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9 min read

How product marketers can navigate the challenge of COVID-19

Growth | Market & industry | Messaging & Positioning

The Coronavirus pandemic has thrust a spanner in the proverbial works, with many companies closing their doors and employees suddenly faced with an unfamiliar regime.

While there’s no doubting the seriousness of the unprecedented challenge we’re currently facing, Yoni Solomon, G2’s Director of Product Marketing, offered some much needed optimism. During his recent AMA, he outlined how product marketers specifically can navigate the COVID-19 disruption.

Sorry! You’ve missed the boat to submit questions for this AMA, but don’t worry. We have a whole host of incredible speakers preparing to answer your questions in the coming weeks. Check out the list of upcoming guests here.

Q: We're moving into a world where in-person events may be limited, or in some cases, no longer be viable options. What advice do you have for organizations who traditionally use in-person events to launch products and drive a pipeline to transition to virtual events?

A: This is a tough one. I've only launched one product at an event so far during my time at G2. That said, it's hard to replace that in-person feel you get from a live event.

Transitioning to webinars is something many of us are doing, but I think the key we need to ask ourselves is how to make our webinar programs stand out and truly feel interactive.

Something that's worked well for us at G2 as we've transitioned to webinar/digital-first programs, is to add a Discussion/AMA component (similar to this!) to our webinars. All to ensure we're truly giving our attendees the chance to ask their questions and be heard, which is hard to do on digital events (especially with a ton of folks on).

Q: How, if at all, has COVID-19 impacted your product roadmap plans? And how have you adapted to those changes?

A: COVID-19 has actually got us at G2 looking holistically at our (1) Roadmap, (2) Messaging, and (3) Packaging, all of which have been (or are being) adapted to those changes. All to ensure maximum value and alignment to the realities of our customers this FY. Here's how:

(1) Roadmap: Prioritizing enhancements to products/capabilities impacted by remote work, or surges in traffic/usage. Decisions are being made here through a combination of product/usage data, and customer interviews to get to the root of problems/needs.

(2) Messaging: Tweaks and pivots made to how we sell our 'dream,' and the problems we're solving for marketers and sellers. All based on real interviews we've had with prospects AND customers since going into mandatory shelter-in-place. We've incorporated this messaging into our materials, and into enablement/training. The story for which we've since certified our entire Revenue Org on to ensure alignment.

(3) Packaging: To identify our stickiest and highest perceived value and highest ROI/impact products during this time. And pushing to make them more readily available to our customer base to help them get the most value possible and mitigate disruption. All with prescriptive tactics on how to use and get started with them.

Q: What's your stance on mentioning COVID-19 in messaging/marketing pieces? I've seen a lot of brands get slated for unauthentically bombarding their pot with messages of support and on the one hand, I don't want us to fall into that pot, but on the other, it doesn't feel right completely ignoring it.

A: I'm seeing too many brands leaning heavily into COVID-19 messaging, yet trying to still sell 'the dream' in what's quickly becoming a nightmare scenario for their buyers. It's bad/tone deaf for the brand, and doesn't really help our buyers in any meaningful way.

We've definitely incorporated COVID-19 messaging into our marketing programs. In fact we've pivoted pretty heavily INTO it. However, we're rooting our messaging in the realities of the situation, and have taken our value-messaging down 1-level. We're getting prescriptive and tactical. Truly leaning in to HELP our buyers navigate this, and that's worked really well for us. Including publishing a full end-to-end playbook to help B2B marketers pivot their strategies to a digital-only selling environment.

Here's a look at that playbook which has since become such a big hit for customers, that we've repackaged it into a COVID-19 consult webinar, where I'll be walking folks through the playbook, step-by-step to help them implement it.

We've got 1000 registrants after only 1 email. No selling. No gimmicks.

All tactics. Be earnest. Be helpful. Be prescriptive.

Q: We launch quite regularly and used to catch-up with our sales team in-person on a biweekly basis to discuss upcoming releases. We've now moved these to group Zoom calls but I just don't feel like we get the same level of engagement, do you have any advice/tips on how to keep these engaging and interactive?

A: Great question. Sales Enablement & support will be AS important as our actual launches, especially during this time.

Since going into mandatory shelter-in-place 7 weeks ago, I've started personal alternating weekly "rounds" with our Sales & RM teams. Instead of me coming in with new materials/launch updates and presenting "what's new", I open up the floor for live Q&A and objections handling. Not just on products, but on deals.. negotiations.. concerns.. everything.

I then finish with some GTM updates from the team. But by first opening myself up live to hear/listen/advise on the problems they're facing on the front-lines, these meetings have gotten WAY more engaging and interactive. Transitioning from one-way, to two-way lines of communication and better alignment between Product Marketing & Sales.

We've also launched a brand-new monthly "Product All Hands" where we go deeper into upcoming launches and roadmap initiatives. Tag-teamed by Product Mgmt & Marketing.

Q: How is Covid-19 impacting your demand-gen efforts/calendar? Attempting/encouraging any prospecting or direct demand-gen has felt a bit off but businesses obviously still have revenue targets. Is it best to pause or try proceeding as planned with some empathy about everything that’s happening? How have you pivoted G2's demand-gen tactics?

A: Great question, and one that we're all dealing with. It's a delicate balance. But I'm a big believer that business still needs to be conducted. Buyers need to find solutions, and sellers must find buyers to engage.

We haven't paused our demand gen/gtm efforts, but we have retooled them. We're leaning in on empathy, and ensuring that what we launch isn't launched to merely help us check off our numbers.

The campaigns we're launching MUST provide real, prescriptive, tactical value to customers/prospects. That can be implemented quickly. With documented ROI and results. They really need the stuff we're launching to work and be relevant to them.

