We all hope we never experience another year like 2020. In addition to the pandemic’s enormous cost in both lives and health, the measures enacted to slow the spread of the virus upended business operations across industries. But there’s one valuable lesson marketing leaders can take away from 2020: always be prepared for the unexpected.

It’s a good idea to prepare your marketing team now for the next global disruption. The nature of the next disruption is unknown, of course. But there are approaches and techniques that are by definition resilient and thus worthy of consideration in a time of rapid change, whether driven by external events or marketplace factors. Here are three ways to prepare to manage disruption.

  1. Keep Focusing on Customers

One dilemma companies struggled with in the pandemic economy was whether to focus on customer retention or retool their approach to accommodate a changed marketplace. A generally reliable principle, and what companies tend to do in “normal” times, is focus on reducing churn because it’s cheaper to retain customers than to find new ones.

But in a disrupted marketplace, a company’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) may change. This happened to many companies in 2020. For example, a software vendor that focused on the travel and leisure industry might have to recalibrate the ICP and focus on clients in less hard-hit sectors.

Other examples might include shifting focuses from larger to smaller clients or vice versa. To keep the focus on the right customers during a disruption, you can conduct a sprint project (more on that concept below), i.e., assign a small, cross-functional group to assess marketplace changes, revise your ICP and identify ways to maximize sales using the revised ICP.

  1. Adopt Agile Marketing Methods

The agile method began as a software development strategy, but the concept is broadly applicable and has been gaining ground in marketing for years. The pandemic may have super-charged agile adoption because the approach is built for a disrupted marketplace that requires flexibility. As the name implies, agile marketing emphasizes resilience and enables users to adapt quickly to marketplace shifts.

Marketers who want to add agile techniques can find a quick start guide here. To summarize, agile marketers organize projects around a “sprint” — a time-limited project that usually takes place over a few weeks or less. Agile teams are small, typically around eight or fewer people who are drawn from cross-functional groups and led by a “scrum master” who sets the pace and holds the team accountable.

For marketing, a “measurement sprint” that takes place concurrently and spans the sales cycle can be a key to agile marketing success. The scrum master running the marketing sprint will establish goals for the project and align them with company objectives. The measurement sprint is important because it allows marketers to define a baseline and revenue improvement over the length of the sales cycle.

  1. Drive Process and Investment Efficiency Across Channels (Including Digital)

Another key to success in a disrupted market is the ability to maximize efficiency. That’s a valuable skill in any environment but especially when budgets are tight. Martech tools that enable marketers to monitor funnel metrics inside the revenue system of record — the CRM — allow marketers to maximize process efficiency by continuously streamlining operations.

The ability to accurately attribute revenue to marketing campaigns inside the CRM lets marketers allocate budgets more efficiently. By identifying the types of campaigns and messages that generate the highest return, marketers can maximize the impact of every dollar invested.

Martech tools to manage digital outreach are also critical for efficiency, especially with more investment in digital outreach. Marketers need a way to bridge the divide between digital marketing metrics and the CRM. They need martech that allows them to monitor digital engagement, cost, effectiveness and revenue impact. In a disrupted marketplace, these capabilities are critical.

Be Prepared for What Comes Next

No one knows what 2021 will bring. The vaccine rollout is a hopeful sign that one day, safety measures like social distancing will be a distant memory. Thanks to the skills of scientists and medical professionals, we may be able to look back on the COVID-19 crisis and share our stories at a large gathering of family and friends — and talk it over with colleagues at a crowded business conference.

But if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that things can change quickly. Marketers who keep an unwavering focus on customers, adopt methods that allow them to pivot rapidly in response to changing conditions and new facts, while driving efficiency in processes and spending allocation on digital outreach will be best prepared for the next disruption.

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