The Four A’s to Weather the Coming Downturn

Yup, it’s here again. The R word.

There are a million blog posts with advice on how to best prepare for the coming Recession. Many of them will tell you a recession is the best time to invest in marketing. This is true, but it’s also the worst best piece of advice anyone can give you. Why?

If you invest more than your competition in a recession, you will likely gain market share. The problem is that your CFO has other plans. Marketing is the first thing to get cut because it’s less painful than most other budget items to cut, and it shows up on the bottom line immediately. Unless you can prove with 100% certainty that every dollar spent on marketing will deliver a positive return, your marketing budget is highly vulnerable.

To any CEO who bucks this trend, I salute you! Most won’t.

So if you are the poor schmuck who has to deliver top-line growth on a smaller budget, what the H-E-Double-Two-Toothpicks do you do?

Here are four things you can do. And conveniently, they all have an A in them.

  1. Focus on Current Accounts

The most obvious advice is that there is nothing more important than keeping the accounts you have. If you do this well, you may even grow your business organically.

Marketing can play a critical role in this. How? By being the experts in turning insight about your customers into action.

The foundation of this is a robust way of measuring customer commitment. Netpromoter Score (NPS) is the most commonly used way to do that, but in my view, it doesn’t go deep enough.

One thing you can start immediately is a program to understand how your customers are preparing for the Recession. Call this a Future Needs Assessment and position it to your customers as a way that you ensure you are well-prepared to serve them best during the downturn. The program will be one-on-one interviews with key executives at each of your most important customers. In these interviews, you will probe them on how they see their priorities changing, what they see as their biggest challenges, what they will need the most help with, and, of course, how, they view you as a resource to help them.

Use the findings from this to develop a plan for how customer success, account management, and marketing will work together to keep and grow current accounts.

Note: Hiring an independent consultant may be the best way to get the most objective view on this. We do this at healthlaunchpad, please email me if you would like to know more.

2. Get Agile

Being nimble and flexible is critical in a recession. If you react faster than your competition, you will beat them more often. If you don’t react fast enough to what’s happening at your customers, you are at a high risk of losing them.

Start with a clean slate. How you do things today may be great for a time when demand is high, but it may be the biggest obstacle you have to be successful in a recession. Ask yourself if your current processes are impediments to agility.

Borrow from the world of software and develop an agile marketing process. Agile marketing has grown in popularity, and it could save your bacon in a recession.

One of the smartest practitioners of agile marketing is Kaycee Kalpin, who leads marketing for Premier Inc. You can hear Kaycee talk about how they do it in this podcast I recorded with Kaycee earlier this year (hint, skip to the 30-minute mark).

Re-think how you work with outside partners. If your marketing budget has been cut, the first thought may be to chop your agency budget. Before you do that (and you may inevitably have no choice but to do that), give your agency partners a chance to propose a different way of working. For example, rather than having a year-long retainer, how about 90-day engagements with a shared focus on quarterly goals and outcomes? I wrote about this in an article for HITMC last year in a post called “Why you Should Fire your Agency Every 90-days”. This did not win me a lot of friends, but it’s how we run healthlaunchpad and I firmly believe it’s a better model for clients.

3. Double-down on Account-based Marketing (ABM)

A recession may seem like the worst time to try something that may still be new or unproven in your organization but hear me out on this. A recession is the most important time to get ABM working. Why? At its essence, ABM is about a strategic focus on best-fit customers. It is less wasteful than traditional B2B marketing.

Many marketers feel that while the promise of ABM is great, it’s too expensive. Personally, I don’t believe that it has to be. We do ABM programs for clients that don’t involve high-priced ABM platforms, and they work well. For example, we recently helped a firm generate more than $1 million in pipeline by switching on intent data and training their SDRs on how to use this to identify in-market prospects.

The reason I am such a big believer in ABM is that it is about being hyper-targeted in how you acquire new accounts. It forces you to focus precisely on which accounts have a higher likelihood of becoming customers. You waste less on “spray and pray marketing” to generate upper funnel leads. You focus your marketing spend on accounts that are signaling intent to buy and partner with sales in moving them through the pipeline.

One of the best things about ABM in my view that it forces greater collaboration between sales, marketing, and customer success in working more effectively together towards a common purpose.

4. Go on the Attack

Retreating into your shell may be a natural reaction to a recession but don’t do it. Go on the attack.

Create a War Room. Especially if you operate virtually, having a dedicated space (even if it’s virtual) where you and your colleagues can collaborate on new ideas could be a great way to mobilize everyone toward weathering the storm. For example, brainstorm about your competitors’ weaknesses and how you can exploit them.

Many of your competitors, especially the big ones, may be roiling and struggling. If you are agile and focused on best-fit customers, and confident that your current customers will stay with you, you will be in a great position to be more aggressive in winning new accounts.

Every deal is precious, and leads may be harder to generate. When you get a good lead, get sales, marketing, and customer success hyper-focused on working together on what it will take to convert it.

Use the insights from your current customers about what’s most important to them to weather the recession and create new content that addresses this specifically.

Market the crap out of that content! Get creative and aggressive about how you get that content in front of prospects and current customers. This post reviews 11 ways to market your content.

Are we in a recession now, or will we be in it in 2023? Will it be deep? How long will it last? No one knows but in the words of Ben Franklin:

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

Adam Turinas

Adam Turinas is a long-time technology marketing leader and entrepreneur. He is the co-author of the Total Customer Growth book and founder of Total Customer Growth LLC. Adam spent two decades marketing for Dell, IBM, Bank of America, and dozens of other major marketers. In 2012 he founded, grew, and eventually sold a healthcare technology software business and then created healthlaunchpad, a leading healthtech marketing firm that teaches clients how to use ABM.