The most successful campaign we're set to run this quarter is our COVID consult campaign which is generating considerable demand and pipeline influence (almost 50/50 split of customer and prospect engagement!). However, we've packaged our products/story/value in a way that's 100% aligned to the needs of our marketer and seller customers. Their success is our success.

That said, the demand-gen campaigns I've seen related to COVID-19 that WON'T work:

  • Are tone-deaf to the realities we're all in
  • Sell the 'dream' in what's become a nightmare scenario for prospects
  • Are too high-level in value, with no substantive advice on how to get from point A to point B
  • Lean TOO heavily into COVID, and end up marketing COVID more than the products we're trying to sell
  • Are marketing products that no one actually needs RIGHT NOW (rather it's a self-serving push from us to hit our MQL or Product Adoption metrics)

Q: We've been forced to delay several campaigns for fear of any backlash and internally, people are afraid to commit to any big projects. How have you been prioritizing and planning which project to press ahead with and which to pause?

A: Great question. We've held a handful of campaigns, but not many. We've instead retooled our in-flight programs to ensure they're actually aligned with the realities of the market from a (1) messaging standpoint and (2) segment/targeting standpoint.

I've personally been talking to at least one customer and prospect since we went into mandatory shelter-in-place 7 weeks ago. Those learnings have been huge in helping us decide what we launch.. what we retool.. what we hold on.

Get really close to the market. Look at your customer segments, see which are most/least impacted. Refine your messaging as needed. And get really prescriptive with your value-messaging and best practices. Truly give them what they actually NEED right now, rather than what we think they 'need to hear.'

This has resulted in what's probably going to be our most successful campaign of the quarter. Which is a B2B playbook & COVID consult for this new selling/marketing reality that's being driven by our product marketing team. It's not quite a product we're launching, but rather an entire philosophy on where our marketers go from here. And how we can help.

Q: Operationally, how has G2 adapted to all the changes Coronavirus has thrown its way? Has remote working been working for you? And would you say you've been talking to customers more, less, or the same as before? And do you mention Covid-19 in otherwise 'BAU' customer conversations?

A: We've all needed to adapt, no doubt. Some things have been easier/smoother than others.

That said, we've got a great work-from-anywhere culture at G2. I myself have spent the last year working from home about 30% of the time anyway. So luckily, our transition to remote-only hasn't been as bumpy as it's been for others. We're lucky to have had the time to practice to get collaboration right. 🙂

On the customer front, I've actually found this to be one of the few positives of mandatory shelter-in-place. It's made talking to customers a lot easier. And we're doing it a lot more. Since going into quarantine 7 weeks ago, I've personally spoken to at least 1 customer and prospect per week. I've used those conversations and feedback to inform our messaging and campaigns to ensure the most alignment possible to the realities, fears, emotions, and challenges of our buyers.

Based on those conversations, here are some of the key things to avoid as marketers. Messaging/campaigns that are:

  • Tone-deaf to the realities we're all in
  • Selling the 'dream' in what's become a nightmare scenario for prospects
  • Too high-level in value, with no substantive advice on how to get from point A to point B
  • Leaning TOO heavily into COVID, and end up marketing COVID more than the products we're trying to sell
  • Marketing products that no one actually needs RIGHT NOW (rather it's a self-serving push from us to hit our MQL or Product Adoption metrics). The buyers can see right through it.

Q: "COVID-19 is at a pandemic stage, whereas webinars are at an epidemic stage"

In these testing times, marketers are relying on webinars to communicate with their customers and prospects. At the same time, everyone is flooded with too many webinar emails daily. What can be done differently to overcome this?

A: Totally, we've found this to be the case too.

That said, my team and I have launched a webinar which might end up being our most successful program of the quarter. All related to COVID.

What's made this one different? Rather than holding a webinar for the sake of holding one, we've branded this as a 1-hr COVID consult. The response has been MASSIVE. And it's based on this B2B playbook we released to a similar response back in March.

No selling. No gimmicks. No shenanigans. The content's based on real conversations I've had with real marketers since going into mandatory shelter-in-place 7 weeks ago. So the messaging and story's totally aligned with what our buyers are feeling at the moment.

We're going to freely give away a step-by-step playbook, new consumer data and best practices that can be implemented in just days for B2B brands to adjust to this new selling/marketing reality.

Rather than shoving (yet another) campaign in their inbox, we're getting specific. Tactical. Prescriptive.

Q: If you have run analysis, have you established which sectors will be benefited and which ones will be suffering from the effects of the virus spread and hence how to plan for marketing actions? Do you have any projections which take into account possible phases of the re-imagining phase?

A: Great question, and you're thinking the right way about this. It's all about getting deep into our segments/personas to find the 'best-fit' for our campaigns. I think everyone's going to see lead volume drop over the next few months. So every MQL's gotta count, so if they're not high quality, we're just wasting both Sales (and the prospect's) time.

We ran a full category/segment analysis. All to hone-in on our "must-have" customer fits. Based on ACV, Renewal %, Product Adoption, etc.

We then ran that against categories/prospects seeing a massive surge of buyer activity as a result of the COVID shift. And THEN prioritized the categories with the most New Biz TAM to go after. That's how we're informing our marketing programs.

The lists/segments are extremely targeted and specific, so the lists tend to be smaller. That said, way more relevant/contextual.

One of these programs we ran last week resulted in an 83% (!!!) Lead-to-Opp conversion %. All net new logos. Most if not all are at the proposal stage already. All under extreme economic/social circumstances. That's really powerful, and truly making every program & lead count!

Written by:

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence is our Copywriter here at PMA who loves crafting content to keep readers informed, entertained, and enthralled. He's always open to feedback and would be thrilled to hear from you!

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How product marketers can navigate the challenge of COVID-19