It’s not an exaggeration to say that the whole planet has been forced to change the way it does business in 2020. From small high street businesses to global players, there have been some winners, but also losers.
While we are starting to see glimpses of a return to limited retail activity in many affected countries – showing what’s in store for some businesses – what does the future hold for the manufacturers and businesses that rely on exports, trade shows and foreign market visits?
Put bluntly, they have to replace that activity, now, or they won’t survive.
The State of California has already indicated that mass gatherings and conferences are unlikely to take place in 2020, and maybe beyond. It’s unlikely that UK venues will host large B2B events where social distancing would be almost impossible, at any time in the near future.
My last trade show visit, to the NY NOW gift show in Manhattan, was to help a Scottish home goods manufacturer with their first US show at the massive Javits Convention Centre.
Within four weeks of that February 2020 show, the centre had been commandeered as a field hospital, giving an idea of the seismic shift that events, venues and trade shows will have to contend with for the foreseeable future.
Countries all over the world will hold off gathering international audiences from far flung corners of the planet until there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Even then, there will be a lasting effect of the ‘behavioural revolution’ we all just lived through.
How welcome British business travellers will be to other countries also remains to be seen, as relative rates of infection rise and fall in different parts of the world.
Nevertheless, we have to keep showcasing products, connecting with buyers and engaging with individuals who control our future revenue streams. This all has to happen without huge budgets and without travelling and meeting in person.
So, what now? Well, the marketing priorities of global business have moved towards digital media, and in B2B terms, there’s one clear stand out winner. LinkedIn.
Back in 2003 when LinkedIn launched in California, it was largely targeting the recruitment sector for revenues. By 2020, with over 645m users (New York Times), it has evolved into the most trusted, most segmented and most targetable business media on the planet.
If you need to market to niche audiences and replace trade shows, sales visits and pivot into new territories and markets in a post-COVID-19 reality, it should be your No. 1 media for the rest of this year.
Most businesses in 2020 think they have a handle on LinkedIn; they have profiles, they might have a social media strategy to attract new followers and connections and share organic posts to their audiences, either corporate or personal.
The transformational value of LinkedIn as a new sales channel in 2020 comes via exploring the commercial aspects of the platform, cherry-picking tools and blending organic and paid content in order to unearth compelling new sales relationships quickly.
For some time, avid networkers have seen the benefits of paying for Premium membership to allow for direct messaging, extra rights to make new connections or to hide information.
Some firms use paid ads within LinkedIn via Campaign Manager as a way to reach audiences. It replaces display ads on other digital or print media with targeted ads on LinkedIn itself which, again, has some value, but still doesn’t utilise all the features that LinkedIn offers.
Sales teams and senior executives will be familiar with Sales Navigator, the platform’s sales-focused offering. It brings together CRM functionality and extra targeting features that sales teams can use to help identify future targets as part of their outreach activities.
Hidden deep within the Sales Navigator platform, and available at the highest levels of subscription, there are some hugely compelling devices and features that allow you to identify individual LinkedIn members who have read your ads, seen your slide shows and engaged with content.
For example, my organisation has seen massive ROI in the education sector, filling graduate level courses with fee-paying students from around the world over the last five years using just PR coverage and paid LinkedIn.
We’ve found buyers for gin and whisky in the USA, offered property software to surveyors in the UK, and introduced lawyers to their counterparts in overseas markets.
In one case, this approach has replaced telesales to provide over 1,000 named SaaS (software-as-a-service) leads for a scaling UK developer, feeding a large sales team their leads and helping the business grow without any other form of advertising.
Only a tiny proportion of LinkedIn ads leverage the platform’s full potential and that in itself offers an opportunity to stand out compared to less-sophisticated campaigns.
Best of all, SMEs can harness its power to launch micro-campaigns that only target very small audiences with specific job titles.
The potential that LinkedIn has to step into fill the void left by trade show activity is huge. Now is the time to revisit the way you as a business think about the platform.
Be creative, think about how to gain trust and foster a sales funnel from day one.
The key takeaways:
2020 Has been a challenging year for every business, and there’s a long road to recovering the months almost everyone has lost.
For some B2B marketers, LinkedIn can be the lifeboat, the silver-lining and the vehicle to keep sales and leads flowing in an uncertain world.
This is provided you invest time to understand LinkedIn’s full capability to replace or supplement face-to-face marketing and sales activity, and leverage it to bridge your marketing, PR and sales functions.