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How can Marketing support Business Development in a post COVID world

David Stringer

Working for both Merchant Agency and The MTM Agency, two of the UK’s leading integrated & digital marketing agencies for the last 5 years I’ve been fortunate to sit front row observing first-hand the rapid development of marketing, communication and digital strategies and techniques and their effect on the relationship between sales and marketing. Accelerated further by COVID and on-going changes in buying behaviour and engagement preferences.


So what have been these changes, especially in B2B (Business to Business) markets and how can marketing further support business development in a post COVID world? If the CEO or MD asked you to update your marketing assets, what would you include in your “business development toolkit?”


To answer this question we must first understand how companies gain new business and how business development roles vary depending on company size, structure, marketplaces and client buying behaviour.






From my 30 years plus business development and key account management experience, new enquiries and new business tends to be gained from 4 main sources:

1.    Existing clients.

2.    Referrals – direct or 3rd party.

3.    Inbound leads generated by marketing activities.

4.    Business development – outbound activities, targeting new markets and clients, previously unaware of your business, services and products and when in a “buying” mode previously would not have considered you.


Larger businesses tend to split their key account management, marketing and new business functions, whilst smaller businesses tending to combine these functions, with a business development manager responsible for gaining new business then managing the long term relationship. They may also modify this mix due to buying behaviour and complexity, for instance engaging in larger team “pitches” the involvement of the account management and technical staff can significantly increase conversion and retention rates.


Successful businesses therefore must have clear marketing and sales strategies for existing and new markets but may also choose to add a further element, the introduction of new services or products. This is especially relevant in current B2C markets where traditional physical methods of engagement have been suspended, driving the growth of online purchases and delivery options.

The role of Strategic Marketing.

The strategic marketing model Ansoff’s Matrix demonstrates that businesses looking to accelerate growth or replace lost revenues should not only attack existing markets with existing products (for products think services, especially the UK service based economy, 71% in 2019) but also simultaneously develop new markets and new services. Merchant and MTM are great examples of these strategies, targeting new markets both by geography and sector, Merchant expanding their commodities client base in the US and Asia, MTM growing their existing marine client base and expanding into the UK membership sector. With both agencies expanding their service portfolio’s across digital, PR, design, video and social to their existing and new clients.


 So what are the challenges post COVID and how can marketing help?

 These can be summarised as:

1.    Marketing Strategy: Ensuring you target the right markets and services.

2.    Raising Awareness: Especially when markets have paused buying.

3.    Marketing Communications: Employing the correct methods of engagement.

4.    Sales: Ensuring assets to maximise conversion rate and understanding buyer behaviour. 


Using Ansoff’s as a template, what new markets would you attack or new services launch? Normally the remit of Senior Management, the input of Business Development, Key Account Management and Marketing is essential with their in-depth understanding of market and clients.


Key factors include the risk of each strategy. In ascending order, market penetration is low risk, (you know the market and your services), product and market development is medium risk (you know one but not both) and diversification is the highest. As a marketer it irritates me when business leaders describe a new diversification strategy, when actually describing a product or market development strategy! 


The risk of pure diversification should not be underestimated, even a company such as Dyson with successful product ( hairdryers, heaters, hand dryers) and market (global expansion) development strategies recently wrote off £1 billion in an aborted entry into the luxury electric car market. So diversification should be the marketing strategy of last resort.


Additional factors to consider are time and investment, as market and product development strategies may require medium to long term investment, although these can be accelerated through concentrated marketing campaigns.


Finally, and crucially, is an assessment of the factors to be successful with each strategy. On a market development strategy clear segmentation, targeting and positioning is essential. Once sectors and target accounts have been identified it’s essential to understand how buyers in these markets engage with new suppliers, their buying behaviour and what factors require focus to beat established competitors.


This is where marketing and business development both play key roles. B2B buying behaviour invariably involves interaction not only with direct decision makers but the influencers around them, part of the wider procurement team. Buyers invariably look for evidence of key criteria to minimise their own risk, some of which you may not have, requiring business development objection handling techniques to persuade and convert.


Key decision criteria include the development of trust, in the salesperson and the company, demonstration of experience in the clients sector, proof of expertise and technical excellence through client recommendations and also verification through external trade body and accreditations.


On a practical level marketing activity can be split across the establishment of your brand, reinforcing company, and through social media, personal credibility, campaign activities to drive in-bound enquiries through the appropriate engagement methods and the provision of high quality marketing assets to increase engagement and conversion rates. 


Prior to COVID the main external marketing drivers included globalisation, personalisation and digitalisation. Globalisation through on-line interaction, global logistics and international travel allowing easier access to new markets and creating increased competition. Personalisation in that buyers, B2C and B2B, require personalised engagement messages and services and digitalisation, allowing 24/7 access to company information. This factor alone has driven monumental changes to B2B buying activity, with Gartner reporting buying teams now spend up to 80% of their time on supplier research and online engagement, reducing face to face and presentation opportunities. Requiring both short and long format information, B2B is rapidly following the trend of B2C for short format video, as well as longer corporate videos.  

