How to Build a B2B Inbound Marketing Strategy in Times of Disruption

In uncertain times, building an inbound marketing strategy for B2B becomes that much harder. What are your prospects looking for? Where can you best support your existing customers in their time of need? And how can you pivot your marketing strategy quickly and efficiently to meet these new buyer expectations?

To see how the current crisis is affecting your customers, you need only turn to your colleagues. Across your team, it’s likely that everyone is reacting differently. You may recognise a few of them: the daily runners, the evening drinkers, the shit-we’re-teachers, the people keeping their cool, the ones losing their minds, the rest, like me, see-sawing in between. As someone said to me last week, “my goal for today is just to survive.”

Many B2B marketing heads will be feeling similarly. With the sales and marketing landscape directly impacted by the global epidemic, your inbound marketing strategy — so strong and effective two months ago — suddenly finds itself treading water. Your goals? They've become leaden weights.

In this article, you’ll learn how to build an inbound marketing strategy for B2B that helps your marketing plan to adapt in trying times.

  1. See the steps we’re taking to achieve this ourselves
  2. Follow our framework for implementing this in your own organisation
  3. Feel confident about the decisions you make, so you can continue to hit your objectives, close new business, and grow

How we’re putting our clients first during the global pandemic

Over the last eight weeks, you may have noticed us taking a number of steps in response to the global pandemic. As you’ll have seen from our benchmark data article, organisations everywhere have felt the impact differently, making it vitally important that we caught up with both our clients and prospects to understand the experiences they’re going through and how their situations have changed.

Here are some of the steps we’ve taken and how they’ve helped:

Strategic Alignment Calls

Every client has been affected differently, and we needed to change direction in our strategy and work. In order to do that, we held — and continue to hold — dedicated calls with all our clients to get strategically aligned with them, capture the current situation they and their industry are in, and explore how we can adapt our work to help our clients keep their flywheels spinning.

We’ve tried to understand and work flexibly to the personal situation every client is in, such as accommodating meetings outside our standard office hours and helping one client to facilitate virtual events. To me, this is the heart and soul of customer service.

Client Relations Workshops

Having carried out Strategic Alignment Calls with each of our clients, we held Client Relations Workshops to help the wider team understand the significant role empathy and connection have in our everyday work.

Our ability to treat everyone as an individual with different needs required a different approach. Raising awareness of this enabled the team to treat everyone appropriately, adapting their communication style to every account so our clients feel understood and respected.

Learn more about our workshops and how we set our clients up for success in this article looking at our inbound strategy phase (ISP).

Database outreach

It’s easy to forget that email can also be a listening tool, and your customers are asking for help.

Working alongside our Marketing Manager Hollie Higa, the team drafted a series of outreach emails to our database inviting them to share their challenges and hurdles with us. The situation being what it was, we felt this was the best way to get genuinely valuable article ideas for our blog while reminding our contacts that we’re here, we’re listening, and we want to help. 

It only took a matter of hours to draft the email sequence copy and set up the workflow, but as a result, we were able to communicate personally and at scale with the entire database to discover what people wanted to learn about and how they’d prefer to digest that content.

Reviewed our personas and messaging

While we reached out to our clients to discuss how they’d been impacted and how we could help, Hollie was making calls of a different kind. “We knew our usual positioning statements needed a (temporary) update to address how we could work with our audience to address their new challenges.

For example, before the crisis, we typically spoke to business owners about their longer-term visions — where they want to be in the market and how unlocking the potential of tools like HubSpot would help them cement that position and enable their team. That quickly switched to talking to them about how HubSpot can help them to make quick, data-driven decisions that minimised short-term risk. We updated our positioning statements to reflect the new challenges, and how we could help.”

Once the new statements had been written, Hollie then circulated them to the wider business along with advice on how the change in positioning should be reflected in the language used when speaking to clients and prospects, and when writing content for our target audience. 

“The statements, the tone of voice, and the language used are continually under review. The challenges our audience faces will continue to evolve with the situation, and we need to ensure we are staying relevant.”

In one of our most popular articles, discover how to write simple yet effective tone of voice guidelines the whole business can use. 

Response messaging for our clients

It wasn’t just our own messaging that needed updating. Having taken the steps to understand our clients’ changing needs and how we could help, we proposed a series of Response Messaging Frameworks, led in all instances by our content team. 

