The last time I remember so many people discussing the same topic at every opportunity was my senior year in high school. Back then, every conversation seemed to revolve around which college accepted you and which college you were choosing to attend.
Today it’s about COVID-19 vaccines. Which one did you get? Are you done? Is your two weeks up yet? Are you going back to the office? Have you booked a vacation yet for this summer?
The US has been suffering from pandemic fatigue for nearly as long as it’s been suffering from the pandemic. This spring, many of us find ourselves in the center of a Venn diagram of vaccination progress, warm weather and signs of normalcy.
B2B marketers can feel it too. Who’s going to throw that first in-person event? Do we pivot away from the changes we rolled out when this started? When and how do we do that?
As we plan and dream about what’s to come, there’s an important fact we can’t forget: the pandemic isn’t over.
As you’ve probably noticed, the US never really had a single pandemic. Cases went up in some places as they went down in others. Restrictions were tighter in some places than in others. People’s age, race, wealth, health and geography all played a role in how they were affected by COVID. The same is true of the vaccinations, where race, wealth and geography are creating wide disparities in who gets a shot and when.
To put it simply: some people have moved on from the pandemic, some people never moved in and some people remain right in its center.
This poses a challenge for B2B marketers. Your prospects cut across every single one of these groups. How do you speak to that audience?
Empathy and humanity
Early in the pandemic, the advice offered to many marketers was to show empathy and humanity. People were working from uncomfortable chairs in under-lit dining rooms, across from their partners and with kids trying to learn on Zoom. “Let’s be understanding,” the experts said.
Let’s be honest, I say. The best B2B marketing and sales professionals were doing this all along. Well before your prospects logged on at the dining room table, they dealt with sick kids, aging parents, illness and stress.
Months before the pandemic, I sat in a conference room in Midtown Manhattan as marketers for a large tech vendor suggested to salespeople who call on them to “just be human” in their interactions. They were right then. They’re right now.
Messaging around pandemic-specific challenges
If your B2B marketing plans had to change when the pandemic began, you’re not alone. Demand increased overnight for certain products like remote security and collaboration and video conferencing tools. Your priorities changed because your customers and prospects changed theirs.
Plans get adjusted all the time. There’s no doubt, this was a very loud, very broad pivot. But your prospects have to pivot to accommodate new leadership, new regulations, M&A activity and more. In this case, a virus led to the disruption. Something else will lead to the next one.
If your products and solutions can help your customers and prospects solve their problems, does it really matter if the pandemic caused the problem in the first place? If your products will keep your prospects secure, help them collaborate and help them achieve their goals, that’s really all you need to show them.
Who says you need to change?
More than a year ago, you had to change the way you interact with customers and prospects. But many of your customers aren’t planning to change back. According to McKinsey, only 20% to 30% of B2B buyers want to ever interact with reps in person. Four out of five B2B decision makers now prefer videoconferencing to audio/phone calls.
If you’re a B2B marketer who is treating people with empathy and helping your customers and prospects solve their problems, you will find that very little needs to change back as the pandemic chugs on and, hopefully, fizzles out. Your current tactics should work for just about everyone.
Keep doing what’s brought you this far (but never stop testing new ideas). That’s how you’re going to build relationships and grow your business today, and that’s how you’ll do it when this is — at last — finally over.
Mike Pastore first started writing about digital marketing back in 1998, when he was the editor of CyberAtlas. Since then, he’s written about technology, online marketing, and the intersection of the two. Today, he works with TechnologyAdvice clients on content creation, writes content for TA’s Marketing Blog, and hosts B2B Nation, the podcast for B2B marketers by B2B marketers.