As you hunker down to finish out the year with whatever success you can muster, you've also got to plan your business development strategy for 2021, incorporating all the changes that have occurred since the start of 2020. There have been many surveys and opinions published throughout this pandemic chronicling and tracking changes in behavior, CMO behavior, consumer behavior, brand behavior, and the economic rollercoaster that help us understand what 2021 might be like. I've listed a few sources at the end of this post that you can review and pull insights from. Based on what I've heard and read, the following are a few suggestions to consider as you plan your business development strategy.
Prepared vs. Unprepared
According to a recent global survey by Dentsu, fielded in May that includes 200+ U.S. CMOs or similar marketing decision-makers, the results are pretty consistent with other surveys from Gartner, McKinsey, Deloitte, 4As, and others. I'm sure there will be many additional reports and opinions to consider as more data comes out during the remaining months. What I find useful in Dentsu's survey, among other things, is a distinction between marketers surveyed; those who feel prepared for the changes this year (48%), and those who feel unprepared (52%). There are notable differences in these groups, including budgets, priorities, and needs worth considering as you plan how to get your prospect's attention.
I find Dentsu's distinction consistent with how I categorize marketers. In any given industry, agencies should use these different mindsets to guide their outreach. At the top of the list are those marketers who are aggressive, risk-takers, innovators, early adaptors, confident, even cocky in their marketing approach. These are akin to Dentsu's 'prepared' category. The next group is cautious, calculating, and conventional, concerned less with new or novel ideas, and less likely to take risks. These marketers fall into the 'unprepared' category. I have a third group I characterize as complacent, comfortable with the status quo, unwilling to change, or rock the boat. These are may also be in the unprepared segment.
Top 3 Accountabilities
According to Dentsu, the top three metrics CMOs are accountable for in 2020 are growing their customer base, short term sales and revenue growth, and reducing costs. Those are certainly going to continue into 2021 as the economy struggles to recover and businesses stay focused on making up for losses through the pandemic. Growth and short-term performance will be the mandate in 2021. 53% say their top responsibility is delivering business growth. Your message to prospects should be too. That's not to say abandon everything else. Your value to marketers ultimately must lead to business growth, customer growth, and short-term results, all for less.
Top 3 Strategies
The top strategy marketers say they are pursuing to achieve growth and sales is identifying and understanding changing consumer behavior and using that knowledge in their marketing messaging. 43% say that is their #1 challenge and 35% admit how challenging it is to adapt their brand around evolving consumer sentiment. Considering all that has happened this year, understanding the changing consumer and developing ways to act is essential to achieving growth. No resource is better equipped to help than an agency. These must be at the top of your list of expertise, and you've got to prove it with past work and innovative new strategies, together with confidence and leadership. Marketers have repeatedly said they need agencies that can lead them through the storm and are as concerned with business success as they are with marketing.
When comparing marketing leaders who feel prepared to those unprepared, some interesting differences became evident. These differences provide clues and nuances for agencies to better market themselves based on who they target. There is very little detail about the makeup of these categories. It's defined by how the survey participant described their circumstances when dealing with the pandemic's initial months. Correlating those answers to company size and industry, 73% of 'prepared' marketers work at medium and large companies in verticals such as consumer electronics, food and beverage, luxury and fashion, manufacturing, education, and finance. 53% of unprepared marketers work at medium and small companies and are more likely in restaurant, travel, pharma, media, retail, and telecommunications verticals.
A Telling Difference
Prepared marketers say they plan to focus on improving the customer experience, disruptive innovation, and developing new products and services. Unprepared marketers say they will continue to focus on 'business-as-usual': growth, business transformation, price optimization, adjusting their marketing mix, and adapting their marketing message. A telling difference between the two groups. Promoting disruptive marketing ideas or expertise in CX will be more appealing to a prepared marketer while marketing mix and messaging are more likely to resonate with those unprepared.
47% of unprepared marketers say their top challenges are declining consumer spending and decreasing budget. Agencies who can demonstrate past success increasing share of a declining market and doing more with less budget will have the right message for this group. Marketers who feel prepared say their top challenges are understanding temporary consumer shifts vs. permanent behavior change and aligning with new customer sentiment. Agencies who have a research capability and a confident point of view on this will get their attention.
Two times more prepared marketers said they were completely changing their customer experience strategy because of covid compared to those unprepared. McKinsey calculated a 3X shareholder return for CX leaders during the 2008 recession. Pre-pandemic, prepared CMOs were already investing in CX, shifting spend on digital and ecommerce. Conversely, unprepared CMOs were less likely to have implemented any such strategies and 2X less likely to have invested in CX, digital, demand gen, or CRM.
Given that prepared CMOs are more likely to be already investing in CX, it follows that they are more likely to be experimenting with emerging technologies. As remote, digital, and home delivery trends will continue in the post-COVID-19 world, a pipeline of emerging tech will set leaders apart and further differentiate their strategies. Agencies who have industry-leading expertise in CX should communicate this to marketers in the segment. Agencies who target unprepared marketers will find this kind of expertise a tough sell.
Another telling difference to guide prospecting is that prepared marketers are more likely to be implementing purpose-led initiatives, using creative storytelling, and have or seek a galvanizing organizational idea to differentiate their customer experience. Conversely, less than a quarter of unprepared marketers are implementing or plan to implement a purpose-led initiative, and only about a third claim to use creative storytelling. Agencies who promote their storytelling capabilities and purpose-driven marketing expertise should consider the best messaging in their outreach to the prepared segment. The same kind of messaging to the unprepared may be irrelevant or ignored.
A Business Partner
At the beginning of 2020, marketers expressed the need for agency partners to contribute more than marketing campaigns. They want business partners who think holistically about the business's success regardless of the scope of their assignment. That is more true now than ever. CMO accountability means the need to justify the value of marketing in broader financial and business metrics. With increased responsibility for more comprehensive KPIs, they have to correlate marketing investment to overall success. Agencies who demonstrate a business partner mentality first will stand apart.
Test and Learn
No one knows for sure what the best outreach strategy will be in 2021. Conditions continue to be fluid and will be so for some time. As all marketers strive to understand the changing marketplace and consumer behavior and reflect that understanding in their marketing messaging, agencies must also do so in their business development approach. A test and learn strategy is critical as you roll out your prospecting. Pay attention to the differing needs by vertical and by marketer. Personalize your outreach to be 'mindset' relevant in what you offer and how you can help.
Industry experts on all sides continue to advocate personalization throughout the customer experience. The same is valid for agencies. Those who personify and personalize their prospect outreach will achieve better results. Those who understand the changing marketer behavior and adapt their strategies and messaging will see better engagement. And, considering the third most crucial accountability metric, reduce costs, agencies should carefully consider a price optimization strategy, as well. No doubt 2021 will be tough. Fasten your seatbelts and get ready to out-market your competition with greater relevance and personalization.
Time to start planning!
Who could have imagined 2020 like this? There is no better time than now to rethink and reset your business development program. If you need help, let’s talk. I am always open to discussing your ad agency business development challenges. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!
AAAA Agency Growth Survey Summary: https://www.aaaa.org/4as-agency-growth-survey-september-2020/