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4 valuable lessons 2020 has taught us about ‘futureproofing’

30-second summary:

  • While the pandemic and economic downturn have proven fatal for many companies, some organizations have managed to not only survive but thrive. The difference between the two? The companies that have future-proofed their foundations to master unexpected challenges.
  • In order for companies to respond to unexpected external circumstances, they first need to make sure that teams are focused on everything. This includes cross-departmental playbooks, messaging and KPIs.
  • Future security also means thinking outside of your ROI. Not everything should be linear. Businesses should invest in areas that add to brand awareness and relationship building, even if the ROI is not immediate.
  • Future-proofing helps companies think beyond the importance of data collection. They identify potential markets and prepare their schema for shifts in segmentation so they can adjust as needed.
  • Companies will be one step ahead by hiring Swiss Army Knives and finding and developing talent to do more than one job so they can maximize their resources.

There’s no doubt about it – 2020 has thrown a curveball (or, more precisely, a bag of wrenches) into everyone’s plans. It is pointed out that companies must be able to make decisions quickly and keep their finger on the pulse of customer changes. Unfortunately, many did not pass this test. But even if you haven’t, it is still possible to protect your business against uncertainties that are sure to get back on track.

Whether you were moving to a different segment of customers or had to completely uproot and rework your messages to get a buying committee of ten instead of two, you need to understand how your foundation dictates your results.

To that end, this year we’ve gained some key fundamental insights into how you can successfully respond to changing market conditions:

1) Alignment is everything

We’ve been beating the drum of alignment for a long time – and we’re not going to stop anytime soon. Why? Because it works.

This year has only reinforced the fact that agile companies have to be aligned at the core if they want to react quickly to external circumstances. Future-proof businesses need to be aligned in the following ways:

Cross-departmental trust

When COVID-19 hit, companies immediately began creating new sales programs, especially those that had previously relied on outside sales. When there is trust between sales and marketing, marketing can step in efficiently and appropriately to scale those efforts. But if there are no such initiatives, they often come out half-heartedly. And trust has to go both ways.

Marketing also needs to have a relationship with the sales team and understand the movements they go through. The only way to gain trust is by following in the sales footsteps, calling prospects and customers, and understanding the buyer with the same depth that the sale provides.

After all, this “marketing in a vacuum” approach is why sales primarily distrust marketing. By increasing the Buyer IQ of Marketing, this critical relationship with sales is taken into account, as well as with better marketers. Only then can both teams adapt spontaneously to external events in a productive and meaningful way.

Marketing driven messaging

All too often companies are isolated. As a result, marketing does not establish a uniform organizational voice, which can have a negative effect, especially in times of upheaval.

Think of it this way … Perhaps during the first half of this year your marketing and sales teams were trying to monitor an initially reluctant buyer and help them navigate the waters of the pandemic effectively in an industry decimated by COVID.

But then, without you knowing, Billing sends a template email threatening to suspend the service due to a bill that’s just a few days late. Such deaf communication undermines relationships and makes your organization sound disorganized.

To avoid this, marketing should take control of the design of all messages used across the company. When this is not possible, clear guidelines must be provided and communication visibility established across teams to ensure that everyone is fully informed about conversations with customers.

Balance between leading and lagging indicators

Does your team have insight into which measurements are really driving your business? Can you see their direct impact on these key levers? If you focus mainly on superficial metrics, e.g. For example, how many attendees came to your webinar, do you have work to do.

Your job is to align everyone with performance indicators that are moving everyone in the right direction. Sure, we all need to track acquisitions, eyeballs, clicks, and all that, but our teams also need to have insight into lagging metrics. When change happens, everyone has to make a difference – so they have to know that their efforts are contributing to it.

The company’s net income is what everyone is tied to, but it should also be held by key metrics like bookings and campaign responses, as well as adhering to project schedules and whether a customer will buy again. This balance between leading and trailing indicators motivates everyone and is on the way to common goals.

2) Think outside of your ROI

Marketers have been conditioned to think linearly about ROI. However, if you steadfastly focus only on the channels that give you the strongest straight-line ROI, you can shoot yourself in the foot at major world events.

For example, consider the companies that all lay their eggs in the mess bucket because they have historically had the best returns. That worked well – until the global pandemic closed trade fairs.

They weren’t ready to switch to digital tactics, and many of them collapsed under the pressure. Those who survived took much longer to change strategies than necessary.

So remember to build your brand and invest in areas that either don’t have a direct ROI directly associated with them or that add to brand awareness and relationship building. You may have announced in the past few years that your buyers are not on Twitter or LinkedIn.

But guess what? You can bet they are now.

Time won’t be on your side when you suddenly realize you need to digitally build trust and you need to deserve it today. Invest in these channels even if they are not your predominant acquisition channels. Then when a disaster strikes and the world is turned upside down, you have the infrastructure to bring those areas up quickly.

The same applies to the content. If unexpected events occur, you don’t have time to create new content. In these times, focus now on building a solid content update engine, and put yourself in a position to easily update or repackage parts as needed, rather than struggling to create something entirely new.

We recommend investing the bulk of your spending in the two or three acquisition channels that work best for you, and then using some spending and infrastructure to support additional channels for an omnichannel approach.

If you already have a little oomph on a relatively unknown channel, there is no need to waste time building it from scratch, evaluating partners, getting creative, and incorporating the whole process when the proverbial crap hits the fan.

3) Your data should be the foundation

Of course, we wouldn’t be sure if we weren’t talking about data. Many companies had to get new data this year when the new coronavirus forced them to make changes, and it only increased their response time. You should have access to data in all markets that you could possibly market to. Capture these data signals and keep them clean.

Also, think about your data when segmenting. Your data shouldn’t be hard-coded just because you’ve had success with clients in one or two industries in the past. Your data schema must be prepared to support more detailed shifts in segmentation. This allows you to quickly divide data in new ways and customize messaging accordingly.

We saw this in COVID in terms of company size, maturity, as well as the market and the buyers they served. Gathering this data is important and natural, but I’ll say it anyway. To do this, your data must be clean and accurate.

4) We all need specialists with interdisciplinary skills

Specialists are great and necessary. However, if your team is only made up of specialists, major changes will confuse you. They need core forces who understand all the disciplines and specializations in their environment.

They may be experts in product marketing, but when field marketing suddenly stops they know how to handle that and think beyond their specific discipline. You need a few power users who know where all the bodies are buried and who can put on multiple hats if necessary.

When hiring, remember to hire the human equivalent of Swiss Army knives. You should be able to do more than one job, and you should have a clear line of sight of who has what experience. Then when you come across a time when layoffs are required or departments are being cut, you can maximize the most important resources you want to keep.

Final thoughts

It’s safe to say that none of us could have predicted the events of this year, but some responded much more effectively than others.

But now that we’ve been able to identify the preparations that really make an impact in times of unpredictable change, we can learn from this and get better results by future-proofing our businesses for the next time we face disruptions of this magnitude instead of taking a vacation, stand fear and failure.

Justin Gray is a serial entrepreneur and CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue performance consulting firm that has implemented more than half of the Marketo user base. He has had a career building and scaling successful companies, with successful exits of over 200 million in the past decade. Over the past 10 years, Justin has become a powerful voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture.

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