Navigating The 2023 Downturn: B2B Marketing Executives

Regardless of the rumored recession, B2B CMOs, marketing executives, marketing leaders, and marketing staff must relentlessly resist reactive business decisions that disrupt the balance between short-term and long-term growth. We still recommend the three areas of focus specified in Forrester’s Planning Guide 2023: B2B Marketing Executives for how to achieve growth in an uncertain economy. In this report, Forrester guides B2B CMOs on how best to navigate the predicted downturn across teams, customers, the organization’s board, partners, and peers.

Barbie Mattie

Srividya Sridharan, Amy Hayes, Cristina De Martini, Maria Chien, Sheryl Pattek, Karen Tran, Amy Bills, Steven Casey, Nicole Bouchie, and Kate Pierpont

B2B CMOs Must Strive For Balance And Resist Reactive Decisions

For the foreseeable future, B2B CMOs will continue to face the “spend money to make money” paradox. A paradox by definition is not solvable; therefore, B2B CMOs must strive for balance in the polarities of this paradox and resist making reactive business decisions. Balance is achievable, even in the face of uncertainty, when B2B CMOs resist short-termism (prioritizing immediate revenue with quickly executed programs). To navigate the 2023 downturn, B2B CMOs and marketing executives must continue to work closely with their marketing operations leader to balance programs, personnel, and technology resources. To continue to deliver on the guidance outlined in Forrester’s Planning Guide 2023: B2B Marketing Executives, CMOs must:

  • Seize growth with specialized talent. Contrary to the prevailing sentiment on pulling back on hiring or initiating staff reductions, we found that plans are in place for cautiously optimistic growth. Forrester’s Marketing Survey, 2022 shows that one quarter (25%) of B2B marketing decision-makers at high-growth (greater than 20% annual revenue growth) enterprise companies indicated plans to increase the personnel budget by 10% or more. To shift their approach to talent, B2B CMOs must strike a balance between marketing generalist and specialist headcount and capabilities (without overlooking options for outsourcing). They must continue to retain and upskill the talent that drives growth via the three recommended focus areas (i.e., addressing changing buyer behavior, implementing a purpose-driven brand, and focusing on postsale customer engagement). In addition, CMOs must look to attract new talent with specialized skills and experience. Specifically, hire headcount for: revenue operations (to align revenue engine planning, processes, technology, data, and measurement across the organization), account-based marketing (to level up your organization’s approach to ABM), and brand strategy and management (to calibrate the corporate brand and activate programs that drive reputation).
  • Embrace the convergence of CX, EX, and BX to drive buyer engagement. Buyers and customers demand better from brands this year. Take a page out of the Navigating The 2023 Downturn: B2C Marketing Executives report and recognize how the convergence of customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX), and brand experience (BX) creates a consistent and productive relationship between company and customer. Our 2022 data shows 100% of business, marketing, and IT leaders at customer-obsessed enterprises agree that their customer experience and employee experience are aligned with their brand promise, compared to 18% at customer-aware enterprises. Continue to build programs that connect brand to demand. Ensure EX empowers your teams to deliver their best work. Focus on postsale customer engagement and consider creating a dedicated team solely focused on CX, as 81% of B2B marketing decision-makers at high-growth enterprises do. Marianne Arnaudon, AVP, global brand and marketing, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada shared, “Our company’s transformation journey is more client focused. We have identified the pillars of this: customer focus, sustainable, digital, and distribution mode.” As a B2B2C organization, Sun Life’s investment in brand is vital to the organization. “Upticking brand’s role will align our stories with our go-to-market approach.”
  • Be bold with the board and don’t report on vanity metrics. For decades, founders, boards, and investors have presumed that marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are a key indicator of marketing performance. MQLs are a made-up construct that do not equate to buyer value. In fact, they waste budget, extend sales cycles, and fail to reflect the extent to which the company is engaging customers to retain them. As the adage goes, a goal without a plan is a wish. Whether using OKRs, KPIs, or some other metrics classification system, articulate an annual plan that communicates marketing’s contribution to business outcomes and builds trust with the board. Trust is earned when an annual plan connects the marketing activities to business outcomes, yet a focus on MQLs grossly under-represents marketing’s value. Rather than MQLs, the stronger indicator of propensity to buy is engagement of multiple buying group members. It is critical that the annual marketing plan educates the board on why and how to say goodbye to MQLs. Rachelle McLure, VP and CMO, RCG Global Services, used Forrester’s B2B-Marketing-Plan-On-A-Page template to show her executive team and board of directors, “Look, in 2023, here the things that we need to do and here is what we can deliver.”
  • Power up the organization’s go-to-market strategy and prevail with partners. Many B2B organizations choose growth through new markets as a way to enter additional geographies, industries, and/or firmographic categories. We found that any go-to-market approaches that are industry agnostic would be opportunistic and companies will only focus on their top three to four industries (e.g., healthcare, finance, retail). Leveraging a partner ecosystem that has established relationships, brand recognition, domain expertise, and/or just feet on the street can accelerate time to market. Genefa Murphy, CMO, Five9 shared that their partners are key for their team’s go-to-market strategy and one of her goals is to “develop a dynamic ecosystem of certified partners who can deliver the full end-to-end solution from sales to deployment to support. This moves partners from being an add-on to a true extension of the overall go-to-market and platform.” Adding through-channel marketing automation solutions can build on the success of previous digital approaches and help partners create demand in new markets and expand the growth of joint solutions in existing industries (where they are, and you aren’t). Our data shows that 70% of B2B marketing decision-makers at high-growth companies (vs. 33% at flat to declining companies) plan to increase the budget for through-channel marketing automation solutions.
  • Stop the insanity by shattering silos. In this economic environment especially, no one should do the same thing over and over and expect different results. For years, sales, product, and marketing alignment has been the hallmark for driving revenue growth and profitability. Despite good intentions and best efforts, sometimes silos remain intact. This is the year to take a different approach and shatter silos once and for all. “Constraints often create innovation and creativity. So, how can we still hit our objectives and do it in a more creative way?” said Jill Steele, SVP corporate strategy and ESG, Prophet. To flex in 2023, Jill collaborated with Prophet’s CMO, Amanda Nizzere, and other leaders to devise three “if, then” scenarios (i.e., if this happens, then we should do XYZ). Each scenario has a different budget, levers, and success metrics, and the scenarios adjust for whatever market landscape is on the horizon. Another example of a creative way to foster alignment is from Joshua Shulman, head of marketing growth, Innovecs. One of his approaches is to “focus on identifying buyers we do NOT want to sell to, and actively work with sales to disqualify opportunities based on that profile.” Sometimes, balance can be more achievable when there is more clarity on what not to do, rather than what to do.

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