10 Ideas for Activating B2B Demand Generation During COVID-19

By Brian Giese, CEO True Influence

If you search on “how to do demand generation in COVID-19,” you get almost 11 million results. If you’re a B2B marketer, you’re probably looking for answers, too. At some point, businesses need to reactivate demand generation for revenue, but as we all know, that’s new territory. What does a B2B marketer do when your company starts coming out of one of the most impactful things to ever happen to humanity?

Here are some suggestions for setting a new course, the “next normal” as some call it. These may not be best practices yet, but they’re the best guidance we’ve got for the moment. I hope you’ll find them useful.

#1 – Have a short-term marketing plan

There’s no precedent for what we’re going through, and we may feel like we’re making it up as we go along. But as marketers, we can fall back on the trusty marketing plan to give structure and purpose to our efforts. Develop a plan for the next few months based on what information is available about your markets now.

#2 – Go for facts, not predictions

Marketing plans start with the customer and their challenges relevant to what you can solve. Today the conversation begins with what’s going on in their marketplace? In terms of their search behavior, are your prospects still focused on the same topics as they were prior to Spring 2020? Likely not, so what does that mean for your plan?

To be effective, even a short-term marketing plan has to be grounded in truth, and intent data is that proof. It’s not predictive; it’s about what has actually happened since the pandemic hit, and everything changed. We’re seeing new trends in some intent signals, and that’s important for demand generation during COVID-19. As serious intent marketers already know, even now you can use intent data to find out what’s going on in a market, right down to the account, buying groups and individuals.

#3 – Let intent answer your questions

You may need to refocus your efforts if your customers aren’t in the same place. The good thing is, intent data answers the questions of who’s really active and what are they looking at. Intent helps B2B marketers see where their audiences are, who’s spiking and who’s dormant, even now. If you know what to ask, intent can tell you where markets, companies and buyers are focusing their attention, so you’ll know where to focus yours for the next few months.

#4 – Turn signals into strategy

Some markets have effectively paused, while others are still active. We’ve been running reports for selected topics like demand generation, collaboration software and network tools, and not surprisingly, the intent signals are spiking. The thing is, this type of research can be spun up for almost any industry and thousands of topics.

However, even if you know who’s active, it’s still not business as usual after that. Data is only the starting point. To be useful, data must be activated to turn those signals into strategy. Enterprise B2B demand generation teams often work with intent professionals to quickly set up intent management that brings in intent across the funnel, not just as top-level signal data.

#5 – Invest time to understand intent value

As B2B marketers carry on during COVID-19, intent remains a valuable, accessible resource that helps you recast and pivot as needed. Intent data is factual and gives realistic starting points for engagement based on true market behavior, both from individual contacts and within the context of buying groups.

Invest time in understanding intent’s value as it relates to your business and the marketing problems you’re wrestling with today. Begin with some trial data reports. They bring a tighter lens to particular topics like collaboration software, demand generation or some other market.

#6 – Recommendations for messaging and pace

In terms of messaging to prospects, think about the reason you’re connecting. What about their intent signal is relevant to your solution? Put effort into prioritizing content that addresses emerging needs. It’s really that simple. Above all, don’t try to drive aggressive marketing content into that spiking space now; it could damage your reputation and your brand. Some other communication cautions: use suitable language and tone for the situation. When in doubt, go slow. And if you haven’t been actively engaging with some audiences before, COVID-19 isn’t like a really good reason to start. It can come across as disingenuous and opportunistic.

#7 – Prioritize your best customers

What we see suggests that companies should focus predominantly on your closest customers, those who have consistently engaged with you over time. Your reputation and responsiveness around that group will be significantly better than with those who haven’t ever engaged much. Focus on that particular segment and prioritize it over your least engaged customers. Table the disengaged audience for now.

#8 – Be sure there’s no market activity before you back off

A number of industries have paused demand generation, or they’re backing off campaign execution and delivery. That’s wise if your particular segment has truly gone dormant, but check to see if there’s any activity in some spaces. Unless you know for sure, you could miss opportunities to connect with buyers still searching for what you offer. Note that there are markets where common sense — and sometimes the law — says it’s inappropriate to engage in certain demand generation right now. States like New York and Louisiana don’t allow calling during emergencies like this. It depends on the state.

#9 – What’s best practice around email?

One of the frequent questions we get is what’s best practice advice around email during COVID-19? It’s hard to say what best practice is when there’s no precedent to go by. Obviously, we’ve never faced anything like this in our personal lives, much less our professional ones. Still, guidance is to be found, and it’s in the data. Respond to people searching around topics relevant to you. Respond with sincerity without jumping into the hard sell. The situation still calls for decorum, moderation and respect in B2B communications.

Timing is definitely something to keep in mind as we begin to execute towards the “next normal.” We’re advising companies to go slow when you come back into the marketplace. Don’t turn email on to the same level you had before, but gradually ramp back up, so receivers are more responsive going forward.

I can’t tell you that retail-focused campaigns are going to work on May 1, but if you’re focused on industries and verticals that are acting as if it’s business as usual, I see no reason not to continue talking in those spaces. (These even include healthcare as long as you take out hospitals and medical centers, which won’t be viable targets for a while.) Many verticals are signaling as valid territories for now, so there are places to target. There aren’t any absolutes, but some markets and channels are holding steady with no further erosion, and there’s been a bit of a bounce back in response rates.

#10 – Have patience

We may not ever go back to normal, but we will go back to business. Nothing is going to change immediately, whether we pause a campaign or continue it, but over time, it will bear out that B2B marketers need intent data on a regular basis, not just for loading up CRM, but for strategy. With patience and understanding, we can support customers appropriately during their journeys back to a more familiar existence.

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