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CMO Strategy Series: Three New Approaches to Planning Amidst the Pandemic

Written by Julia Stead, CMO at Allocadia

The economic recession caused by COVID is still in its infancy, and most experts agree that the effects will be long-lasting. The intensity of focus on marketing spend is exponentially higher during a recession, so it’s paramount that all marketing plans are tied to predicted outcomes – whether that’s pipeline or sales. 

Until B2B and B2C buyers start to spend again with consistency, how can CMOs set realistic targets and plan to achieve them?

The short answer is you can’t easily, or well.  

Predicting outcomes and setting realistic targets will be an ongoing challenge for quarters to come. To mitigate the uncertainty, we’re doing more scenario planning when it comes to budgets and campaigns. We have a few different versions for how we can invest, based on early results each quarter, data on what’s working now, and the evolving health of the business. As I talk with our customers, many of them are doing the same and taking advantage of the scenario planning tools built into Allocadia.

With that in mind, how can we best plan for the next quarter? These are three new approaches that shaped my planning process:

  1. Take advantage of the disruption
  2. Foster team connection with the right tools
  3. Use agility to drive business impact

Take Advantage of the Disruption

Allocadia’s budget is relatively simple, so I chose to start fresh rather than rolling over plans from the previous year. Certain long term, committed areas of spend like technology and analyst relations are being scrutinized to make sure they support our current go-to-market strategy and will continue to give us maximum business impact for our dollars. Otherwise with critical channels like in-person events being wiped out, and a more cautious approach to long-term spend, we are essentially starting with a blank slate.

It’s not business as usual, so we’re taking the disruption as an opportunity to align our budgeting more intelligently with business goals, including market segments. It’s a common theme I’ve heard during talks with other CMOs and marketing leaders. COVID-19 has put a lot of activities on hold, so this is a chance to effect positive change by improving operational infrastructures and best practices which will ultimately drive more efficient workflows, and better, faster access to meaningful data. 

I’m also taking the time to re-evaluate what expertise we need in-house to match our evolving go-to-market strategy, and what expertise we’re missing but may need to outsource short-term. This can also involve re-training certain people or adjusting job descriptions and goals. The skills and competencies of a marketing organization pre-COVID can look quite different than the needs post-COVID and now is the time to make adjustments. 

Foster Team Connection with the Right Tools

Last month we held our first fully remote team planning session. InVision has some great (and free!) whiteboard tools that are really useful for virtual team collaboration. The remote aspect was certainly a complication, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be doing these from our own homes and we need the right tools. The experience highlighted to me how important access to the same data is for creating efficiency and clarity. 

Of course we use Allocadia as the source of truth for our investment strategy and plans, and have consistency in our processes. But when it comes to project management and visibility across the team on things like timelines and dependencies we’re a bit scattered. A section of our team is working on a plan to revamp our team usage of Asana to address that. Being remote, a greater emphasis is placed on collaborative tools, documenting everything, making plans transparent, and easy to iterate upon. Committing to improving our collaboration and communication systems will support future quarterly planning and marketing efficiency in general – regardless of where we’re working from.

One similarity to past planning meetings that were done in-person, is that I blocked off a few days for the team to really step out of working ‘in’ the business, and give the appropriate time and mindset to tackle strategic planning and new ideas. We’ll definitely do that next time, as well as having an interactive group retrospective. It was a great opportunity to discuss what’s working now vs what isn’t and explore new potentials.

Use Agility to Drive Business Impact

The majority of marketing organizations have fewer resources but still have a mandate to grow the business. To achieve this, we’re laser focused on streamlining activities and spending where we’ll make the biggest business impact.

But what business impacts are we trying to achieve? Talking with other CMOs, there are so many considered critical right now:

  • Retaining existing customers
  • Landing new customers
  • Expanding revenue from within our existing customer base
  • Improving brand awareness and industry recognition

The obvious answer is that we want it all. But trying to accomplish too much with limited resources results in slow progress across the board. So we’re picking one or two ‘North Stars’ of desired business impact to focus our marketing strategy and plans around. 

Like most marketing leaders I am looking at shorter planning cycles. At this point, my team and I haven’t implemented a full agile framework, but we’ve adopted certain agile processes and definitely the mindset of quick iterations, prioritizing big-impact projects, and continuous improvement.

Here’s exactly what we’re doing:

  1. Focusing on weekly priorities and identifying short term projects that take at maximum two weeks
  2. Measuring outcomes from those projects similar to sprint cycles
  3. Conducting frequent retrospectives to understand what we did well, what we could do better, and taking action on that

Our plans are mostly focused on where to invest over the next three months, and strategic, longer-term investments span six months. Which is incredibly short-term compared to the old ways of annual planning. The focus on short-term planning to drive impact is honing our ability to plan strategically.

Random acts of marketing aren’t going to bring the business impact we need right now. With each new curve, we learn more about how to pivot and how to better set ourselves up for future iterations. Our new ‘normal’ is mercurial and we need to embrace the unpredictability as opportunities to try something new.