As part of our Show Must Go On virtual event, we sat down with sales and marketing expert Max Altschuler to discuss the important lessons learned about empathetic marketing in the COVID-19 era.
After deciding to pivot their annual Outreach Unleash conference to a virtual format due to COVID-19, Outreach VP of Marketing Max Altschuler realized the need for empathetic messaging across the company’s marketing, sales, and customer support communications.
He’d received an influx of marketing messages in response to the cancellation, and used them to start a conversation about what empathetic marketing looks and feels like. These discussions helped the team craft its own messaging and customer support programs in a thoughtful way.
Crafting programs for the future will mean striking a balance between keeping deal-flow healthy while ensuring that communications are reaching the right audience, in the right way. The one-and-done, hard-close approach that may have worked in the past won’t be as effective in the weeks and months ahead.
Max believes that you have to take the long view on your strategies: “Sales and marketing teams need to be fully aligned in always working for the customer. You want people to come back to working with your company after this, because you provide value they can’t get anywhere else.”
Outreach relied on input from its customer support team to drive decision-making. Reaching out to CS early for perspective on individual customer experiences and pain-points can help all departments steer more accurately, allowing your teams to fine-tune the message, reach out to customers appropriately, and help impacted customers with contract and pricing accommodations as needed.
This approach will allow teams to realize the revenue that’s available to them—for example, from imminent deals or segments experiencing a surge in business due to the pandemic— without alienating segments of your audience that are struggling with the economic downturn. “You can’t lose sight of the low-hanging fruit,” Max said. “Close the deals you can close, but be sure to take care of your current customers. Get your customer experience team involved early and allow them to help drive the conversation for the sales team, based on what they are seeing happening for the customers.”
Some key strategies that will effectively guide sales today and in the near future:
- Engage with the “right” target account list, and sell to customers that are ready to hear from you.
- Create campaigns with a long-tail sales strategy in mind. For instance, create more content and thought leadership pieces to serve customers that might not be able to buy right now. You’ll still remain top of mind and give customers value until a time where things bounce back for them.
- Find novel ways to serve customers and meet them in the experience they’re having at the moment, drawing from the data and intelligence, and trying some out-of-the-box thinking.
Serving the Immediate Need
In Outreach’s case, the team realized that although they were putting out valuable content for their audience—aimed at helping them transition to remote sales and management operations in response to social distancing—this messaging was working for only a portion of their audience. With massive layoffs coming on the heels of stay-at-home orders, many in their audience were struggling with unemployment and facing job searches in a uniquely difficult market.
To help serve that segment, they decided to create a job board featuring roles curated from their customers. Max explains that the idea was to help them through their sales career, not just while they’re a customer of Outreach.
As the economic landscape and customer needs change, businesses will see an increasing need to meet customers where they are, creating personalization by serving their specific pain-points and circumstances as they evolve.
The Future of the Field
While the timeline and the details aren’t yet completely clear, what is certain is the need to foster trust and rapport even when face-to-face meetings are off the table.
“I don’t know if we’re ever going to get back to a world where everyone shakes hands, where we go to massive conferences,” says Altschuler.
In the absence of those traditional forms of trust-building, finding ways to connect virtually will become more important:
- Relying on a robust tech stack and tools (such as direct mail and AI-enhanced outreach tools).
- Leveraging mutual connections, such as VC connections, customer referrals, and referral programs that create built-in trust.
- Continuing to deliver content with a long-tail approach to relationship-building, supporting the customer through the buyer journey with a view to the long-term.
One other factor that could change the landscape over the next 10-20 years: Generational changes occurring in the workforce. As Millennials and Gen Z move into Director and VP roles, these digitally-native groups may value different experiences and more readily embrace virtual-first marketing.
For instance, while in-person experiences like golf or client dinners were popular before COVID-19, the digital-first generations may be more likely to engage in remote trust-building, relying more upon the referral networks they have in place. The traditional concept of field sales will likely fade into the background as new modes of communication and business take center stage.
No matter what form rapport-building may take in weeks and months ahead, empathy should remain central to your approach. “It’s important to stay cognizant that people are going through something right now, and it’s not the time to drive aggressive tactics. Now is the time to stay top of mind. Think long term and get creative in sales strategies. Share the value your company brings to the table, whether it’s through LinkedIn posts or thought leadership discussions. So when things bounce back, people are thinking about the value you provided to them.”
Register below to watch the full on-demand session with Max, and experience other great sessions from our The Show Must Go On virtual event.