If we had to sum up sales and marketing strategies for 2020 in one word, it would be pivot.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many companies — including our own clients — have found new ways to serve their customers, adjust sales and marketing tactics and even develop innovative new offerings.
Cases By Source, a custom packaging provider, shifted gears in its manufacturing processes to begin producing masks and personal protective equipment.
Green Circle Growers, one of the largest greenhouses in North America, spread goodwill by donating $1 million in plants to healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines.
iOFFICE, a workplace technology company, introduced a new feature to help business leaders reconfigure their floor plans for safe distancing.
Although businesses are slowly beginning to reopen, we’re far from “back to normal” — if a return to normal is even possible. Millions are still out of work. Our interactions and buying habits have changed. We’ve had to re-evaluate what’s important and what isn’t.
So what happens next? While no one can say for sure, here are five sales and marketing predictions we can expect to see in a post-pandemic world.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest tech companies have grown more powerful during the crisis. With many retail stores closed, Amazon became even more essential. Facebook doubled down on its role as a news outlet and a way to keep communities connected. It recently introduced a new feature allowing small businesses to sell gift cards directly on its platform and plans to hire 10,000 more employees for its product and engineering teams this year.
Meanwhile, Google and Apple have stepped up to assist with contact tracing technology.
For smaller and medium-sized businesses though, it’s hard to say what the future might hold. US Bancorp predicts as many as 1 in 5 restaurants could close permanently because of coronavirus.
And even with the federal government awarding over $350 billion in small business loans, 75% of 5,800 small business owners who responded to a survey by university economists said they only had enough cash to cover two months’ worth of expenses. An analysis of the survey noted that survival largely depends on their industry and how long the closures last.
On average, those in the tourism and hospitality industry said they had a 66% chance of survival if the crisis lasted just one month — and we’ve already passed that mark.
Personal services like hairstylists and gyms may fare better as they begin to reopen in many states. To survive and even thrive past the crisis, many will need to rethink the way they do business. That means looking for ways to reduce overhead costs like expensive leases, shifting service offerings and looking for new revenue streams.
Prior to the pandemic, common wisdom in the B2B marketing world was that about 60% of the sales cycle happened before a prospect picked up the phone. The validity of that stat was often debated, but it reflected the reality that the majority of consumers were doing extensive online research before reaching out to a sales rep.
Now, as many brick-and-mortar businesses have been closed for the past few months, consumers who may have done the majority of their shopping in person have grown accustomed to ordering everything from groceries to appliances online.
Even as stores begin to reopen, these habits have been well-established by now. “Buy online, pickup in-store” will become more common as customers expect a new level of safety and convenience.
This has already impacted the sales cycle for other major purchases as well.
One of our clients, an organization that provides in-home care to older adults, traditionally hosted in-person seminars to introduce people to their services. Now that in-person gatherings are no longer feasible, they have shifted their focus to webinars and online Q&A sessions.
Colleges and universities are taking virtual tours more seriously, and students and parents are growing more accustomed to using them to weigh their options. Of course, online learning is gaining momentum like never before, and this could have a lasting impact on how much students value a traditional on-campus experience.
With even more of the sales cycle happening online, the most successful companies in the future will be the ones that meet customers and prospects where they are.
That starts by engaging with them on the social media platforms where they’re spending the most time — whether that’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or even TikTok.
It’s important to look beyond traditional platforms, too, and recognize that the pandemic could have a lasting impact on the way we use the internet. Yes, most of us have been spending more time online, but we’ve also been looking for new ways to stay connected to others. Apps like Nextdoor and Houseparty saw significant growth since the first stay-at-home orders began in March, as this The New York Times graph shows.
Going forward, the best sales and marketing strategies will start with an honest look at where prospects are spending their time.
They will also need to use a variety of formats, ranging from 5-second videos to hour-long webinars.
With most live events having been postponed indefinitely, engaging with your audience might even mean hosting a virtual trade show.
Once you’ve gotten their attention, your website design needs to prioritize the user experience. It should tell people who you are and how you can help them. It should answer their most pressing questions and help guide them through their decision-making process with clear calls-to-action, including opportunities to speak with someone, request a quote or download a resource.
You’ll also need a solid plan for following up with prospects after they’ve engaged with you.
Retargeting ads and email marketing are still two of the most effective ways to do that, but onsite chat and Facebook Messenger chat are two growing areas of opportunity.
Research from HubSpot’s COVID-19 benchmarking survey of over 70,000 companies shows a steady 5% increase in customer-initiated chat since mid-March.
The sum of all these interactions and the impact they have is your brand experience.
It’s what people will remember about your company after they’ve engaged with you.
How do they feel after they’ve left your website, your webinar or a video you just shared? Do they feel inspired? Ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead? Or do they feel confused and overwhelmed by all their options?
In the past, companies with a mediocre brand experience still managed to close deals if they had a stellar sales team.
Now, with in-person meetings becoming less frequent, your digital presence is your first impression.
And it had better be a memorable one.
Once a prospect becomes a customer, the best brands continue the conversation.
They share insights, best practices and authentic moments. They might host training sessions or invite customers to weigh in on what they’d like to see next through a customer advisory board.
However they’ve chosen to engage, they’ll need to double down on it in the future if they want to remain successful.
Many customers have reduced spending or delayed making major purchases during the pandemic, making it more important for companies to stay relevant in other ways.
McKinsey’s consumer-sentiment survey found 75% of U.S. consumers believe their finances will be impacted for more than two months following the pandemic.
For the past few months, the best companies have focused on taking care of their employees, supporting their customers and giving back. More than ever, people want to buy from companies they believe in, who are doing the right thing. That’s not likely to change.
But there’s also evidence sales are beginning to pick up again.
The volume of new deals globally increased by 6%, according to HubSpot’s latest benchmarking data. Some industries — including manufacturing, consumer goods and construction — have even seen increases in sales that exceed pre-COVID levels.
And although the sales response rate still remains flat overall, companies worldwide saw a 5% increase in meetings booked during the first week of May.
As McKinsey writes in its analysis, “marketers will need to adopt an investor mindset to aggressively adjust marketing spend and continually track performance in order to reallocate it quickly.”
In the past, marketers may have spent months developing a campaign and then monitored its progress every 30 days. To adjust to this constantly changing business environment, they’ll need to be much faster.
They’ll need to strategize and launch new offerings, promotions and messages in a matter of days, not months. And they’ll need to track critical marketing KPIs to know if it’s working in as little as a week. If something isn’t working, they can no longer afford to wait it out for a few months. They’ll need to reallocate their spending immediately.
While plenty of people have made predictions, the truth is that no one can say for sure what the future holds. What is clear is that the greatest opportunities for growth are happening online and through more personalized customer interactions. That’s why it’s more important than ever to have an agile digital marketing strategy and a marketing partner who can help you execute it — and quickly shift gears as needed.