How to Create a Flexible B2B Marketing Plan for 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected markets and society in a profound way. Uncertainty, once a transient occurrence affecting pockets of the globe, is now a fact of life across the planet.
While adept at facing market risks and shocks like economic downturns and digitization, marketing leaders now face unprecedented uncertainty with no playbook for reference.
As it becomes apparent that things might not go back to normal, it is critical to start adjusting to what Deloitte calls the “next normal.”
42% of marketers mentioned that their marketing teams lacked the bandwidth to adapt to shifting priorities quickly.
In a post-COVID market landscape, marketers will need to turn to flexibility to remain relevant, competitive, and agile. Instead of just trying to beat the competition, marketers will need to look within and investigate how they can evolve their marketing strategies to survive and thrive in an unpredictable marketplace.
This article offers some first steps to undertaking this evolution, starting with what a flexible B2B marketing plan is and why marketers need one in the first place.
What is a Flexible B2B Marketing Plan, and Why Do You Need One?
In the current VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, a lot can change week by week—let alone months or years. For marketers, this means being able to identify changes, course-correct, and respond quickly.
For instance, as B2B customers spend more time doing research online before making a purchase (and less time attending trade events), B2B marketers must quickly embrace more online-oriented B2B marketing strategies.
Fixed B2B Marketing Plan vs. Flexible B2B Marketing Plan
A fixed B2B marketing plan embraces a legacy account-based marketing (ABM) approach, locking in strategies and creating barriers to rapid change. For example, B2Bs will brainstorm and lay down a set of strategies for a financial year, propose a budget, and, once approved,
Meanwhile, a flexible B2B digital marketing plan anticipates the need for adaptability and agility and bakes these components into the overall marketing approach. In such instances, a marketing leader is not locked into a rigid framework that prevents them from acting. Instead, the plan encourages and supports change because of the underlying acknowledgment that flexibility and agility are critical for survival and success.
With that in mind, here’s a quick round-up of all the reasons why you need a flexible B2B marketing plan:
- Supports the incorporation of running data into the core marketing plan.
- Enables quick tactical pivots that take into consideration emerging insights from collected data.
- Empowers informed responses to agile competitors who might be leveraging new technologies or market trends to capture more market share.
- Assists in generating better B2B sales ROI through fluid strategies that take advantage of emerging opportunities.
- Ensures marketing strategies stay relevant as market conditions change and current strategies lose momentum.
Discover How You Can Create a Flexible B2B Plan For Your Business!
How to Create a Flexible B2B Marketing Plan
Creating a flexible B2B marketing plan does not always mean throwing out the existing plan and creating a new marketing plan. A better approach is reengineering your current program and optimizing it for better flexibility using the following pointers.
View your plan as a road map
When considered as a road map, a B2B digital marketing plan becomes a set of variable routes leading to the same destination.
Since most (fixed) B2B marketing plans are linear, they lack the flexibility to allow different paths to a common destination (attracting potential customers). When a roadblock appears, such plans throw more resources at the problem instead of changing course and finding a way around the obstacle.
By building in flexibility into your B2B marketing plan, you’ll see every obstacle as an opportunity to think creatively, optimize resource use, and reduce the resources and time needed to capture qualified leads (shortcuts do save time, after all).
Monitor performance regularly
Performance monitoring is crucial to eliminating wasteful marketing strategies and ineffective marketing channels. However, most B2Bs wait too long to evaluate their marketing plan metrics, with many conducting quarterly, bi-annual, and annual reviews.
Although these timeframes are great for doing a deep dive into the plan, more frequent reviews are necessary on shorter timeframes (bi-weekly or monthly). However, it’s important to note that monitoring for the sake of monitoring won’t make the plan more effective.
For that, you need to add another component to your B2B marketing plan: the ability to pivot frequently.
Get used to pivoting — a lot
The pandemic hit the conferencing and trade show industry hard, forcing many B2B businesses to rethink how they do B2B marketing.
While some adopted a wait-it-out stance, winning companies saw it as an opportunity to pivot to a more adapted marketing approach, like organizing online conferences and webinars and publishing thought leadership articles and podcasts, white papers, infographics, and case studies.
