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Strategies for Emerging from the Recession as a Market Leader

Based on my experience in two previous recessions, you may be walking a tight rope right now. On one hand you’re grateful to have a job and on the other, you’d throw it away for the chance to thrash some sense into the project managers and principals who have come unglued with anxiety and are pursuing every project opportunity that exists, especially the BIG ones, in the hopes of capturing more revenue at any cost. You’ve embraced doing more with less and increased your caffeine consumption. You’re surrounded by presumptive geniuses who authoritatively spew “You have to be in it to win it” while you plan another long night churning out a proposal that doesn’t have a chance of winning “just so the client gets to know us.” Alternatively, you may be contemplating a gruesome but gratifying corporeal punishment for the sorry soul who brings the next long-shot, hail Mary opportunity to your department. I feel your pain, and I urge you to stop a moment and breathe. Skip the prison sentence and be the voice of reason. (If you do opt for thrashing, call me. I will crowdsource bail and you will be a hero of sorts amongst marketers.)

Here’s the deal. Market leaders emerge from downturn economies, not from the boon times. The marketers who lead with spines of steel and get their companies laser focused on client satisfaction, buyer psychology, brand awareness, knowledge sharing, and changing market dynamics will be the ones who transform their companies into market leaders. Here are some opportunities to do just that.

Laser Focus on Customer Loyalty and Satisfaction

Now more than ever is the time to make your clients feel like they are the only client you have. For those of you who are focusing on some sort of client grading or classification system, now is the time to create true, meaningful, and actionable steps to take your B clients to A clients. The path of least resistance to generating revenue in a downturn, is extremely satisfied and happy clients. And, it’s a lot cheaper than acquiring new ones, somewhere between 5-25 times cheaper. Start planning how and whom to grow to the next level of client. Don’t ignore your C clients. There may be changes in the market that make them move to an A or B, but have frank and honest discussions. Have you been taking your A clients’ loyalty for granted or are you really delivering the level of service they deserve?

One of the first mistakes companies make in a recession is unintentionally eroding customer loyalty. Operational cost cutting measures, reduced capacity because of staff reductions, and less time to provide great service can produce unintended outcomes that erode customer loyalty and satisfaction. As the marketer, instead of colluding with anxiety-filled go-strategies that leave you feeling exhausted and hopeless, be the voice for implementing a multi-touch, consistent, and meaningful client loyalty program that is right for your business. Argue for the importance of measuring client loyalty through something as simple as a Net Promoter Score. Increase the frequency of client communication programs. For the business developers out there, make sure you are asking how clients are doing professionally and personally.

Understand How the Recession is Shaping and Changing Buyer Behavior and Psychology

Once you have a loyalty program developed, put thought into how the recession has impacted buying decisions. Are there new services that your company can provide to help your clients weather the challenging tides of this pandemic or a recession? There is an opportunity to really help clients in new ways and it will breed a deeper loyalty and value when handled properly and not opportunistically. At the onset of this pandemic, the professional services division where I work came up with several clever solutions to building access management and collaborated with traditional competitors to deliver tools quickly, and often at no charge, simply because it was the right thing to do and it would help our clients. Freely sharing your knowledge when people are in need breeds loyalty.

Psychology can never be underestimated when it comes to B2B buying decisions, and your company will be well served by talking to your customers and uncovering which of these categories they fall into. Are their companies shifting into a necessities-only, long-term investment, pragmatic postponement, or living-for-today mindset? This information should inform your marketing and business development strategies as well.

A study by IT Services Marketing Association showed that since COVID 19 hit the US, 88 percent of B2B executives said they’ve been going online to keep up with evolving industry and technology trends. Technology providers, professional services firms, and systems integrators tied as their leading places to find trusted content, cited by 35 percent of executives, who look to them for general information (33 percent) or as part of the purchasing process (35 percent). There’s a wealth of opportunity for marketers to spend more time creating content that generates leads and is helpful to existing and prospective clients and also positions your firm to come out as the leader.

Snap. Crackle. Pop. Time to Bring Awareness

This is exactly why now is not the time to divest in awareness, which is precisely what most companies do to save money. During the Great Depression, Post entered as the market leader and Kellogg’s came out of it as the market leader. Why? In large part because Post reduced its advertising budget, while Kelloggs doubled its budget—and subsequently grew profits by 30%. Out of site, out of mind and it shows. Don’t believe me, check out what Forbes has to say.

Now is the best time to invest in awareness campaigns and efforts, so that new prospects can find you and remember you when they are in a position to buy. Research by Google indicates that today’s B2B buyer makes an average of 12 searches online before even interacting with a vendor’s website, and further research by Accenture indicates that 57% of a buying decision is made before engaging with the company website. Consider a focused effort on search engine optimization, personalized content, and thought leadership.

Why now? Because there is less competition to stand out from the crowd. Take full advantage of the fact that most companies will stop advertising and limit paid promotional efforts. There will be fewer voices trying to be heard in the congested channels of boon time marketing. And it is a buyer’s market right now. So, negotiating with publications, content channels, and agencies will generate favored pricing.  

If You Want Your Company to Be the Market Leader, Marketing Has to Lead the Transformation

Taking calculating risks will require a steel spine to say to a principal that a losing proposal as a first impression has less of a chance of generating business than a consistent and thoughtful content strategy or an eye-catching awareness campaign. Arm yourself with the facts, evidence, and a solid understanding of what is driving the buyer’s journey and decision-making today. Stay focused on the buying appetites and emotions influencing your most loyal customers and those who will become your most loyal as a result of understanding what they need, when and how. Now is the time for your brand to snap, crackle, and pop. Now is the time for transformational marketing leadership. You CAN do this. (Or you can choose prison. No judgement. Every marketer has at least thought about it.)

Alethea O’Dell, FSMPS, CPSM
Brand Strategist, Northland Controls
Alethea wishes she were Dolly Parton or Beyonce. Instead she is the Chief Marketing Officer for Northland Controls. Prior to her work there, she was the Creative Director and Brand Strategist for Brazen Brands where she helped clients like Skanska, HOK, and Skyline Construction unwrap their differentiators, create engaging client and employee experiences, and grow business through strategic marketing initiatives. Her 20-year career is marked by more than 30 marketing communication awards and a solid sense of humor. She is the 2016 Lifetime Achievement award recipient from the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) San Francisco Chapter, the 2012 SMPS national chapter president of the year award recipient, and was named an SMPS Fellow in 2018 – a distinction for those who represent the highest level of experience (endurance) and leadership in professional services marketing.

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