With apologies to poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and marketers often go awry. This was never truer than in 2020 as most B2B marketers scrapped their carefully crafted plans in favor of a “let’s try this” approach. Digital experimentation reigned as marketers scrambled to replace the lead flow often provided from physical events and customer entertainment. Agility was the word of the year especially for those who thrived despite the downturn. Which begs the question, how are savvy B2B CMOs planning for 2021?
Before offering the answer, allow me to set the stage by misquoting Betty Davis, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy 2021.” For most CMOs, planning for 2021 is a bit like building a car out of Jello. It might look good for a New York-minute but it’s not likely to get you very far. So yeah, the future looks squishy YET quite a few CMOs I’ve spoken with in recent huddles have offered up a surprisingly solid approach to 2021 planning. Here are their gelatin-free suggestions.
Make a New (6-month) Plan, Stan
The consensus among my recent interviewees is that planning for longer than 6 months, while it may be requested is close to useless. That’s mainly because none of us can predict what the world will look like in 7 months let alone an entire year. Most CMOs are looking at their plans on a quarter-to-quarter basis, which strikes me as appropriate pacing given the current state of things. In forming your plan, consider keeping the more detailed ideation in the quarter-to-quarter timetable, while including a higher-level 6-month plan. If you want to plan for things beyond that, you definitely should—just make sure to plan with a grain salt, and to include contingencies.
Do Some Stretching (to Stay Flexible)
Definitely do some real stretching, if you want, but here I’m more speaking metaphorically. Flexibility is absolutely crucial. When we’re in 2022, looking back at 2021’s plans, we’ll note that the most successful ones also built in the right amount of flexibility. I refer back to my previous point of including contingency plans along with your primary ones, but I’d also say taking things slow overall can help. Planning on new hires? Bring them in over multiple quarters to avoid suddenly having to cut back when too many have been brought on. I’d say the same for new tech solutions—they’re important to bring in, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Base Your Baselines On…
…your own company performance. That may sound a bit obvious, but here’s what I’m thinking. Highly aspirational goals for companies based on previous (or current) industry standards may not hold up as well. I’m seeing more variance within industry based on how companies have navigated the recent choppy waters. I’d encourage companies to follow the trends I’ve been seeing from other brands already into their planning. Growth brands ought to plan against recent 2020 numbers, while flat or declining brands need to look at 2020 and 2019 for baselines.
Budgets Are Budging (In Some Areas)
CMOs don’t expect to get event dollars back in 2021. That likely doesn’t surprise most of you. However, digital spend will likely increase, as will spend (and, generally, focus) on post-acquisition marketing. You can learn more about how to work on that from this report, or you can visit my interview with Kevin Spurway of Appian from last June. His company has found tremendous success allocating budget to what he calls ‘post-sale marketing.’ This means customer celebration and engagement, and has driven exceptional renewal rates. A lot of that started with Appian funding specific job functions within marketing focused solely on current customers.
Elevate your Experiments
One final overall budgetary tip: set aside 10-20% of your budget for innovation and experimentation. This cushion can help you thrive more when you’re doing well and can be a life raft when you’re struggling. One CMO had 80% of the budget planned for events, and when a good portion of that ended up going away, the 20% the department had slotted out for innovation ended up being crucial in their recovery.
All Eyes on AI
Finally, a number of marketers are looking to increase the effectiveness of their interactions with prospects in 2021 through the use of AI-powered conversational marketing. To help you all learn more about this approach, I’ll be hosting a discussion with Rashmi Vittal of Conversica and John McCrea of Amplify.ai on my new LinkedIn Live program which debuts 11/5/20 at 4pm EST. Oh, and to help stir things up and properly prep for the new year, the program also includes a gin tasting. Do join us.