An Interview with Mark Priebe, Proximity Marketing CEO
1. How was the agency impacted by the pandemic?
Flexibility with working conditions, such as working remotely was key early on. We had to ensure we had the right tools in place to service clients, even if we were disparate geographically. While we didn’t miss a beat, I admit it was a mad scramble in the beginning to determine what our business looked like relative to the injunction that only essential businesses could keep their doors open.
We were concerned about the possibility our clients could be shut down, even temporarily, and the impact that would have on their businesses. Almost all were considered essential and remained open. It was a huge relief to find out we could help take care of their needs.
2. What were the first priorities?
One of the initial priorities during the first few weeks of the pandemic was offering Covid-related content that the different businesses could post on their websites; to communicate both to their own clients and their team members. Obviously the most important fact to communicate to clients was that they were open for business, and then to relay the precautions each was taking to help prevent the spread of the disease.
3. How were the clients impacted by the pandemic?
Many of our clients were impacted pretty significantly early on. For one, uncertainty created a lot of marketplace stagnation. Organizations rushed to conserve cash in order to remain viable. The downside of this practice is when everyone is conserving cash, while orders aren’t necessarily cancelled, they were often significantly delayed. This marketplace stagnation then creates a strain on those cash reserves.
Another huge impact was on the sale force. The primary function of the sales force is personal interaction with the customer based and prospects. How do you connect with people when you cannot meet face-to-face? Online platforms like Zoom help but cannot replace the human factor to build rapport in person. With sales calls next to impossible and conferences cancelled, new and creative means of communication had to be implemented.
4. What changes did they implement to deal with these challenges?
We witnessed a significant uptick in digital marketing as a way to temporarily replace the lack of face-to-face opportunities traditionally utilized by the sales force, from trade shows to personal sales calls.
It helped highlight for many the importance of keeping their company’s website updated and relevant for their target audience. Some of the questions they needed to answer included:
- What message are we conveying on our website?
- When is the last time we updated content?
- How can we proactively reach out to customers using digital tactics such as emails, social media or web content?
These tactics had value all along, but the pandemic created an urgency to shift the marketing focus to digital methods as part of retaining their voice in the marketplace.
5. How did 2020 impact conversations with prospects?
The pandemic highlighted the value of digital marketing for people who had been on the fence. We had a lot more conversations about e-commerce and what that looks like in a B2B sector. Among our clients those that already had an e-commerce focus fared very well because there was such a shift to buying online. The pandemic forced many who hadn’t considered buying online to start that behavior. Overall, when they find the experience easy and comfortable, this eliminates barriers to embrace e-commerce.
6. What will 2021 hold for B2B communications?
The huge shift to online communications isn’t going to disappear. The pandemic forced a monumental change that helped highlight the value of digital marketing. Companies will continue to pursue strategies and tactics that help them retain a meaningful online presence.
As one example, video conferencing often was devalued prior to the pandemic, yet has become a primary communications tool and changed the dynamics of how many companies do business. I think we’ll see companies using this tool to focus on hosting more educational or training events online.
Video conferencing or educational events make it much easier to pull in experts or specialists from any part of the country to participate. There is far less of a time commitment compared to flying to another city. This offers a huge advantage to pull in valuable resources regardless of geography, to help meet client needs and strengthen those relationships.
Digital marketing represents a strong, viable tool for companies both B2C and B2B to have relevant interaction with their target audience.