The Ultimate B2B Sales and Marketing Guide for Selling in a Pandemic

Advanced Tactics To Find and Engage Prospects That Want to Buy Now



Waters are extremely rough in the wake of the current pandemic. This has had an immediate and substantial influence on purchasing behaviors. A company that was in the market for your solution only a few months ago could now be struggling to merely survive.

ABM is more important than ever before in this post-apocalyptic COVID-19 world. Everyone is hypersensitive to overt sales messages, so every single interaction matters. You must be careful about the accounts you’re selling to, the message you lead with, and the way in which you sell (i.e. everything that ABM stands for).

“ABM programs have been shown to result in significant improvements in pipeline growth. If economic uncertainty continues, these programs should remain a core element of a marketing strategy.”
– Todd Berkowitz, Practice Vice President, Gartner

I know, you want a quick and easy solution, but there is no easy button. Complex problems require more thoughtful and strategic answers. Your buyer’s fundamental definition of value has changed, which means you must be agile and quickly adapt to that change.

So, what does that actually look like? How do you pivot something as monumental as the strategy your business hangs on, and do it on a dime? Then, on top of that, adjust the supporting tactics? This task is not for the faint of heart. Buckle up.

Your livelihood hinges on your ability to deliver more personal, relevant, and insight-lead experiences.

Pivoting Your Go-To-Market Strategy on a Dime

Before we dive into the tactics, we must first look at the underlying foundation on which your strategy is built. You can’t put the cart before the horse. You must put strategy first, then figure out which tools, tactics, and campaigns will best support that strategy.

The most foundational pieces of your B2B go-to-market strategy are:

  1. Choosing the accounts and people to target
  2. Delivering value through your message

Re-Selecting Target Accounts to Find People Who Are In-Market
Since choosing the right target accounts is the first step in ABM, it’s only natural to start here when reevaluating your GTM. Chances are you have accounts on your target account list that were greatly affected by the crisis.

For example, if you previously had companies in the travel, restaurant, or hospitality industries, you better get those off your list faster than greased lightning. Likewise, there are industries that are advancing as a result of the situation. Instead, think of any product or solution making it easier for people to work from home. I know I’m relying much more heavily on solutions like Slack, Zoom, and Dropbox.

Beyond looking at industries, don’t forget to look at company size and estimated revenues. Smaller companies are more likely to be cutting budgets and will be affected sooner and harder than large enterprises. You must ensure that you are focusing your ABM resources on the accounts most likely to buy. Rather than relying on quantitative analysis of historical customer data alone to identify the common attributes of your most valuable accounts, you now must layer in predictive data to enhance ICP development and intent data to see who’s in the market now.

We’ll dive into 3rd-party intent data later, but let’s start with the power of predictive analytics.

Predictive analytics uses data paired with algorithms and machine learning to identify the likelihood of future outcomes based on historical data. In this case, our desired outcome is a closed-won deal. This allows us to process far more information than humans can, and thus better predict the propensity to buy.

Just as Netflix predicts which movies you’ll like based on the ones you’ve already watched, predictive analytics helps choose the companies most likely to buy by analyzing the ones who have already bought (or become opportunities).

What’s unique with a predictive analytics model is your ability to include many more dimensions and data points – often in the hundreds or even thousands. In fact, a big part of the value of predictive vendors is that they do the data collection and cleansing work for you.

“The argument for being targeted could not be more clear now. Companies who have been quasi-account-focused need to get off the fence. After all, you just lost a quarter to a half of your market. Making good decisions about accounts is going to be the difference. There are still deals to be won right now.”
Craig Rosenberg, Cofounder, Chief Analyst, TOPO

Leading with Empathy and Delivering Value to Your Customers
In today’s reality, how you sell matters as much as what you sell. Have you ever purchased something because of who sold it to you or how they sold it to you? They could have been too “sales-y” or pushy, not been respectful of your requests, used a “closing tactic” on you, or a myriad of other things to push your buttons. I know it’s happened to me. Even with enterprise business software.

