market share

With traditional sales and marketing channels cut off, it’s a crucial time to take stock of your current personnel, budgets and tools to quickly pivot to keep your pipeline full. We don’t yet know the full economic impact of COVID-19 or how long it will disrupt business as usual, but crisis breeds opportunity. Use your newly freed up budget and idle teams to experiment with new strategies and dust off those “back-burner” projects you may have been putting off.

Most importantly, don’t panic. Sit down with your team and brainstorm how to reallocate your resources to adapt to this new (and hopefully short-lived) normal. When planning, make sure to consider both short and long-term projects. Short term lead generation is important but usually expensive and short-lived, so be sure to augment it with long-term strategies that will sustain you in the months to come.

Projects that deliver quick wins

These projects will generate leads quickly and keep your top of funnel full in the short term. Think of these projects as a stop-gap. They may not be sustainable in the long term, but they will keep the machine running for the next few weeks or months.

Take your events digital

With the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it is likely that all major conferences will be cancelled in both Q2 and some of Q3 (if they haven’t been already). This doesn’t mean however that you can’t replicate the conference experience digitally. Granted, the happy hour won’t be nearly as fun, but you can still provide tremendous value to prospects via digital means.

Consider teaming up with your partners to recreate your conference sessions digitally or creating a virtual trade show booth to demo your product and answer prospect questions. You may even be able to drive more attendees at a fraction of the cost. On24, a web conferencing solution, reports that their client Thompson Reuters took their trade show digital and increased global attendees by 73% while cutting costs by 83%.

Commit to video

Right now, video is one of the most important investments that your business can make. If you were on the fence about commiting to a video conferencing platform like Zoom or GoToMeeting, now is the time to pull the trigger. To sell effectively, your sales reps absolutely need to be able to talk face-to-face with prospects. Video is the new best thing. Conferencing platforms make it easy to screen-share, making them a fantastic vehicle for product demos.

Additionally, try leveraging tools like Facebook Live to make it easy for your C-Suite or product leadership to communicate with the market. This can be a great way to get your high-level message across to prospects In lieu of an opening keynote at a tradeshow or sales dinner.

Finally, consider using tools like Loom which make it incredibly easy to capture and share video with customers and prospects. Screen capture tools are a great way to communicate if it is difficult to schedule a call or a video meeting.

Update digital properties

While this should always be a top priority, it is now more important than ever to make sure that all of your digital properties are up to date. Review your website and social platforms to be sure that you are putting your best foot forward. With face-to-face interaction out of the question, your prospects will definitely be conducting more research online. Make sure all visitors to your site have a great experience by collecting data through A/B testing and revamping lead and conversion flows. Make sure your content is providing value, and make it as easy as humanly possible for a visitor to give you their information.

Pump budget into digital ad spend

If you need to reallocate budget from cancelled trade shows, consider pumping up your paid media spend. While paid media typically generates top-of-funnel leads that need to be nurtured, it is important to keep leads flowing into your pipeline. If sales reps have extra time on their hands consider repurposing them as interim SDRs to help advance these new leads down the funnel. Paid media will become increasingly important the longer that social distancing is enforced en masse, so make sure you have a plan in place now so you can ramp up as needed to fill lead and pipeline gaps.

Invest in webinars

In the short-term, webinars are a great way to communicate updates to customers or provide product demos to prospects. According to DemandGenReport 39% of marketers rate webinars as one of the most valuable content formats and that 63% of people are willing to share information to access a webinar. Consider building out a weekly product demo webinar to capture new leads on a recurring basis. Webinars are also a great way to communicate with prospects directly and answer their questions in real-time.

Projects that sustain you for the long term

These projects won’t stop the bleeding in the short term but they will build a strong foundation for long-term lead generation and sustain your business long after COVID-19 has run its course.

Invest in SEO and organic marketing

Organic marketing is arguably the most important long-term investment you can make in your business because, if executed correctly, it will create a machine that will generate leads with virtually no monetary investment. The foundation of successful organic marketing is high-quality content based on specific SEO keywords that will drive organic traffic to your digital properties. If you are in the process of architecting your 2020 marketing strategy, consider allocating a portion of your internal resources to evaluate your SEO keyword strategy to augment your paid media efforts. While organic marketing may not generate leads immediately it will help generate high-quality traffic to bolster Q3 and Q4 sales efforts.

Create educational and thought-leadership content

If you have been neglecting your blog, now is a great time to begin creating high-quality educational and thought-leadership content. This content can live either on your blog or as a gated PDF download to generate additional top-of-funnel leads. Consider implementing a popup on your website to take advantage of the increased traffic coming to your website and digital properties. Make sure you have your SEO keywords dialed in before you begin creating any content to ensure that you are showing up for the proper search terms and reaching the correct audience.

Looking ahead

We still don’t know the full economic impact of COVID-19, or how it will play out over the next few months but one thing is for certain, if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind. No one knows how long the impact will last or the changes that will stick with us for years to come, but a wait and see approach will put you behind your evolving competitors. It can be difficult to “steer the cruise ship” in a completely different direction, it is critical to be nimble and adapt quickly to stay ahead of your competition. Use this shake-up as an opportunity to diversify your sales and marketing and future-proof your organization.

About the Authors

Jeff Curie and Ben Thiefels are experienced SaaS operators who team up to help SaaS companies revitalize their revenue streams, digital sales channels and presence. Connect Connect with Jeff or connect with Ben to make a digital-first transformation in your sales and marketing.

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