Driving Demand in a Pandemic: What’s Changed and What Stays

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Overview: Driving Demand in a Pandemic: What’s Changed and What Stays by Clark Newby for RevTech Summit 2021.

About the speaker: Software marketing and alliances veteran with 25+ years of proven success creating categories, opening emerging markets, driving to market leadership and delivering great outcomes for customers and investors. The result has been 6 successful acquisitions and an IPO. More than a decade of experience marketing Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Cloud solutions. Outstanding leadership skills with the ability to inspire and lead teams through rapid growth. Systematic and disciplined in building operational strategies and executing integrated marketing plans. Excellent communication skills; experienced company and industry spokesperson.

Hi, my name is Clark Newby. And I’m really pleased to be part of the RevTech Summit today. And in particular, I’m excited to talk with you about the impact COVID-19 is having on our sales and marketing practices, and how to harness those changes to our advantage in communicating and delivering value to our prospects and our future customers. 

I spent a couple of decades creating categories, opening emerging markets, driving to market leadership, and delivering outcomes for customers and partners. Most of that time, I was the top Marketing Officer at software leaders like the ones you see here. Since the sale of Intact to Sage three years ago, I’ve been advising and consulting with investors, CEOs and their teams, high growth technology companies on go to market strategy and execution. 

Most recently, that’s been with the team at Castlight Health. So if what I have to say today resonates with you, and you’d like to discuss it further, you can always reach me at Clark@jcnadvisory.com. So no conversation about selling in 2021 or just living in 2021 can be had without this guy hovering over it. Clearly Coronavirus has up ended everything we took for granted in our day to day lives. Where we work, where we socialize, where kids go to school, the fact that those are all now the same place. 

Sadly, families are shattered. It’s savage businesses, especially small businesses. The longest period of economic expansion in US history over 10 years has ended. So hopefully looking at these numbers, we’re beginning to find our way out of this health crisis that has changed so much in our lives. But the real question is what is changed that won’t unchanged? And what stays with us? And what do we do with it.  

For the purposes of our discussion today, we’re going to focus on the impact that COVID has had on our lives as marketeers and salespeople. COVID has accelerated and deepened existing evolutions in the way we interact socially, the underlying technologies we use. And so of course, it’s changed the way that we sell. These are trends we’ve been both nurturing and grappling with for years, even decades. But now they’ve really been thrust upon us. 

A great example of this is how we’re meeting today, using video conferencing software from our own homes, at least I’m in my own home. Early in the pandemic sheltering in place here in Northern California, I decided to be a good idea to try to clean out some closets. When I did, I found an old copy of the MIT Sloan Management Review, dated January of 2000. An article on the cover caught my eye. In it I read, “despite considerable research, many managers remain ambivalent about introducing telecommuting as a business strategy.” 

I found that pretty ironic to be reading, sitting in my home where I was doing all my business these days. But this technology existed, even then, admittedly, without the bandwidth we enjoy today. But that wasn’t the only issue blocking adoption. Socially, it was just giving up too much. Lack of face to face meetings and productivity concerns held people back. And people hate to change. But guess what? 

We got over it. It took 20 years and a pandemic. But we were pushed through the decision gates evaluations transformations. That we would have taken much more slowly left our own devices. But it turns out it actually works. Folks meeting just on Zoom, have grown 30 x over the 16 months shown in this chart. So we’ve been accelerated into this new world that’s clear. But how has this change world changed us? And more importantly for us today, how’s it changed our customers and future customers? 

Well, I think this is how. Do not adjust your set. Don’t you feel like this? Out of focus? I don’t seem to have a fraction of the attention span I had a year ago. Projects seem to blur into one another days blend together. I seem to be working at all hours. Work life balance has become a work life blender. Well this is how our future customers feel too. To survive and thrive as we ride out this pandemic we need to more than ever put ourselves in their shoes.

