What 2020 Taught Us About B2B Marketing and Sales

When the world shut down back in early 2020, everyone had an opinion about what the “new normal” for B2B sales and marketing would look like after we emerged from the global COVID-19 pandemic. How would months of budget uncertainty, disrupted lead pipelines, and virtual sales calls shape the way B2B sellers connect with customers?

Looking forward to 2021, it’s clear to me that the pandemic has only accelerated changes that needed to happen. B2B sellers have adapted to learn all they can about their prospects’ needs and aspirations, and use that knowledge to forge relationships built on trust.

We’re more than just sellers. We’re partners. And that’s how it should be.

Four Key 2020 Lessons for B2B Marketing and Sales

As your own business finds its “new normal” in the coming months, here are four key lessons from 2020 I think every B2B seller needs to embrace and make part of their culture.

1. You don’t have time or money to waste on best guesses

Even before the uncertainty of the past year, B2B marketers were looking for ways to focus their budgets on prospects who were legitimately in-market for their products and services.

We here at True Influence helped innovate the intent signal monitoring category more than a decade ago to address this critical need. Since then, we’ve continued refining our Relevance Engine and Identity Graph technologies to pinpoint accounts and individuals actually researching purchases.

With intent data, you can identify peaks of interest in your products or categories across markets. Part of our response to the pandemic was to publish intent trends on various market segments, and the feedback we received was tremendous – sometimes knowing when not to market is the most powerful knowledge.

By integrating intent data across your martech stack, you can allocate resources to the campaigns and tactics that prove to be working. For example, intent-driven programmatic display is a powerful tool for high-funnel account discovery. Closely monitoring intent levels at engaged accounts lets you know the best time to get sales on the line. Bursts of research activity by previously non-targeted individuals at an account can point to hidden buying group members. Intent sharpens every activity in your revenue operations.

2. Add value at every step of your prospect’s journey

Marketers have understood the promise of personalization for decades now, but in execution, it’s seldom meant more than dropping a name field in an email. It’s all about adding value. 

With intent and a clear understanding of buying group roles, marketers can finally provide useful, actionable content to prospects to support their role in decision making. A C-level ratifier actively researching your category is probably ready for a ROI / TCO pitch; a line-of-business manager likely wants a feature comparison.

Executing this level of personalization value requires both intent data and contact records to enrich your lists with all the job roles likely to be involved in the buy decision. We at True Influence provide this intent intelligence, both within our True Influence Marketing Cloud™ and as data feeds.

This level of personalization and relevant value also requires a little homework by your team to truly understand the buying dynamics of your best customers. But I believe it’s worth it.

3. Be honest and even a little vulnerable

With the huge disruption in daily routines, the pandemic forced B2B sales in particular to reevaluate what a “business call” looks like. You simply can’t hop on a Zoom with a prospect and act like everything’s normal – it’s not, and everybody knows it.

I said early in the pandemic disruption, and I still believe that a little less polish in a presentation helps build a sense of personal connection and trust with the prospect. Sure, you’re trying to make a sale, but you can afford to wear an open collar or honestly answer a question about how your business is doing.

This kind of openness is the key to building long-term relationships, which is what B2B has always been about.

4. Take care of your people

I still believe that our 90-day pledge to not lay off any employees at the start of pandemic was among the best business decisions I’ve ever made. It instilled confidence in our team and helped us focus on the work at hand.

Granted, we never faced the economic pressures that some other companies did – 2020 has been a growth year for us. We’re in the right business. But showing our team that we know they are the single-most important ingredient to our success was essential to weathering the pandemic storm.

And we’re going to continue that investment in our team in the coming year. We’ve implemented an online learning platform for our employees, and we continue to have regular communiques about stress management and personal well-being.

If you’re not making this kind of commitment to your people, you need to.

Business should never be the same again

Like everything else, B2B sales and marketing is in a constant evolution. The world changes; we adapt, and the lessons we learn shape how we move forward.

Very few of us are going to look back on 2020 fondly, but it did teach us to be smarter, more efficient and genuine, in our relationships with both our customers and team members. And those are values we need to carry forward.

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