There’s an old saying that’s prescient and worth repeating: people love to buy but hate to be sold.

You can’t ignore the elephant in the room. If you do, you’re at risk of being tone-deaf and offending customers. This can tarnish your brand reputation beyond recovery.

You must lead with empathy and shift your focus to understanding what your buyer is going through. Remember, their definition of value has changed. And now, you must go beyond merely providing value. You must show up like no one else and offer exceptional and unmatched value. You must be the trusted advisor and promote experiences that support your customer’s journey through their business challenge.

The only way to do this is by leading with empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and feel what they are going through. This means deploying active listening techniques, not interrupting, having an open dialogue, asking for clarification, and not holding judgment.

“You have to thread the needle. Every person and every account matters. Not only do you have to deliver on all of the touches, but you have to think about how to over-deliver. The importance of identifying this value and delivering across the entire life cycle could not be more real.”
Craig Rosenberg, Cofounder, Chief Analyst, TOPO

3 Advanced Sales Tactics To Find and Engage Prospects Today

With your new strategy in hand, you’re ready to dive into the trenches and get to work.

Here are three advanced ABM tactics to help you hit your numbers today:

  1. Leveraging 3rd-Party Intent Data with 1st-Party Engagement Data to Read the Minds of Your Customers
  2. Achieving Personalization at Scale by Balancing Automation and Human Interaction
  3. Delivering Your Message Using the Right Channels in a Changing Landscape

1) Read the Minds of Your Customers by Combining 3rd-Party Intent Data with 1st-Party Engagement Data

When you combine third-party intent data with first-party engagement insights, you can accurately measure active demand and prioritize your coordinated sales and marketing plays. This helps you only focus on the lowest-hanging fruit that is in-market right now.

  • First-party engagement insights are all the interactions you collect, including website visits, email exchanges, marketing automation, and CRM data, and any other technology you use that collects identifiable user data.
  • Third-party intent data is data that you get from offsite destinations that you do not own. Some vendors operate data co-ops, which collect data from tens of thousands of high-value analyst sites like Gartner, review sites like G2Crowd, and publications like Forbes.

You must take into consideration an account’s entire research journey from top-of-funnel research and intent signals, all the way down to bottom-of-funnel engagement data, and even through to post-sale opportunities.

Research shows that when you target prospects who have been recently active with a message that’s highly relevant to their research behavior, you will see a 12x increase in email response.

Right now, you can’t afford to risk taking a guess on who is in the market and reach out cold – because if they’re not, you’re taking the chance of forever being relegated to the blacklist of their inbox and their minds, never to see the light of day again. Therefore, all your other accounts that are showing latent demand require a different approach. You must take a long-term approach and nurture the heck out of them. If you show up with a product pitch while they’re simply trying to survive day-to-day, you’ve just destroyed your chances of ever doing business with them. On the other hand, if you focus on providing value while staying top-of-mind, then when they’re ready to buy, they’ll naturally turn to you.

When people work from home, how does this change intent data?

This has come up many times because traditional intent vendors rely exclusively on Reverse IP data to identify accounts. However, when people work from home, this breaks down because home IPs are associated with internet service providers. In other words, the CMO of your target account will likely get matched to his/her home internet provider, which would be Comcast, AT&T, CenturyLink, etc.

Top intent vendors, like Demandbase, also utilize cookies to accurately map home IP addresses to your target accounts. When cookie-level data is paired with an AI engine that records the IP addresses of networks, it results in an increase in account identification. Other intent vendors that use only reverse IP data see a sharp decline in account identification.

If you choose the right vendor, when buyers work from you, you get better intent data.

How do you make intent data actionable?
Start with your real-time 3rd-party signals around the keywords and browsing behavior that show high intent. For example, our high intent terms are Demandbase, ABM vendors, best ABM software, etc. Examples of our lower intent terms are sales and marketing alignment, B2B marketing, marketing analytics, etc.

Now, build your first-party engagement data on top of that. Take all activities on your owned properties to see where there is recent activity. For example, look at webpage visits, content consumed, email exchanges, data in your CRM and marketing automation, etc.

