Forcing factor: Impact of Covid-19 on Sales and Marketing alignment

How are B2B marketing practitioners and their companies adapting to to the ‘new normal’?

When the pandemic began seven months ago, no one could have predicted where we would be at the end of the summer. Likewise, today we have little insight into what life will be like next March. But one thing has changed. We have gotten used to the new normal. The sky hasn’t fallen, we still live indoors, and there have been no zombie sightings.

I’ve always thought of the pandemic as comprised of three phases. The first is shock and panic. Many budgets were frozen, and the business world looked like deer in headlights. We’re currently in the second phase, working hard to keep our businesses as strong as possible, but also taking time to assess whether what we’ve been doing is effective, and putting improvement projects in place. The third is a world without COVID, a world where people stroll down city streets without face masks and walk both ways down grocery store aisles. After being cooped up for so many months, that world feels like trying to imagine what it’s like to walk on Mars. But it’s coming.

Late spring, we decided to conduct a survey to gaze into a crystal ball through the eyes of B2B marketers. Learning how our clients feel about the future is a way to appreciate longer term trends with everything from digital marketing transformation, to the fate of traditional sales tactics, and to the changing mix of priorities companies are contemplating. Will everything go back to the way it was before? Will there be a tectonic shift in how companies approach lead management and demand gen? Or is everyone as clueless about the future as we felt last spring?

We reached out to TechTarget and formed a partnership to co-sponsor research on how B2B marketing practitioners and their companies are adapting. The MarketOne team conducted half-hour interviews with 30 B2B marketing, sales, and operations leaders with titles equivalent to Director, VP, and CMO across a variety of industries.

We learned some really interesting things.

Conducting Business During a Pandemic

The first, and perhaps most obvious, effect of COVID was the inability of Sales to sell in person. New business from live events dried up completely. It’s harder to connect over the phone or on video calls than around a conference table. Forget about taking prospects to dinner.

So how does Sales even do its job in a world without face-to-face? Well, one outcome is that Marketing generated leads are starting to look a lot more attractive. Our research showed this clearly.

Additionally, Sales is looking to become digitally enabled. Frantic to replace in-person sales techniques with remote engagement, salespeople are looking at Marketing for support. Time will tell whether this represents a permanent shift, or whether face-to-face interactions will resume as the go-to form of engagement.

We also found that marketers began concentrating on their installed base and refocusing efforts on high-value prospects and customers using ABM techniques. In large part this move stems from a desire to improve the Customer Experience (CX). We will see how this posture scales to other marketing initiatives. ABM is foundational to MarketOne’s methodologies and it will be interesting to see whether Sales organizations will begin approaching outsourced vendors for best practice ABM support.

We also heard that there is intense focus on measurement; especially as it relates to quickly reporting and acting on conversions throughout the funnel and sales pipeline.

The need for rapid change, coupled with a heightened intensity on measuring tactics, has had two primary effects. First, marketers noted that they have never worked so hard in their lives. Second, they are rapidly deprioritizing activities now understood to be unnecessary. There’s a laser focus on a subset of activities that directly drives sales.

Importantly, companies who had started down the path of digital transformation prior to COVID are, if anything, accelerating those plans. Marketers who have been slow off the digital starting block are playing catch up. In the future, competitive advantage may very well be measured by the distance between these two groups.

Get the full report here, including our and TechTarget’s insights on what the future may hold.