• Many B2B organizations are struggling to know what to do with their program strategy due to the COVID-19 crisis
  • Before going forward, take a moment to pause and put yourself in your clients’ shoes
  • When delivered well, a crisis program can positively impact customer relationships and deliver long-term benefits for the organization

If you stop and think about programs that have truly galvanized people to act during a crisis there are few more iconic and imitated examples than the Lord Kitchener “Your Country Needs You” U.K. recruitment poster of the First World War. It was timely (coming in the heady early days of the war), targeted a well-defined and understood persona, was shared across a variety of channels (appearing on postcards, posters, and in the press), and had a call to action that was crystal clear. It also delivered results. In the month following its publication, there were just shy of half a million volunteers, a 50% increase from the preceding month and the highest monthly number enlisted during the entire conflict. 

As companies around the world struggle with the crises brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, here are four steps that B2B marketers should follow to pivot program strategy so it is on the right path:

Step 1: Pause and Take Stock

The fundamentals of creating an engaging program don’t change in a crisis. If anything, it’s more important than ever to be insight driven, which is why marketers must pause and take stock of the situation. Have your customers’ priorities changed? If so, your program and what you were planning on communicating may at best, be irrelevant, and at worst, horribly inappropriate and damaging to the brand. Talk to your organization’s account teams to gain insight into how priorities have changed for different segments of the target audience. Also, review past vs. present engagement metrics for current programs. Are there significant trends indicating changing priorities?

Step 2. Put Yourself in Clients’ Shoes

Once you understand how your clients’ priorities are changing, determine what you can do to support them in the short, medium and long term. Avoid opportunistically claiming that deploying your organization’s service/solution/app will help mitigate the impact of the crisis. At best, your clients will see this sort of program as contrived and crass. If there’s nothing you can do to help your clients with the immediate crisis, think longer term. At some stage, clients will start to consider the longer-term picture. What’s the likely impact on their business over the next six to 12 months? Ask yourself how you can help with those issues and focus on that when the time is appropriate.

Step 3. Get the Tone and Format Right

Striking the right tone is especially important during a crisis. “Sales-y” programs jar at the best of times but are even more inappropriate during a crisis. Focus on delivering programs that are helpful and empathetic. Content that offers well-considered guidance and best practices works well, as can humor, but be careful here. Formats such as short video and podcasts function well as long as they don’t come over as scripted and inauthentic. Blog posts are similarly quick and easy to develop. Email can be speedily deployed but is more impersonal and comes with the added caution to avoid blanket emailing everyone in your database with the same message. Longer formats such as a toolkit of useful assets can also work well.  

Step 4.  Be Clear on the Objective

At some stage of the buyers’ journey, gating content generally makes sense; however, in a crisis, reassess what you are looking to achieve with each program. Consider making useful content free to access and  direct customers to your “Contact Us” form if they seek additional advice.

Reassess your program objectives and metrics; unless the organization offers a product that helps your clients navigate the crisis, your revised programs are likely to be more engagement than pipeline-focused and the metrics must be adjusted. Focus on top-of-funnel metrics such as views, clicks, and likes rather than opportunity metrics. Adjust lead management processes accordingly and be clear with your teleprospecting function that there should be no planned prospecting outreach as a follow-up to crisis programs. Even where leads have come in for non-crisis programs, follow-up should be muted. Customers will accept some outreach as long as the tone is right.

Remember — “Your Clients Need YOU” more than ever during a crisis, so it’s important to get your program strategy right.