“How a brand responds in a time of change or uncertainty says a lot about their business, and the messaging, content, and communication style you choose can have a significant impact”, Tom explains. “Defining response messaging for several of our clients has enabled their teams to communicate clearly and effectively about how they’re approaching the current climate. 

“With a framework behind them, they’re able to demonstrate the value and support they can bring to their customers at this time, any business changes their customers may need to be aware of, and how they’re doing their part in the wider picture.”

Related read: Brand Consistency: The Importance of Consistent Messaging Across Channels

Updated our content calendar

Between the conversations we had with our clients and outreach to the wider database, we were in a strong position to revise our content calendar. This involved planning and outlining a new series of articles. None of the previous work that had gone into the calendar was wasted; we simply moved several of the proposed articles further down the schedule.

This freed up our content team to work on more time-sensitive pieces in April based on the specific needs outlined by our prospects and customers. For us, this looked like remote working advice and best practices for using video in the sales process, enabling Hollie to reach out to the database with timely, relevant content we knew they’d find valuable. 

If you’d like to see us write on a certain topic or answer a specific question, let us know. 

7 steps to adapt your B2B inbound marketing strategy in times of disruption

1. Set up strategic client/customer calls 

Your marketing goals, suddenly so heavy? Forget about those for the moment. Unprecedented market disruption will make any kind of SMART goal forecasting unreliable. Instead, your first port of call is to find out how your customers have been affected.

  • Has the customer’s business been impacted?
  • If so, has it been impacted positively or negatively?
  • How has the disruption affected their ability to do their job?
  • How has it impacted their demand for your services?
  • Are you at any risk of losing the customer’s business? 
  • And finally, what can you do to help?

Depending on the size of your organisation and how many customers you have, it may be impractical to call all of them personally. If this is the case, use step two to gather quantitative data (see below) and instead focus on reaching out to your key customers or a sample of buyers from across your product/service range.

Creating a script for these calls may help you to keep on track and communicate consistently, whoever is making the call. If your sales team’s found that their pipeline has fallen through because of whatever scenario you’re facing, this can be an effective use of their time, especially if they're used to handling sales calls over video.

Being able to see your customers while you engage with them may a) help them to open up to you and b) give you visibility over their body language — crucial for handling difficult conversations sensitively.

Discover how to set up your field sales team to use video in one week. (We’re also offering free coaching calls — enquire through the article.)

2. Conduct database outreach

In uncertain times, people turn to the brands they trust for answers. Their buying capabilities might be limited, but as the data has shown, they have more questions than ever before.

"To make the most of this behaviour, craft an email sequence inviting them to share those questions with you, and follow up this outreach with carefully positioned marketing emails that answer them."

If you’re on HubSpot or a similar platform, you already have all the automation tools you need to quickly get this ball rolling. You probably use them every week to email your database anyway. There’s nothing stopping you from turning that soapbox into an open communication channel between you and the people who matter most to your organisation. 

We recommend a series of three to four emails delivered over a period of time consistent with the frequency of your usual comms. Successive emails should only be delivered to those contacts who’ve not already responded to your outreach and make sure to reference when the sequence will end and you will stop emailing them to avoid becoming a nuisance. 

As always, only email contacts who’ve given you permission to do so.

You might also be interested in: What HubSpot’s ROI 2021 Report Means For Your Future B2B Business Strategy

3. Update your buyer personas

By this point, you will have spoken with your customers and received feedback from your database. The insights you’ve gathered should give you a clearer picture of how your target buyers have been impacted by the disruption, which is exactly the information you need to update your buyer personas for the times.

Spend two to three hours running a response buyer persona workshop to discuss the new data. If possible, involve a senior stakeholder from each key department, ensuring everyone across the business has a voice in what the findings are and how they translate into insights.

Some questions you might like to consider as a group include:

  • Have your buyer personas’ roles changed as a result of the disruption?
  • How has their ability to do their job been impacted?
  • What new challenges do they face?
  • How has their buyer’s journey shifted?

Whether you overhaul your buyer personas or provide a smaller update to reflect the situation will depend on you and how much your customers have been affected. Either way, taking the time to revise your buyer personas will give all your customer-facing teams a definitive picture of how to improve customer service effectively and consistently across the organisation.