What I’ve seen in working with companies in the last year is that COVID has made focus an existential business requirement. They’ve had to slash forecasts, shrink budgets, reprioritize their plans from their mission statement on down. To earn their time, much less their trust, you need to live in this reality when talking to them. Their thinking and execution has been transformed at the strategic, planning, and operational levels. So let’s take strategic first. 

I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with and learn from Geoffrey Moore, the guru of bringing disruptive innovations to market 30 years ago, he wrote a book called Crossing the Chasm, and define the technology adoption lifecycle that all technology marketers and salespeople apply today, whether they know it or not. Around the same time, he also defined the concept of dividing business activities into core and context. Core, anything you’re doing that’s core is creating differentiation to win customers and build the business context. Everything else. 

Like all of us, the companies I’ve been working with have had to completely replan 2020, and are just now peeking out of their groundhog hole to see how much winter they think is left. If it isn’t core to their survival. Their competitive advantage or regulatory compliance. Covid hit the snooze button. It’s survival instincts time. Any incremental investment is core only. They’re looking for consolidation or savings opportunities in context. But everything else is on pause, everything. 

So that trickles down. Next is planning. At the planning level companies are struggling with much more uncertainty. We modeled more scenarios. But all these kind of exploratory investigative projects that have been promulgated through our long economic expansion, having a slush fund to try out new tech, I’ll try a couple new tools, see how they work. The hurricane has washed all of this away. This pandemic. There’s just fewer projects. So fewer opportunities to engage in order to communicate and validate the value that we can provide. 

Finally, at a departmental operational level, folks just have less time and less structured time. That means we have less opportunity to get consideration cycles with our prospects. They just don’t have much time for this stuff. When they do that Lieutenant that would normally have a look at this stuff. Has got to watch their kid from two to five in the afternoon. Or they have ineffective home Wi Fi so they can’t get on the zoom call. You’ve seen these things. They can barely get their job done. Much less think creatively about how to take on new solutions. In fact, a recent McKinsey survey finds that 50% of b2b buyers are holding off on purchases due to the pandemic.

So how are we supposed to deal with all this and push through to make our business happen? Well, the 50% are holding off, that means that half of our market is still in market, even in a global pandemic. They recognize an opportunity. Like Christopher Lochhead, my former CMO at Mercury calls a jump ball market. The whole frame of reference of how people work, consume, collaborate and deliver has been altered. The whole framework needs to be re-evaluated. In incumbency means less than it has in over a decade. 

The market, particularly for business technology, is up for grabs. And historically, some of the highest performance companies emerge out of a recession by making shrewd investments while their competitors are frozen in the headlights. So we need to get that 50% engaged. And I want to share four ideas of how. 

First, it’s more critical than ever to understand your prospects mission, and the value you can add to it. Or you’ll never even get a shot in this economy. The market washed away all the exploratory investigative stuff. Only their mission, their fiscal health and growth drivers remain. 

You need to look at your prospects. And look who is altering their mission for this pandemic. And at this time, and are they moving on it? What are they saying to the market to communicate that? Also, one of the biggest leading indicators of recovery in any industry is how an organization’s customers are doing. If their customers are doing business with them, then they’re in market to do business with us. Finally, many industries have a fairly specific buying calendar or rhythm To the seasons of their market. 

How has the pandemic affected those? So you sales intelligence tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, or inside view, or whatever is built into your CRM system to dig into their company, their networks and their market messages and use solutions like Bombora or 6Sense to help determine what they are actually interacting with what content online are they consuming? And how engaged are they in learning about new solutions? Now, you probably know these solutions, and you may be using them today. But as Eric Clapton would tell you, it’s in the way that you use it. At this point in the market, this midst of this transformation, focus these resources on understanding your prospects at the most strategic level, their mission. 

Pitch like you’re selling to the CFO, because you probably are. analysis from chorus research reveals that buying side CFOs have joined 92% more meetings since the onset of COVID-19. More than ever, review your campaigns, your sales assets, and presentations to make sure you’re communicating business value, not just awesome capabilities. 