Now combine your first-party and third-party data from your fresh list of target accounts into an account engagement score, and you have hot accounts and people to go after right now.

Take it one step further and present the relevant data to your sales reps, so that they can achieve the holy grail of ABM – delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

2) Achieve Personalization at Scale by Balancing Automation and 1:1 Touches

Orchestration is a term we love, and it’s become more widely adopted in B2B. We define it as the coordination of activities – some automated and some human – that spans the entire customer journey. This empowers revenue teams to design and automate high-impact account-based plays across channels such as advertising, sales engagement, marketing automation, direct mail, and CRM.

Let’s break down that definition of “Orchestration”:

  • Coordinated activities: this involves everyone on the revenue team.
  • Some automated and some not: leverage tools to automate those things that software is best at (syncing data, recurring tasks, keeping time, etc.) while bringing in personalization for those things humans are best at (building rapport, reading situations, showing empathy, etc.). By striking the right balance, you can begin to scale your efforts.
  • That spans the entire customer journey: to deliver an exceptional experience, you must guide the customer every step of the way, even beyond the initial purchase.

This is how you scale personalized and relevant outreach.

That’s great, but what does this actually look like?

You need to develop an orchestration plan that defines both the people (or automations) responsible for completing steps in the plan, and when those steps should be completed for a campaign or account. The plan gives everyone a guide for executing the complex, multi-channel, cross-discipline interactions that occur with an account-based strategy.

I like the advice from TOPO on planning orchestrated programs. Now, this isn’t something one person can (or should) do alone. You must work with your team to outline the elements TOPO lists.

When you do this right, your customers’ experience of your brand stays consistent across all your Marketing, Sales, and Customer Experience touches. The trick to effectively executing this is keeping all the data clean as you complicate the ways in which you sell. We call this the next generation of automation.

It goes far beyond blindly sending mass emails, which lowers both your marketing ROI and your overall IQ. It creates an impersonal, robotic experience for your customer. Again, the power lies in knowing when to use technology to automate things and when to use the human touch.

Orchestrating automation and personalization in action
Let’s go over a simple example of how automation and 1:1 personalization can work together.

Have you ever taken a meeting or demo of a product, only to later get retargeted by their ads yelling at you to “get a demo now!”? That didn’t feel personal or relevant, did it? You’re just another lead so that a marketer can hit his/her MQLs goal.

This is where automations come in. They can manage ad audiences so that the moment a meeting is recorded in your system, they’ll be removed from the ad audience for your “get a demo now!” ads. Problem solved.

Here are some other examples of correct ways to use automations:

  • Converting leads to contacts, matching those contacts to accounts, and routing to the correct rep.
  • Clean up fields with multiple inputs or change data values.
  • Record data changes and make sure all your data is consistent across all your systems.

Amplifying the human element in sales
Technology can only get you so far. You still need the human element. In fact, technology amplifies your efforts. As John Barrows says, “Automation tools amplify your efforts, so if your cold emails suck, you’re amplifying the suck”. On the other hand, if you’re sending good emails, it allows you to send more good emails. However, if you’re sending really crappy cold emails, you’ll be amplifying the poor behavior, thus continuing to give sales a bad reputation.

We’ve talked about channels and interactions all being in sync, but your people must be too. Everyone on your selling team needs to be in lockstep. Let’s go to another example. Have you ever been on the phone with a rep explaining your issue, only to get passed to someone else because the first guy was the main support line? You then spend 15 minutes repeating your issue and trying the same basic troubleshooting steps, only to hear that your issue must be escalated, so they put you through to someone else, where you have to once again repeat the issue and basic steps. Then you accidentally get disconnected, and instead of going through the pain of calling support again, you throw the old product in the garbage and order a new one on Amazon.

This is what happens when your data and people don’t talk to each other. Every person your customer talks to should have 360º visibility into all activities at your account. If a customer is in the late stage of a buying process and the CMO is finally being brought in, when she downloads a whitepaper, your SDR better not be following up asking if she wants to schedule a demo.