By accepting that the situation had changed and there was the need to adapt, businesses that took this step maintained most of the marketing momentum they had pre-pandemic.
The lesson here is to ensure there are pivoting mechanisms built into your B2B marketing plan so that when the winds change, you can quickly realign your sails to keep moving.
Prepare for the unexpected
One thing the pandemic has shown is that rapid market change at a global scale is possible.
One minute, B2B marketing execs were planning in-person brand awareness marketing events, and the next moment everything was getting pushed online. B2Bs with flexible marketing plans quickly seized the opportunity and deployed virtual events.
By preparing for the unexpected and catering to this uncertainty in your marketing plan, you can be among the first to take advantage of sudden market changes.
Here are some other unexpected events your B2B digital marketing plan should anticipate:
- New, unplanned competitive activity
- Evolving target audience attitudes and behaviors (like the use of mobile devices by B2B business owners for market research)
- Marketplace fluctuations (organic and influenced)
- Marketplace transformations (like the shift to marketing automation tools, like a CRM, for customer follow-up)
Understand how you add value
For most businesses, the definition of value is captured in the products they sell and a closely related value proposition statement. However, the pandemic revealed that customers, including B2B buyers, are looking for brands with values like sustainability, social responsibility, trust, and human-centricity.
By understanding this deeper value and aligning marketing efforts—like PPC, SEO (search engine optimization), content marketing, and email marketing—accordingly, B2B marketers can better respond to customer needs as they evolve. Tying a digital marketing plan to this underlying value allows flexibility to adapt to changing customer needs, while remaining focused on delivering strong lead generation.
Stay on top of emerging trends
Social media selling on LinkedIn and inbound marketing are major B2B marketing trends that emerged from the pandemic. As part of a flexible B2B marketing plan, identifying, analyzing, and capitalizing on such trends should be prioritized.
Although not all trends should lead to radical changes to your marketing plan and marketing programs, provisions must be made to test selected trends through small experiments to determine which will have the highest impact on marketing outcomes.
For instance, by assigning nominal resources toward running social selling experiments on LinkedIn, B2B companies can gather data that supports whether this approach would work for their brand.
Make decisions quickly
Under normal circumstances, B2B marketers have the luxury of taking time to make decisions regarding marketing campaigns. In a post-pandemic world, marketing leaders will need to learn how to make decisions quickly.
Does this mean making snap decisions? No.
It means making decisions surrounding marketing tactics based on the data at hand and having the flexibility to adjust those decisions as new data emerges.
A flexible B2B marketing plan must accommodate quick decision-making while still ensuring all messaging and decisions are data-driven and focus on the customer experience.
Create an agile and adaptive marketing culture
Most B2B marketing departments struggle with a legacy marketing culture with an approach that boils down to: “This is how we’ve always done it.” In a fluid and uncertain marketplace, a culture of rigidity is a significant threat to overall business success.
For B2B marketers creating a flexible marketing plan, putting flexibility down on paper is not enough. They must embrace an agile and adaptive marketing culture that is always open to new data, new perspectives, and new insights that challenge the status quo.
B2B marketing decision-makers must also learn to lead from the front by adopting a willingness to accept, and even champion, flexibility to change, even if it flies in the face of established practices.
“Predictions are difficult, especially about the future,” remarked Yogi Berra. This statement summarizes the need for flexibility, especially in marketing planning.
As the world reels from the effects of the pandemic, flexibility will be a critical factor in ensuring that huge changes in how our world works do not break your marketing plan.
Incorporating the insights above into your B2B marketing plan and digital marketing strategy will help you avoid the mistakes so many marketers are making today while waiting for things to get back to normal, so they can keep doing what they have been doing.
By all indications, the world is heading for a new normal. Businesses that are flexible enough to adapt and transform will survive and thrive to become the new market leaders of a brave new world.
How O8 Can Help
Are you wondering where to start in transforming your marketing plan into a flexible B2B marketing plan that delivers results in a post-COVID marketplace? We can help.
Our post-COVID consultancy service addresses key strategies, including marketing plan transformation, remote work, cutting costs, and more that can lead your business to digital marketing success.
Contact us today to speak with a post-COVID strategy specialist.