CMO Insights #2: 360 Degree Impact Amidst COVID-19

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On Wednesday, April 29th, MassTLC held the second in a series of CMO forums. This series brings heads of marketing from tech organizations together to monitor developments and provide deeper insights into the COVID-19 business crisis. These CMOs represent different sized organizations and multiple tech sectors. Mark Lorion, COO, Arxan (now Digital.ai) is the series moderator.

The first meeting took place two weeks prior. Mark shared his insights and a presentation on scenario planning, as well as projected recovery research from Mckinsey and MassTLC’s Tech Pulse Survey. The conversation focused on planning and forecasting, shifting marketing mix, communications and messaging, and team impact.

Read the summary of the first CMO Insights meeting

In the second meeting, attendees wanted to dive into a deeper discussion on the following:

    • Team Impact: Discuss how they are repurposing and pivoting people in order to keep teams intact. How has this impacted contractors and agencies with whom they are working?
    • Dive deeper into their evolving marketing mix: What strategy, focus, and resources are they using now? How are they handling top of the funnel creation and lead flow?

 Team Impact

Mark recognized that marketing teams are in a challenging position inside their organization. As owners of the  largest discretionary budget, they have a higher probability of being cut. He explored the following questions with attendees: How is each CMO keeping teams together and aligned? Also, how is each leader continuing connectivity and culture while working remotely—above and beyond coffee and happy hours?

One organization is taking happy hour time to host game and trivia hours, and this has created a connected team. They also have been transparent on the state of the company with employees, which has instilled trust. To ensure different people have a voice in the company, team leaders send out communications in place of their C-suite. For each team to have an opportunity to ask questions and celebrate wins, every day is assigned to a different team to send email communication company-wide. This strategy has felt like Marketing has impacted business and united employees globally.

Another organization hunkered down for two and a half weeks when everyone was shut down due to COVID-19. In that time, their executive team strategized a new direction and rebuild the corporate continuity plan. They wanted to get aligned, then communicate the plan. As part of their plan, they evolved the marketing team to join the customer retention team and focus on delivering to their current base.

A CMO offered that their strategy was to move the events team to customer marketing. The focus was to add value to their current customer base. The hope is that the employee role shift is temporary. Results showed they experienced a high volume of customer renewals. The marketing team began to explore industries that are doing well in this crisis, for a new customer base.

Another tech organization also pivoted their events team to marketing and are focusing on new account prioritization and account scoring. The CMO posed a great question: should he spend more on Engagio licenses, which aren’t cheap, to help the sales team? How can buying signals efficiently to sales without spending more?

Mark asked if anyone has furloughed or let team members go. Attendees shared stories but asked to remain anonymous and their stories not recorded.

The next question Mark asked the group: How do you keep the remaining people on the team motivated and not afraid that they’ll be laid off next?

An attendee said they have a new CEO as of January. The CEO has proven to be a great cultural fit and is very connected to the entire team. This company did one round of layoffs. They communicated to their employees that that was the only and last round. Another company had just finished a round of hiring before the Coronavirus shutdown, and they decided to keep the team, and pursue net new customers, as they are selling to manufacturing businesses and placing bets that they will need the support.

Marketing Mix—Pipeline, Digital Spend, Customer Marketing shift

A CMO of a new tech company said that she is focusing on net new customers, rather than shifting to customer marketing, as they are in the critical process of growing. The question was asked, how are people focusing on net new?

Another CMO agreed that net new is important to her organization’s strategy and received budget for the year. Production is ramping up and they are selling to manufacturing businesses. Their pipeline is doing well. With added budget, they are allocating funds to digital spend and seeing a lot of activity and waiting to see if this translates to new business. Her team is attracting people through virtual events, and email campaigns. She noted their messaging is focused on empathy and on addressing the business problem, rather than a sales approach. In addition, they hired a PR agency on a 3-month contract to evolve their thought leadership content to attract their net new customers.

For net new strategies, one CMO said they are creating content for customers. They have scaled back on paid media, relieving the team’s bandwidth for virtual webinars and content. She observed there is a hunger for content. The team produced a product marketing boot camp and had 1,000+ people and will offer more events. What worked well for their virtual event was all speakers were customers, and the event served as a driver for people to learn from each other.

Mark asked, how do you track the effectiveness of what is working? What are the leading indicators you’re looking at?

The CMO who succeeded with the product marketing bootcamp said they shifted their metrics. Her team is focused on revenue but understand the funnel isn’t likely to convert as it did before the coronavirus shutdown. They shifted away from net new, considering quality of leads and engagement of leads. By creating a new lead-scoring approach, her team’s goal is to exit out of this crisis with a giant pipeline and a sales strategy ready to go. In addition, they are tracking those who aren’t interested in their product/service and are keeping them separate from “closed lost,” marking them as a “C19 push,” and will go back to them when the time is right. Marking them with this code allows them to see what the real impact of Covid-19 is having on the business.

Someone else said his team is looking at the dynamics of cost per lead and cost per opportunity. His team is looking at conversion metrics and moved into an unscalable review of each sales discovery opportunity created – essentially reviewing the very first call a salesperson has with a prospect. Also, as the CMO, he is meeting bi-weekly with the company’s SVP of sales to review those conversations.

Regarding changing strategies, one CMO said they shifted their events budget to paid media for the first time. They are also focused on new logos as well and looking forward to results of this strategy.

One attendee said their organization is in a ‘unique moment’ of their product, which offers solutions for remote offices.  Since their solution helps businesses when companies return to work, they are considering audience growth.  Lead generation wasn’t a priority during this time. They want to grow their database.  In order to do this, they are looking for search trends on search engines, so they can create content based on what people are looking for. She led a strategy for 2020 to build their sales team and is now adjusting that plan to the COVID-19 situation.

An attendee asked, how does your sales team get in touch with prospects?

Someone answered that they are having success reaching people at home and that people are more likely to answer. LinkedIn has been helpful more than email. Another CMO said phone outreach has been successful, and business videos have been working for the sales team. Another person said their “talk time” has been much higher than before the shutdown.

Topics to pursue next time include ‘freemium’ and discounts as a strategy during this economic climate, as well as aligning leadership and marketing to focus on the customer.

Mark closed the discussion by recommending a podcast hosted by Stanford: Startups Series by Ben Horowitz. He specifically suggested listening to the session focused on “strategies that don’t scale.” The idea is that CMOs shouldn’t worry about scaling, they should find what works.