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How B2B Marketers Should Think About Uncertainty

It wasn’t long ago when everything seemed manageable. We B2B marketers had our plans all worked out. We knew exactly what tactics we were going to use and even had an idea of how many leads they would bring in. That was less than two months ago, although it seemed a world away.

Since then, everything has gone sideways. All in-person events have been canceled, from B2B conferences to trade shows to you name it. If you do somehow scrounge up a genuine lead, your face-to-face salesforce cannot go on site to glad-hand the potential new customer. 

Worse, even as some areas start to think about a relaxation of shelter-in-place (maybe the “casual Fridays” version of it), a real question remains: Will people come out to play? If a sales conference was held, would you go? More importantly, would your customers go? Would your customers welcome an on-site visit from your salesperson? Are your customers even going to return to the office anytime soon? Or will people deem the risk to be too great and continue to shelter even when it isn’t required

There were a lot of questions in that last paragraph–and no answers. That’s the definition of uncertainty

No one likes uncertainty. But the truth is that we are likely to be living in uncertainty for a very long time. Months. Maybe even longer. 

So, while we all want to wait this out to be certain that our decisions are based on solid facts, that’s a pipe dream. You can’t remain in suspended animation waiting for certainty. (Even if you are willing to do so, can you be sure that your competitors will, too?)

So, what can you do instead? How can you make decisions with the ground shifting under you with every step?

It reminds me of something Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said:

I very frequently get the question: “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?” And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection.

It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher.” “I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.” Impossible.

And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

This concept is even more important now. Because it isn’t about what will change in 10 years–more like 10 minutes. What would happen if we focused on the things that will not change?

  • Customers will have problems that need to be solved.
  • We need to reach those customers.
  • We need to drive leads to the sales force whether we have trade shows or not.
  • We need to close deals whether our sales people can visit or not.
  • When we can’t connect with people in person, we can connect digitally.

What are the things that you can be doing now? How do you pivot to digital? How do you pivot hard? Because everything you do in digital will still be a good idea when and if we return to what once was normal. Digital is the only game in town now, but it will still be a really important game no matter what happens. Will you take advantage of this tragic crisis not just to survive but to improve?

Ask yourself what you can be doing right now despite the uncertainty:

  • Can you add deeper content to your website?
  • Can you beef up your email list?
  • Can you shift to webinars instead of in-person events?
  • Can you post videos or slides instead of live events?
  • Can you shift your B2B sales funnel to digital?
  • Can you attempt a digital transformation for sales?
  • Can you increase your use of data-based decision making?
  • Can you finally fix your site search?
  • Can you recommend related content?

What should you be working on that makes sense now, but will also make sense in the future, no matter what happens? What can you be certain will remain a good idea? Whatever the future of B2B sales and marketing, that’s how to move forward confidently in a world with no answers.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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