Next, help them help you meet them where they are working at home and living on zoom. And the other platforms that you see here has catalyzed a lot of creativity here. You’re going to be online, so act like it. Think about how your conversations and processes change in an online versus a face to face engagement. What are the new channels that buyers may not have considered before that you can activate? Or what are existing channels that you can tweak? Podcasts are a great example here. 

The MARU matchbox survey conducted in July shows since the coronavirus pandemic hit 41% of weekly podcast listeners report they are spending more time listening to on demand audio content. That’s four times more than the 7%. That said, they’re listening less. Podcasts have grabbed another gear in this pandemic. Also, work is getting done at all hours around the edges of homeschooling and parenting. If you’re not a parent, you’re probably working with several. Make sure you can support this timeshifted world that we’re living in. 

Finally, build in interactivity. A conversation with your prospect isn’t a conversation if you’re the only one talking. This mindset is what our hosts of ChatFunnels are all about, right. So embrace the opportunity to use these online platforms to have the kind of conversations you used to have face to face. A pandemic has opened up a host of new ways our prospects are willing to hear from us. So get involved, their. 

Finally get out of their way. Find the right channels and touchpoints to facilitate their self driven education consideration. The pandemic has turned the market upside down. And the stakes are so high at most of these companies, and makes sharing customer success stories more important than ever to give prospects the confidence they need to progress through the buying cycle. That same core research study that I mentioned before reports a 31% increase in days between first and last call since Q2 of 2020. Sales cycles obviously are extending, we need to help carry prospects through that extended process.

And just because you’re doing this at volume digitally in a pretty automated way, don’t forget that the content stories and examples still must have the ring of authenticity and applicability. If you can get your happy customers record even a brief video testimonial you can share. Let your prospect look him in the eye virtually until they can meet face to face. 

One thing I’m a big believer in that I don’t see companies using as often as I think they should are product review sites. The old world of companies scratching out big checks to analysts firms to advise them on what software to buy. After all, the software vendors have also written checks to the analysts. All of that is long gone. People like G2, founded by our keynote speaker Godard Abel, has disintermediated the data. 

Also TrustRadius and Capterra are other solutions here. Sites like this were a huge contributor to our success at Intact, our ability to establish ourselves as the customer satisfaction leader and getting out from in between our prospects and them hearing great things from our customers were critical. In this era of fake news, everyone has developed a heightened bullshit detector. They want to hear straight from the people using your product. 

All data is not created equal. They want to get it from the horse’s mouth. If they want to learn about your company culture, for example, they’re going to go to Glassdoor. So make sure you want them to see what they find when they get there. Our SDR teams do discovery calls poking around trying to find pain. Well, the prospect knows their pain, okay. 

At least they’re presenting pain. I like what Ahmed M is trying to do. If you give your prospects a library for them to find answers to their questions, that’s easily navigable. And they can do it in their context, because they’re bringing their pain with them. You can get to much more meaningful conversations with them quicker. So let them choose their own buyer’s journey, their way that they need to digest it on the schedule they can make, to guide them through the education, consideration, and evaluation stages we all need to go through. 

So here we are. Hopefully, the clouds of COVID are clearing. I think there is a new dawn. A new dawn. I’m an optimist. I hope these insights, realigning the prospect’s mission, pitch like you’re selling to the CFO, meet them where they are and get out of the way. We’ll give you some good ideas to fuel your thinking for 2021. Hopefully, this has been a useful investment of time for you, thinking about what the pandemic has changed and how we can harness accelerated social and technological trends to better communicate, and ultimately deliver value to our future customers. 

Thanks for your time and attention, and if you’d like to continue this discussion, you can reach me at these coordinates. Best of luck to you as we plunge into 2021. And I hope you have a great time and learn a lot at the RevTech Summit. Bye.