Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to unfold, organizations were throwing marketing and sales plans into the trash. Overnight, marketing and sales leaders and their teams were challenged to revisit and redraw their plans with little certainty about or visibility into how the pandemic would affect their organization. Two things soon became clear: The management and eradication of the pandemic would not be easy and — as a result — recovery would take time, and the pandemic would not only affect organizations, but also those organizations’ suppliers, customers, and communities, as well as societies at large.

As we move to a “new normal,” sales and marketing leaders realize that resilience and agility are more important than ever before. They can’t afford to spend valuable time and resources developing plans that aren’t meaningful when the next disruption — regardless of size — comes around. But how do we break away from our own habits of creating static plans once a year?

First, revenue engine leaders must be clear that resilience is not a state; it’s a capability within their reach. But it’s not going to happen on its own — they must take specific actions to build resilience in their respective functions.

Understanding Change

To start, sales and marketing leaders must have a common view of understanding and assessing different types of change. Take the example of the current COVID-19 pandemic and compare it with the eruptions of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010. The pandemic brought the whole world to a standstill, while the 2010 volcanic eruptions affected only certain parts of the world, causing international travel disruptions but largely no effect on national economies. Embedded in both of these events is an important characteristic of resilience. Resilience is the ability to deal with unplanned, unforeseen events, not with change an organization has planned to drive forward through its strategy and annual plans.

When assessing and determining how best to respond to change, there are six key factors to consider:

  • Source: Is the change internal or external? In other words, did it originate within your company, or outside of it?
  • Class: Can you organization control the change, or is it linked to an uncontrollable occurrence?
  • Reach: Does the change impact just your organization, or does it also affect your ecosystem of partners, suppliers, and customers?
  • Scale: What is the extent of the impact of the change on your company? Does it affect one function (for example, marketing or sales), or does it impact the entire company?
  • Duration: Is the change likely to be short-term or long-term?
  • Commercial: What is the likely revenue impact of the change?

The answers to these factors are critical in evaluating unforeseen events and starting to shape the required response to change.

A Strong Foundation Is Key to Adapting

When we talk about resilience in the context of annual planning, it requires a strong foundation. Time and time again, we have seen organizations suffering from what I call the “100-page plan syndrome” — long, convoluted plans that few people read and many forget.

Marketing and sales leaders can build this strong foundation by ensuring their teams adopt a best-practice approach to guide the development of their plans. Every marketing plan must be anchored to an organization’s annual business objectives. Once these objectives are established, it is important to define marketing’s approach, key priorities, and goals as well as the actions to take, and finally the dependencies and risks. When working with our clients, we deploy our Plan on a Page methodology to put in place these best-practice components that together form a concise and well articulated annual marketing plan.

By leveraging these two models — the Spectrum of Change (described above) and Plan on a Page — B2B marketing organizations can quickly determine the events they are dealing with and where in the marketing plan they must focus their attention.

As a brief illustration of this, take as an example a data storage company; one of its key annual objectives is to maintain strong growth in the enterprise segment, primarily through direct sales. That objective is put at risk when one of its main competitors hires away a sales leader who would have been instrumental in achieving this aim. Referencing some of the change-related factors noted above, we see the change is controllable, given that the organization can refill the position. It’s also limited in reach, given that it affects the company, rather than the entire ecosystem. Critically, it may have a revenue impact, if the sales leader takes clients from them, but with the appropriate response they can minimize such a negative development.

To respond to this development, the marketing organization would start by revisiting the annual business objectives. Are they impacted, or can they still be met? At this point, the firm’s objective of driving strong growth in the enterprise is still valid and marketing’s full year goal against that objective is still attainable. Establishing that clarity allows marketing leaders to focus their attention on the latter components of their plan, zooming in and reevaluating key actions outlined in their original plan. Continuing with our example, the marketing team could quickly identify that they need to revise their messaging to emphasize points of differentiation with that particular competitor. They would also need to create new win themes with which to arm the sales organization. Because ABM and product marketing teams will be critical in these efforts, marketing leadership would ensure they have the bandwidth needed to execute.

As mentioned, resilience is a capability, not a state, so the more an organization practices resilience, the more resilient it becomes. Marketing and sales leaders must ensure that risks and dependencies of annual plans are articulated clearly and monitored often. They also must develop an early warning system that combines appropriate internal and external data and is reviewed regularly as part of quarterly business reviews or other business review meetings. This enables sales and marketing teams to anticipate potential events and be ready to take action.

2020 has taught us that change is the only constant. Heading into 2021, marketing leaders must continue to prioritize integrating resilience into their sales and marketing plans and operating fabric of their organizations.

To learn more about what will shape B2B marketing leaders’ strategic priorities in 2021, join us for B2B Summit North America in May. Learn more.