My wife’s cousin, Hunter, is a very talented woodsman. At a young age, he spent hours upon hours in the woods with his dad, hunting, fishing, and–to my surprise—setting good old-fashioned traps for the slow seasons.
In fact, much of Hunter’s off-season time was spent figuring out where foxes liked to eat, sleep, and forage, and he’d plan his trapping strategy accordingly.
Interestingly, the process isn’t too unlike how digital marketers should view their PPC strategies in the slow seasons of the business cycle.
It’s because of this principle that one of our clients landed a major deal that they would have otherwise missed.
What Not to Do When Business is Slow
When business slows down, we want to cut our expenditures. It’s how one of our clients was leaning recently as they entered a slow season. We advised them to keep their ads going longer than they wanted, niching down to focus on long-tail high-intent terms that could capture researched prospects.
Fortunately, they listened.
A Prospect in their niche market got their ads. They visited their landing page. And they signed the biggest deal our client had ever gotten.
Business tends to go in fairly predictable cycles. There are annual cycles, and we’re comfortable with their predictability. But other cycles run longer. We hit periods of economic slowdown, often after an encouraging burst of growth.
The B2B tech market—and especially the SaaS sphere—may be about to hit a period of slowdown beyond the predictable annual cycle. Some say we are actually in that slow down right now. In this case, we feel the need to respond, sometimes rather drastically, in several different ways.
While we don’t claim to be economists, when it comes to marketing and ad budgets, we do know what we’re talking about.
Forget to Follow Common Business Sense
When revenues decrease, so must expenditures. It’s Personal Finance 101.
But Business 101 teaches that you don’t cut revenue generators.
When you need to make more sales, you don’t get rid of your sales team. You optimize, and you may replace some weaker team members with more capable sellers, but you always want your revenue generators working for you.
You also make sure you have enough engineers continuing to produce your product (or consultants if that’s your business). This makes sense, as you need to make sure you have a quality product or service to sell.
Cut Your Ad Budget
The same is true of your advertising and market budget, and it’s why I spent so much time talking about Hunter the Trapper.
Like him, we need to use the slow seasons to bait our traps to make sure we catch something once the buying season reopens.
In late Q3 into Q4, clients and prospective buyers have spent most of their budget and aren’t likely to make a purchase until the next year. That is the time to put your message in front of them so that they become familiar with you and remember you when their budget is available in Q1.
In times of actual downturn, this is even more crucial.
You may not be advertising, but assume that your competitors are. Only one of you will catch the fox when they re-emerge from the den.
Cutting your advertising budget is a surefire way to put yourself behind the competition as the market gets leaner. Do it, and you might not even survive.
On the other hand, keep advertising a little longer than makes you comfortable, and you could land a five-star deal like our client did.
So now, what do you do when business is slow?
Shift Your Spending Strategy to Top-of-Funnel Marketing
You keep advertising, and you don’t change your spending amounts too much. But your message will probably have to change a little.
Instead of exclusively aiming for companies that are about ready to buy, you’ll want to shoot for those that aren’t as far along in the buyer journey. In fact, you should assume that the time it takes a buyer to make a purchase is going to increase.
What we’re saying is, aim your message higher in the funnel.
The Marketing Funnel: A Recap
“The Funnel” is one of the terms most frequently bandied about in sales and marketing circles, but perhaps this term is new to you. Here’s a quick crash course.
Sometimes I use a funnel to fill my Jeep’s radiator. I hold it over the small opening and pour coolant into the wide mouth of the funnel. The liquid runs down the edge, where it gets smaller and smaller until, finally, it gets into the radiator’s narrow opening. A few drops may be spilled because of what is needed makes it in.
In the marketing and sales funnel, leads go into a wide opening at the top, and as they work their way down we narrow their focus so that they’re no longer considering the competition. By the end of the journey, they’ll leave through the bottom of the funnel believing that our product or service is the best fit for them. Like the few rogue drops of oil, a few buyers may fall out of the funnel the leads needed are there.
There are some different models proposed, but the most basic sales funnel consists of four levels: Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action.
Perhaps you’ve been targeting your ads at those who already know they need your product and have shown an active interest through your search habits. You’ve been working to turn that initial interest into a decision in favor of your service and not the competition’s.
But they still need to make the purchase, so our marketing messages often focus on pushing the decided one off the edge and into the pool of decision.
As things slow down, you need to address potential buyers at the outer edges of the funnel. This is called Demand Generation, as opposed to demand capture.
Widen Your Message
The upper levels of the funnel require a wider message for you to attract potential buyers.
Focus on educating your audience instead of selling them something right away. Provide helpful information that they can use even if they don’t immediately buy from you today – this will help build trust and loyalty over time.
After you’ve made them aware of their problem and that you can fix it, you can focus on generating interest.
So let this slow time be an opportunity for brainstorming sessions. Get your whole marketing team involved and focus on really understanding who your ideal customers are, and what it takes to get them to that point. Exactly what problems are they trying to solve? Why aren’t those problems immediate enough that they need a solution today? What decision criteria are they using when they do start looking for a solution?
If you have group buyer persona documents, now’s a time to reacquaint your team with them. If you don’t, work as a team to create them. It may be worth talking to some of your current satisfied customers and asking them what problems led them to you, and how they became interested.
If you need some help understanding and crafting your buying personas, New North can help you with it.
Focus on writing clear messages for each of the four stages of the funnel. Now it’s time to bait the messages for your intended targets and set the traps.
Nitty Gritty Ad Tips
Once you’ve got your message refined, you’re ready to send it out. We recommend social media campaigns and paid search ads—especially on Google and possibly also on Bing.
Think about your keyword search terms. Lower in the funnel you may use terms that include your brand name or specific questions people search for only when they’re educated about your product or service.
But now you’ll want to purchase ads focused on the more general keywords.
A keyword analysis here is crucial. New North can identify all the most effective search terms for you at each level of the funnel. We’ll give you a full rundown of what is currently working now, and which opportunities you’re missing. We rank each keyword by relevance, competition, and cost, make suggestions, and we’ll even write and build the ads for you if you so desire.
With the right keywords, you can put your ads in front of the people who make decisions and those who influence them in the right direction.
Combine this with higher-level messages on your social media platforms, and you can increase brand awareness that’ll lead the foxes to your trap as soon as they come out of hiding.
Want Help Making the Most of Your Marketing?
It takes patience to let the leads come to you. Don’t wait until they are ready to buy to restart marketing. It’ll be too late. If you’re willing to rally together your team around your business’s core values and strengths, you can use the slow season to craft the perfect messages that will fill your traps as soon as things speed back up.
At New North, we’ve been helping B2B companies generate leads for over a decade. Schedule a free consultation, and we can review your B2B marketing to identify areas for improvement.