Key questions and actions:



What will be your strategic mix? Do you have the time, resource and expertise for market and product development strategies or can you activate these quickly. Alternatively, should you attack your existing markets with increased marketing spend and reduced pricing?


Key Account Management:


Do you fully understand which of your services your clients buy and the opportunities to introduce new services and target new locations. Having been responsible for taking over failing sales team you’d be surprised how many businesses don’t! This is especially relevant when dealing with large organisations or global companies that can be siloed. So what “cross fertilisation” opportunities are there?




How strong is your brand and will it appeal to both new and existing clients? A brand refresh sends a clear message that you are open for business and investing in the future.


Engagement methods:


How did you engage with new clients pre COVID and how has that changed post COVID? Were you over reliant on face to face interaction and your existing client base to drive growth. With the current ban on trade exhibitions and reluctance by buyers, even when not in lock down, to meet face to face, how do you make contact with new buyers?

Current Marketing Assets Audit and Business Development Toolkit:

Buying behaviour can be characterised by the established marketing model A.I.D.A – Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. You can only score a goal if you’re on the pitch, so the central function of your marketing activity should be to ensure your business and services are front of mind when a buyer is searching for a new supplier. To either create an inbound lead or support outbound business development.

On a score out of ten, how would you mark each of your current marketing activities and assets?

1.    Brand – is it fresh and will it appeal to both existing and new clients?

2.    Website – when was the last time it had a refresh, does it contain the correct content (sector pages, service description, client logos and case studies), a high quality design, mobile and SEO friendly. Is it well maintained with regular blogs and updates? Does it contain client testimonials?

3.    Social Media & PR – Is your own LinkedIn profile up to date with a professional photograph, clear and accurate information and a high social index selling score? Is your company page up to date with a high quality background photograph, link to your website and regular posted content. Are you posting on other platforms and have a structured integrated social media and public relations program?

4.    Case Study Portfolio – Do you maintain a regular updated case study portfolio, with detailed client benefit stories with high quality photography and imagery. Are they used across your website, social media, capability documents, tender responses and presentations?

5.    Capability and Corporate Newspapers – Do you have up to date capability documents to support targeted business development campaigns and a corporate newspaper to support overall brand activity?

6.    Video: Do we have both short format and long format high quality corporate videos?

7.    Webinars: Are you participating in industry events as a thought leader or organising your own events?

8.    Thought Leadership: Are you publishing thought leadership articles either on your website or through trade media?

9.    Mailshots: Do you have you a “clean” mailing list, sending regular high quality targeted mailings. Sharing new business wins (buyers like to deal with successful companies) and service updates. Are you investing in additional new GDPR compliant leads to target new markets?

10.  Trade Associations and Accreditations: Have you identified which trade associations and accreditations will increase your credibility and access in new and existing markets? Does this include quality and environmental standards such as ISO9001 & ISO14001?

11.  Exhibitions, physical and virtual: Are you planning to attend exhibitions later in the year or attend virtual events? 

12.  Presentation & Proposals: What is the quality of your proposal and presentation assets? Do they assist or hinder your conversion rate? Do they require higher quality design, updated content and infographics to be included or a complete redesign?


This exercise will help identify priorities and also resource allocation. Are there activities you can undertake yourself, fall under your existing marketing resource or require additional in-house or agency support?


This list also provides a checklist of the specific toolkit that business development managers require and the wider marketing activities required to support their efforts.

Raising Awareness: Especially when markets have paused buying.


Continuing both individual and company activities is just as vital when markets have paused. My own 2020 experience showed that buyers used previous lockdowns to gather information, to then interact strongly post lockdown. New business wins and conversion was strong although in peaks and troughs.


Research of previous recessions published by Marketing Week showed that businesses that continued brand awareness campaigns emerged significantly stronger than their competitors. So although highly frustrating, lockdown provides opportunities to plan, target new markets, build new prospect bases and raise brand awareness. 


B2B complex marketplaces require the tenacity and experience of highly skilled business development managers to open previously closed doors, enter new markets and increase conversion rates. In their analysis of 250,000 successful salespeople, Gallup identified four key characteristics, highly organised, highly motivated, ability to form relationships and great closing skills.

The change of the 21st century, accelerated post COVID, is that business development professionals must now have a greater strategic marketing understanding combined with a close partnership with their marketing team. As buyers research online, they require tangible proof of expertise, experience and strong brand values as reassurance of trust and a precondition of engagement. All of which can be provided as part of an integrated sales & marketing model.  

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