Find out how buyer persona workshops fit into our wider Inbound Strategy Planning.  

4. Validate with customer interviews

This doesn’t have to take long, given that you have already reached out to your prospects and customers, but it’s important to validate your revised buyer personas if possible. Follow up with those customers you arranged strategic calls with to explain how you’ve used their insights and request their feedback.

While a small step, this will ensure your buyer personas are true to life and fit for redistribution across your organisation. 

5. Update your messaging

Knowing more about your buyers in the current situation, you can now address how best to communicate with them. Your buyer personas aren’t the only resources you can use for this.

“When getting started with response messaging, use your Business Continuity or Disaster Recovery Plans as a springboard. Then tailor your response messaging to your buyers”, explains Lala. “You can ensure a consistent and recognisable approach, no matter what touchpoint you’re using to communicate — blog, social, email, visual, or any other medium.”

"In terms of striking the right tone, look at both the small and the big picture. This means bearing in mind how your individual personas have changed as a result of the disruption, as well as the wider context. How is the industry as a whole holding up?" 

LinkedIn Insights Analyst Stephen Connaughton has more to offer on the subject: “We [...] looked closely at what words appeared more often in the posts that resonated most. Compared to other coronavirus-related posts, the ones with the highest engagement tended to use words about health, helping, and support. The tone has also changed, with themes of support, community, and care on the rise.”

While your brand’s voice is unlikely to change, a sudden shift in consumer values is a textbook example of when an organisation should review the tone of its communications across the board and create an internal framework to support its use, company-wide.

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6. Review your brand narratives

Your buyer personas will also have revealed if your target buyers’ values have changed. This might include what they now see as most important when choosing a vendor or partner, as well as the kinds of services they actually need. Does the positioning of your services and the brand narratives supporting each service or department still hold up?

It’s likely those stories need to change. If your positioning statement for a product typically champions quality, for example, it could well be the case that your target buyers have reduced the importance of quality in favour of convenience or cost.

"For your sales or business development teams to continue having meaningful conversations with prospects and customers, it’s important to update that story."

When revising your brand narratives, work closely with the new buyer personas you have created. If you went as far as defining power statements for your response buyer personas, you can actually use these to reverse-engineer your brand narratives. This will ensure each service or department speaks to the target buyer and your positioning resonates with them.

7. Review your content calendar

As we explored in our recent article on how the coronavirus is impacting sales and marketing, people might not be buying as much but they’re definitely still learning.

"Weekly traffic to the HubSpot Academy has more than doubled since March 8th, while their Marketing Blog has experienced a 40% rise in weekly organic traffic volume."

Looking at LinkedIn data, you can see something of what people are engaging with. “The share of posts addressing COVID-19 and working from home have rapidly increased — as has engagement with those posts”, explains Stephen. 

If you’re finding it harder to close new deals, education is the best place for you to focus your efforts. That starts with your blog, but it also includes email and social — however you choose to distribute and promote your valuable content.

Rewatch the video calls you’ve had with your customers and review the feedback from your database emails to understand what your buyers are looking to read or watch right now and focus on planning and creating content that addresses that.

Follow our advice on how to build your own content calendar.

Resorting to the Golden Rule of Inbound

As marketers, almost everything we do is planned. Decisions are based on data. Forecasts are pulled from trends. Activity is scheduled, results monitored, the beats of each week counted by recurring meetings and the slurp of routine coffee. Clockwork.

So when disruption hits, we can feel it hard. What should we do and how should we adapt?

Amidst the uncertainty, it’s easy to forget the Golden Rule of Inbound Marketing: the customer comes first. You might not be able to lean on historical data to drive your marketing in the same way you normally would, but your customers are all still a video call away, and they’re looking for help, too. 

When reviewing your marketing strategy in response to sudden disruption, start with them. They might not know it, but they’ll tell you everything you need to know to realign your strategy, pivot your plan, and ensure you can keep doing what you do best — helping, supporting, and enabling your customers, now and in the future.

How have your customers been disrupted, and what can you do to help them?

Read next:

If you’d like to find out more about anything we’ve shared in this article, leave a comment or get in touch with us using the button below. We’re here to help.



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