• While the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt throughout the economy, a series of predictable effects will be felt within B2B marketing functions
  • Marketing operations leaders who anticipate these eventualities will be well positioned to help their organizations respond to challenging situations with speed and agility
  • Marketing planning, budgeting, and performance measurement are the expected areas in which marketing operations teams can make the largest impacts

Many of us across the globe have been living under social distancing rules for weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic has turned business and personal lives upside down. I’ll leave broader long-term predictions on what this will mean for the economy and our way of life to others, and focus instead on what this disruption will mean for B2B marketing and marketing operations leaders. Here are four disruptions marketing operations leaders should expect to experience in the coming days and weeks — and what we can do about them:

storm in the city

  • Revenue goals will change. The global economy has been disrupted, and the effects of this disruption will stick with us for at least most of this year, possibly longer. Most businesses have rushed to reforecast their sales figures. The shape this has taken has varied widely — some companies have lowered their targets, while others have pushed out the timeframes for when they expect revenues to hit. Some companies may even see spikes in demand as carry-on effects of the pandemic create a greater need for some products and services. While reforecasting typically initiates in finance and focuses on sales, marketing functions must quickly jump into the fray. This is where marketing operations functions need to rapidly iterate through new demand scenarios and related program investments. Whole new sets of assumptions are needed, because counting on historic conversion rates to remain consistent in this environment is wishful thinking. Instead, we must try our best to develop a new set of indicators to spin up a series of working assumptions.
  • Previously dependable performance indicators will fail. With drastic changes to the business environment, some indicators that previously were highly predictive of success will no longer hold. Your organization may have customer health scores that blend several factors and heavily weight product utilization. But those health scores may have been built on unwritten assumptions that all customers, regardless of their industry, operate in fundamentally healthy market segments — market segment health may not be a criterion at all. Now, however, we may see that businesses in poorly performing sectors may be forced to freeze some types of spending entirely. Consider the hotel, cruise, and airline industries as examples — would your existing customer health scores flag customers in those segments as riskier than perhaps those making medical equipment or technologies that support a remote workforce? Also consider that traditionally, rolling 12-month timeframes for Demand Waterfall® conversion rates helped with forecast consistency, but in a rapidly changing environment, they now mask early warning signs of trouble. Marketing operations leaders must proactively identify the predictive measures most likely to be compromised and isolate one or two simpler indicators (e.g., industry health, response volumes) to highlight likely trouble areas.
  • The segment focus will be reassessed. Organizations that serve particularly hard-hit industries will investigate how to refocus attention toward segments less likely to see effects on purchase behavior during this crisis. Portfolio marketers may drive rapid revisiting of an organization’s audience framework and conduct relative targeting exercises to determine which segments are most promising. Reassessing market segments is data intensive, and the role of marketing operations should focus on gathering internal and external insights about those segments to help fuel decision-making. Marketing operations can look at past segment performance, behavioral data on personas under consideration, and the availability of company and contact information within the database.
  • Budgets will be reconfigured. Every marketing budget likely has been — and will continue to be — affected. The first wave of changes may have focused on transitioning in-person marketing to digital tactics, but that was only the beginning. As the organization recasts performance targets for the business and adjusts priority segments, it must also adjust the spend invested in achieving different objectives for different markets. Priorities may shift in some segments from generating new demand to accelerating demand already in the pipeline. In other segments, objectives may shift to enhancing reputation or toward concentrating more on existing customers. Marketing operations teams should offer a clear budgeting model to help ensure that as investments are redistributed, they are aligned with a well-articulated set of objectives. Using the Strategic Allocation Model for budgeting, marketing operations teams can use an established discipline to help categorize reallocated investments according to key business segments as well as objective areas — instead of leaving marketing and business leaders to make unnecessary assumptions on the basis of tactic types.

Perhaps you’re experiencing some of these disruptions right now. You may have even “finished” your first round of adjustments. But as long as our environment remains dynamic and unpredictable, your business is likely to cycle through these again. Though there is little we can do as individuals to stabilize our macroeconomic environment, marketing operations leaders have the opportunity to bring steadiness to how their organization responds. And by providing insights and structure in a volatile landscape, marketing operations teams will help their organization weather the latest storm.