Buying is a team sport, especially in the enterprise. Gartner revealed research showing there are 6-10 people involved in a purchasing decision. data shows that on average, winning deals have at least three stakeholders from the buying committee in meetings across the sales cycle.

The bottom line is that selling is a team sport. But it’s hard. Done incorrectly, when you get multiple people involved (on your side and theirs), it can hurt your chances of closing the deal.

However, if you can execute it correctly, you’ll create a better customer experience, and your ability to close the deal skyrockets.

3) Deliver the Right Message at the Right Time Using the Right Channels in the Changing Landscape

The channel mix that you used to heavily rely on has changed. We all know conferences, field events, and the like are completely off the table. The odds are stacked against telemarketing. In fact, in a state of emergency, telemarketing is banned. Not to mention, it’s very invasive. Direct mail has also taken a hit since no one is in the office to receive packages.

The obvious choice is to turn to webinars and email, since they’re both among the biggest drivers of demand. But webinars are quickly becoming oversaturated because everyone and their moms are doing them (seriously, my just mom ran a webinar for the volunteer work she’s doing). And email has gone through the roof, especially since emailing your list is the most effective way to promote a webinar (we all know that fun social media video that got a lot of likes only drove 7 registrations).

You must create more immersive and innovative virtual experiences for buyers.

The truth is email isn’t going away any time soon. There’s a good reason everyone is still leveraging that channel – it works! But with email taking center-stage, unsubscribe rates are soaring. The two levers you can pull to avoid this are 1) being more selective of who you’re emailing and 2) sending more personalized and relevant messages to those people.

The critical role of email
As email takes center stage, the goal shouldn’t be more – the goal should be better quality.

Now, there’s a big difference between sales emails sent from your sales engagement platforms (like Outreach, Salesloft, etc.) and marketing emails sent from your marketing automation systems (like Marketo, Hubspot, etc). But if you’re focusing on the types of emails, then you’re focused on the wrong thing. Bear with me.

The average number of touches (from any kind of outreach, whether it be emails, social, calls, etc.) it takes to get a response continues to climb. The exact number varies depending on who conducted the research, but they all come to the conclusion that more is better.

But here’s why that doesn’t matter. In fact, listening to those stats will get you into trouble.

Here’s what happens: A study is conducted and the results show the number of emails it takes to get a response. At this point, it’s a statement of facts – no harm, no foul. What happens next is what gets us into trouble. We take the results of the study to mean “we should have X number of emails in our outbound email plays.” Said another way, the conclusion we leap to is “I should strive to get X number of email in my outbound efforts.” However, reps eventually run out of things to say, resulting in crappy emails, which consequently lowers responses. Then, ultimately, the studies in subsequent years show a higher number. Then the pattern continues and spirals out of control.

This perpetual cycle won’t stop unless we do something about it right now!

The question we’re asking shouldn’t be “how many emails does it take to get a response?” but rather, “What if you had only one email, only one chance to connect with a prospect – what would you say? This turns your focus to quality.

And this is the approach you should take with any and all of your channels.

In a perfect world, we would be able to consistently connect with prospects with one touch, but the reality is we need multiple high-quality touches and multiple channels.

Let’s first talk about multiple touches. When you do send a follow-up message no matter the channel, you must still focus on delivering value. There are too many “just following up” or “checking in again” messages. You need a better reason. Here are 4 justifiable reasons for following up with a target prospect:

  • Reemphasize business value – What can you do for the prospect? You must find a way to provide value. Talk to their fears and frustrations or wants and aspirations.
  • Provide commercial insights – Studies by the ITSMA prove that “75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials that contain ideas which might be relevant to their business.” Share a different way to approach their problems or a novel idea for how they can reach their business goals.
  • Teach/Educate – Offer a piece of valuable content that your marketing team provided to you. It could be anything from a whitepaper or ebook to webinar or case study.
  • Offer relevant news – Savvy businesspeople love to stay up-to-date with the latest on what’s happening in their industry or market. They’ll thank you for it, and you’ll be positioned as a trusted expert and in-the-know.

