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How CMOs can manage budget and resource cuts, and still deliver in a recession

TSM-marketing-strategy-in-recession

Cost cutting is hitting almost every business now. As organisations brace for economic downturn, in sales led B2B organisations this typically means the marketing budget takes a big hit. With the increasing pressure to cut spend, and often reduce headcount, many CMOs are asking how they can continue to deliver (often aggressive) revenue targets.

The answer lies in creating an integrated marketing strategy which focuses on what works and eliminates what doesn’t. Discipline is your friend. By being hyper vigilant about what makes the cut in your strategy, and what doesn’t, you’ll be able to operate in this constrained environment more confidently.

Too often, marketing teams are running an astounding number of activities, from content plays across the funnel, campaigns, ABM, content syndication and other field work, all multiplied across regions. Whilst that’s not a problem in itself, the issue arises when the siloed nature of these activities lacks alignment and integration between members of the marketing team, between regions, and of course with other business functions, including sales. Without alignment, the effort expended in each silo is not working in unison with others towards a common goal, limiting its impact.

When budgets tighten, capacity is constrained, and targets keep rising, it simply isn’t a smart or viable decision to keep ploughing forward executing on every request that lands with marketing. As a strategic pillar in business, now is the time for you to stand up and flex some strategy muscle, paving the way for efficient and effective GTM activity.

It all sounds like common sense, and that’s because it is – it’s just not put in practice all that frequently. So, if you’re ready to change the marketing game in your organisation, to give your team a fighting chance of success, these considerations should help.

Herding cats

When resource is scarce, you need to think about how you can spread that resource to deliver the most good. This is when the pareto principle (80/20 rule) is a useful framework. Whilst every specialist in the marketing team and every region may have their own nuanced needs, when you look across these, you’ll find there are typically many more commonalities.  

It’s here where marketing leaders can focus the team’s energy and effort.

What about those big bets handed down from global? You guessed it, you need to bring these into one single view together with the needs of your regions and teams; and do the hard work of aligning and synthesising. Find the connections and common threads, and the outliers. The areas of commonality should inform the core plan and activity, knowing these can be adapted to accommodate specific nuances. This also helps to align team members around their role within this more integrated view.   

Use data to help you form a view on points in your customer journey which need the most attention. How do you fuel the entire machine, and what does success look like at various stages – remember to build a common language for defining success, as it varies at every stage.

And what about those outliers? Now’s when the tough decisions need to be made. How important are those outliers? If an activity or priority is unique to one region or team, and critical in delivering to the overall business goals, then it likely needs to be accommodated. If not, then read on…

Shepherding the flock

Now that you’ve identified the focus areas (and the no-go zones), it’s time to walk the halls and do the most important job in marketing – stakeholder alignment and management. It’s not enough to have an integrated plan, you need to communicate it in terms your stakeholders understand and care about. You need to help them understand how this will contribute to business outcomes they are also responsible for producing. Building consensus around your plan is key to its success – and by extension, yours.

Doug Kesler shares the brutal truth on stakeholder management in his piece, a stakeholder through the heart. If you haven’t read it, finish this, then go there and read that. I’ve lost count of the number of times great ideas and sound strategic initiatives have been killed off because the right internal stakeholders have not been aligned. It is easily one of the most important jobs in marketing.

It’s not enough to get initial alignment and consensus, you need to continually invest in this over time, share results and build confidence in your plan as it’s being executed. Market the marketing.

Build a ringfence

Alignment is not where it ends. Marketing is a magnet for new requests from across the business, so it’s critical to maintain your resolve. Remember, the purpose of building a more integrated strategic plan is to enable your team to deliver business results under more resource and budget constraints, so don’t allow more to creep onto their plate unless it serves your strategy.

This is where the investment you’ve made in stakeholder management will pay dividends. Building trust and confidence will give you the license to critically assess this new ask and how well it aligns to the strategy.

  • Is your plan already poised to achieve the outcomes this ask is also seeking?
  • Is this ask going to take precious time and budget away from your agreed priorities?
  • Will that deliver a better result? And so on…

After considering all these factors, the decision should be clear – and importantly you’ll have the rationale and data to explain that decision, whichever way it falls.  Remember, if you decide the ask does need to be accommodated, then you also need to consider what you’ll remove to make room in your budget and capacity – or ensure you have the right resources in place to maintain your current plan with the addition of this new activity.

Marketing is hard work. Made harder during a recession when the pressure is on to do more with less. It’s important to remember that marketing is a strategic function, so claim that ground and let your integrated strategy set you free.