Between numerous 1:1 calls, two virtual CMO breakfasts and our new Friday morning CMO Coffee Talk series, I heard countless B2B marketing leaders share and work through, in real time, their late Q1 challenges and pivots heading into the headwinds of this spring’s business and selling environment.

What I did NOT hear was panic.  Concern, sure, but also a quiet confidence that we’ll get through this, that we’ll be able to work together to find the right path and strategy to the other side.

A good friend shared with me early in the week his letter to clients.  I think we’ve all received way too many “what we’re doing about coronavirus” emails lately, but his stood out for its practical message.

I’m paraphrasing, but here’s what he said:

Over the past few years we’ve been like a race car on a straightaway – accelerating and speeding forward as fast as possible.  Not we’ve hit a curve in the track – a big one.  We must slow down, control our steering and speed, but continue moving forward so that we don’t crash.

At some point, that curve will turn into a straightaway again.  So our job right now is two-fold: One, we must thoughtfully and strategically get through the curve.  But as every world-class race car driver knows, you also must accelerate through the end of the curve to maximize position, speed and success into the next straightaway.

I have no idea how long this curve will be.  But the specific challenges, thought process and general mindset of B2B CMOs I talked to this week tells me that they’re thinking about both the curve and, eventually, that next straightaway.

A few other things B2B marketing leaders were talking about this week:

  • Pivoting to virtual events: Not a choice really if you want to still gather groups of people together, but the more tactical discussions were around format, what to charge (if anything), how to drive interactivity, and how precisely to understand and replace the true value attendees, sponsors, speakers and producers were seeking in the first place.
  • Making your virtual events stand out: As a B2B industry we are about to shatter the all-time record for webinars in Q2.  Everyone will be doing them, and very quickly (if it hasn’t happened already) your prospects will start to ignore them and have a very, very difficult time separating the signal from the noise.  What will make your online events different? Special? Unique? Mandatory viewing?
  • Redeploying Q2 budget vs reducing spend: I was surprised at how few marketing leaders I talked to this week were not being asked to reduce spend.  Most were looking at redeployment to other focus areas.  In our two virtual CMO breakfasts last week we did a flash poll to ask where money from field events and trade shows was being diverted to.   In priority order the answer was 1) account-based marketing (ABM), 2) sales enablement, and 3) thought leadership.
  • Improving internal processes: Many marketing leaders see this time as an opportunity to dramatically improve how sales and marketing work together, improve the consistency and predictability of how leads and opportunities are managed through their systems, as well as commit to non-lead systems (sales enablement, sales engagement, account engagement, intent signals and more) that can drive long-term efficiencies and cost effectiveness from marketing programs.
  • Selling with empathy vs hitting March/Q1 numbers: LOTS of talk around how to present externally in this moment.  Sales leaders still want to hit their March and Q1 sales goals.  But if we push prospects too hard, if we come across as tone-deaf to the world around us, are those prospects any more likely to buy – and do we end up doing long-term reputation damage that will hinder sales in Q2 and beyond?
  • Internal communication effectiveness: More than one marketing leader complained about “Slack Whack-a-Mole”, meaning now that everyone is working remotely we’re treating Slack as an instant chat tool.  Creating some rules around communication channels, response times and periods of “deep work” focus were on everyone’s minds.   It’s impossible not to be distracted by the news right now, making it even more important for leaders to help their teams create habits, discipline and an environment to focus on production when needed.

The variables around us are changing rapidly, and I expect this list will look different even just seven short days from now.

Finally, if you’re a marketing leader in your organization I’d like to invite you to our CMO Coffee Talk series.  We’ve opened up a new drop-in interactive Zoom meeting Fridays at 8:00 am Eastern and another at 8:00 am Pacific.

Think of it as coffee with CMOs – you can participate actively or simply watch and read what others are thinking.  Even though we pulled it together in less than 48 hours, we had more than 25 participants in the first Coffee Talks this past Friday morning.

The theme will generally be around how everyone is adapting to the new (hopefully temporary) reality – adjusting marketing plans, managing teams, communicating to customers, etc. We’ll keep it going weekly at least through April.  Email me if you want an invite.