Solving the sales Rubik’s Cube
Now, let’s talk about your channel mix. This can be tricky because it has many moving parts, so let’s walk through it together.

30% of sales development leaders say that detailed touch patterns for SDRs are the most important factor contributing to their sales development success (Source: 2019 Sales Development Benchmark Report, TOPO).

When designing your orchestrated plays, your goal is to grab the attention of and build trust with your buyers by consistently providing extreme value across multiple channels.

If you really want to get on your prospect’s radar without being a nuisance, add social media to the mix by favoriting a prospect’s tweet and then following them an hour later. When they follow you back, you can then send a direct message via Twitter. You can use a similar approach on LinkedIn – just comment or “like” a post your prospect has written.

In today’s selling environment, email and social are table stakes. Although smiling-and-dialing is a less viable option right now, there are other ways to deliver your message. One that I’ve always been a fan of is video. And not everyone is doing it yet, so it’s not an over-saturated medium yet. Tools like Vidyard, Loom, and BombBomb are great tools that are easy to use.

It’s like a voicemail that you leave for someone, but at another level. Just take your regular voicemail script and say it to the camera. And there are a bunch of ways to use video other than just a cold outreach video:

  • Introduction: If you’re taking over for a rep, get a new territory, or get a new account.
  • Show-and-tell: This is my favorite – when you have a powerful demonstration of how you’re using your product to do the job (think the BlendTec “will it blend” series or a Cutco Knives infomercial – as cheesy as they are, they work).
  • Event followup: After a webinar, following up with your audience with a short recap and exclusive offer is another way for you to stand out. You can also use this for ebook downloads, demo requests, or any other form fill.
  • Pre-meeting connect: By sending a quick video to a prospect before the meeting, you reduce the cancellation rate and create a more human connection.
  • Meeting recap: Follow up with a short video to summarize your conversation and next steps.
  • Email signature video: Adding a thumbnail image to your signature that links out to a fun video about you can help you stand out.

The virtual destination of your video (i.e. landing page) can have a major impact on your customer experience as well. Not all videos need to have a call-to-action like “take a meeting now.” In fact, that should only be a portion of the time. Other times, you want them to stay on your site to consume other content and develop a need for your product before they’re ready to take a meeting.

The more you can control their consumption experience and stay top of mind while they’re in the early stages of buying, the better your chances of getting the deal. I taught my team how to do this in two ways. First, Vidyard lets you define playlists, so you can choose the content and thus the journey you take your prospect on after they watch the initial video.

You can also create micro-sites and content hubs, then host personal videos there.

When you create your micro-site, make sure you have analytics on to assess which content and resources your prospects are engaging with, then pass that information along to the sales reps working those accounts. When taking this approach, be sure to use “no-index” and “no-follow” tags to exclude search engines from crawling those pages.

Taking it one step further, put a tracking pixel on that page, so you can serve awareness and retargeting ads to your prospects so you can stay on their mind wherever they go on the web.

Let’s briefly go back to something from insight #2. We talked about the importance of your systems talking to each other, and the rule still applies. In order to deliver a great customer experience, we must make sure that our messages across our different channels are aligned. Again, that’s where our automations come in to help manage our audiences. If a prospect moves to the next stage of your journey, your emails, videos, ads, content, etc. must all be showing content appropriate for where that prospect is in the journey.

Conclusion – Your Time is NOW!

Now more than ever before, companies are looking more strategically at priorities and investments for the coming months and into 2021. In this context, shifting resources from broader marketing and sales approaches to more targeted and personalized ABM initiatives is essential.

Use the guidance we’ve laid out here and you’ll be in good shape to weather the storm. But remember, you must start with your strategy. After that can you define the tactics that are going to help you come out on the other side bigger, stronger, and faster.

Thought Leader, B2B Marketing & Sales Strategy

I possess extensive experience helping organizations create and orchestrate strategic programs that help to retain customers and power sales execution. I'm passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. I enjoy reading, playing hockey, and most outdoor sports. Check me out on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with me on LinkedIn at