3 Marketing Tips for Managing the B2B Customer Journey in the COVID-19 Business Climate

November 4, 2020
Contributor: Rupal Bhandari

In the aftermath of COVID-19, both software providers and software buyers experienced unprecedented levels of uncertainty. An empathetic outlook can be the saving grace for a B2B marketer.

On one hand, the sudden shift to remote work meant every B2B buyer needed to purchase new software to keep operations moving. On the other hand, software and SaaS providers were required to reframe their B2B marketing strategies to highlight the value of their products and better justify customer investments, all while juggling the transition to remote work themselves. 

For many, a hard hit to their sales growth also became a big concern. Toward the end of April 2020, about 31% of sales leaders identified sales growth slowdown as the top anticipated impact on their organizations (full content available to Gartner clients only).  

Market conditions are slowly beginning to shift back to normal, but software and SaaS providers aren’t finding business challenges easing away. The need to cope with frequently changing internal policies, strategic priorities and work environments only adds to their business complexities. 

In the evolving business climate, gaining sales and marketing growth is going to require an understanding of the customer’s journey, as well as the shifts in their business challenges and buying processes. To help marketers shape B2B marketing strategy and sales efforts accordingly, here are some B2B marketing tips.
 

1. Determine how virtual buying impacts the B2B buyer journey

A large number of B2B software buyers are transitioning to a virtual buying process. 

The absence of face-to-face interactions about software buying decisions is forcing prospective customers to adjust how they communicate with internal stakeholders and you. What could’ve been otherwise a quick question in a meeting or software demo session now ends up becoming a big consideration, causing buying delays in the virtual buyer journey. In addition, this changes what the potential client communicates and who the ultimate decision maker is within the buyer’s organization.

Graphic outlining the typical b2b customer journey and the digital b2b customer journey.

To establish fruitful interactions with the target audience in this changing business climate, you must understand these changes and what the virtual customer journey looks like from the buyer’s point of view. 

Answers to these questions can be helpful:

  • Where are buyers turning for information?
  • Who is involved in the decision-making process?
  • How are stakeholders and decision makers communicating virtually?
  • What are some common glitches or shortcomings of virtual communication for the customer’s business?
  • What steps and approvals are needed to complete a purchase?

Don’t be afraid to ask a potential client any or all of these questions. Alternatively, you can also ask them to give you a walk-through of the changed buying process in their business.
 

2. Adjust the buyer persona to new realities

A buyer persona is a profile that represents the ideal customer for a business. It is created based on market research and data on existing customer demographics, behavior patterns, needs and drivers.

COVID-19 has unevenly reset businesses across industries and verticals. Hence, previously developed assumptions about buyer personas may no longer be valid. The characteristics, needs and drivers of a buyer persona as determined in the latter quarters of 2019, or even the first quarter of 2020, should be revisited and revised. 

Graphic outlining what a buyer persona is and is not.

Take what you've learned from evaluating the journeys of your customers and incorporate that into your buyer persona. Revisit industries, verticals, stakeholder seniority, budgets, business needs, challenges and communication preferences to answer questions such as:

  • What is the scope of responsibility and influence of your buyer persona within the organization?
  • What are the changes to the buyer’s business goals and performance metrics due to remote work?
  • What are the most common issues complicating their jobs right now, especially in the areas your products can impact?
  • How has remote work changed their ability to evaluate products or make buying decisions?
  • What do they read or research as part of their information-gathering process and which social media platforms or other content marketing channels do they connect to?

3. Align marketing messages to exude empathy, not sympathy

Marketing messages that sympathetically suggest “we’re all in this together” tend to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the customer’s situation whereas empathetic messaging engages with customers on cognitive and emotional levels and helps establish trust by building a closer connection. 

Graphic outlining the different between sympathy and empathy.

Remove content focused on pushing buyers to the next stage of the sales or marketing pipeline. Instead, build content marketing materials aligned to the customer’s psychological state. Understand that the B2B buyer looks at software providers not only for their products but also for leadership, trust, agility, resilience and clarity, and to reinforce a sense of community. 

Refocus marketing messages to include language and symbolism that amplify your understanding and mirror customers’ distress. Try to answer questions such as:

  • Can a buyer’s guide help customer teams better evaluate the product?
  • What B2B content or resources will help the buyer get internal stakeholder buy-in?
  • How can you help buyers benchmark and compare their business or marketing challenges with lead generation, inbound marketing, social media marketing or marketing automation against that of their peers?
  • What microresults would your product bring to their everyday life?
     
The bottom line: Sensitivity and appropriate messaging are at a premium

The post-COVID-19 marketplace is not keen on businesses overwhelming customers or prospects with marketing messages or attempting to ruthlessly make sales. 

Focus your efforts on a marketing strategy that displays sensitivity toward customers’ situations and ensure marketing messages are appropriately aligned. Businesses that have adjusted already are seeing results — marketing emails acknowledging the pandemic saw a 41% increase in open rate, while standard email open rates decreased overall. 

It is clear that to continue to grow in the current business climate and seize new opportunities, software providers should craft a marketing strategy grounded in empathy. 
 

Rupal Bhandari

Rupal Bhandari covers sales and account management markets. She received her master’s degree from the University of Delhi, India, and has created content for some of the world’s leading technology products and companies. Connect with Rupal on LinkedIn.

Get the Gartner Digital Markets Newsletter

By clicking the "Subscribe" button, you are agreeing to the Gartner Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.