Given this economic crisis, its highly probable that management is worried about sales forecasts and thinking about marketing budget cuts.
There are three ways for marketers to respond.
1. Shorten "the list" — Eliminate selected marketing activities until spending does not exceed the new budget.
2. Go into "sales support mode" — Do whatever it takes to help a few reps close a few deals.
3. Reassess the "marketing strategy"– Ensure that the company is targeting the market segments that are most likely to invest in its solutions during this economic downturn. Then weigh every marketing investment against its potential to influence sales effectiveness in that segment. Reject any activity that doesn't have a high score and submit a revised plan to management. Finally, show management how you will measure the effectiveness of their investment.
The first two responses appear safe and might buy enough time to survive a short-term reduction in business activity. But if the pundits are right about the severity of the current economic situation, marketers who choose to do what's asked rather than what's needed are putting their jobs and companies at risk.
We can cancel all of the marketing activities we want — when times get tough internal stakeholders will still question the value of whatever remains. And when a marketer stops to help one sales person close one deal, he's trading the value of a single sale against the work he could be doing to improve the performance of the entire sales force.
Marketers frequently ask me how often they need to revise their insights into their buyers. I always reassure them that buyer's problems don't change that often. While vendors are frequently focused on the potential of their latest new product, their buyer's big concerns haven't changed a bit. In fact, it takes a significant external event to change a buyer's priorities and challenges.
I sometimes mention Enron and the subsequent enactment of Sarbannes-Oxley as an example of an event that impacted priorities for a whole lot of buyers. Fortunes were made by the companies that altered their segmentation, messaging, and program strategies to address these buyers' problems.
It looks like I've got a new and far more potent example of a problem that marketing can resolve. It will be nice when the details of this financial downturn can be retold as a story that happened once upon a time. But we're not there yet. Marketers have a choice to make about how this story impacts their own careers and companies. Those who are proactive internally and grounded in their buyers' realities have the best chance to create a happily-every-after ending.