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Sales and marketing in a crisis: Practical steps to recovery for finance leaders

As we re-emerge into this new era of business, the pressures on CFOs and Finance Directors I have been speaking to, are increasing in multiple ways.

Although my expertise lies in sales and marketing transformation, I work closely with Finance Leaders, who are often critical stakeholders in helping me build the infrastructure and processes needed for their businesses to thrive and grow. And more obviously, the people I have to persuade for the investment I am proposing as part of my solutions!

For many businesses in the retail sector, the lack of digitalisation or ability to pivot online may have resulted in income grinding to a halt. Although, we are all keen to return to business as usual, there are few organisations I speak to that haven’t acknowledged the need to rethink their strategy moving forward.

As is most apparent in the retail sector, rethinking the strategy has also meant rethinking many of the processes, especially in relation to the customer journey and experience, and for the savvy organisations, the infrastructure and people that underpin or drive them.

When the strategy for many retail businesses is now to put the health of their customers as the top consideration, as opposed to one competing with others, or being relegated to a compliance issue, there are opportunities for finance leaders to think even more strategically to ensure the business is putting its best foot forward.

Earlier in the lockdown, I urged businesses to use the lockdown to self-audit their sales and marketing readiness, and remedy any deficiencies, so as to be able to emerge in a purposeful and effective manner. It’s still not too late.

Here is my advice:

Design and implement a new and bold corporate strategy and budget

My challenge to all businesses is to move away from tweaking the 2020 strategy and business plan, and start afresh. This allows room for creative thinking and exploring how budgets can acquired and used in ways other than you had planned pre-Covid, if appropriate. Diversification of products and digitalisation may seem obvious, but is your strategy geared up to make this happen quickly, successfully and with potentially less cash?

Revisit your sales and marketing strategy

As unrealistic as it may sound to the sane reader, there will be businesses that simply expect their sales and marketing teams to recover any losses for the year, and still achieve their targets. It’s not impossible, but it needs to be grounded in a well thought through, and realistic sales and marketing strategy. Tweaking figures for the rest of the year won’t cut it for most businesses, and you are setting your people up to fail at a time when morale may be low.

Is your data helping or hindering your sales and marketing efforts?

I have yet to meet a finance leader that doesn’t love data, and yet, I still walk into businesses with a £multi-million turnover, where the sales and marketing data is not collected, let alone analysed. Your Management Information, ideally driven and produced by a robust CRM system, tailored to your bespoke needs, must be in place to ascertain an accurate return on your sales and marketing investment. This is also the best approach to stripping out cost, and one of the ways in which you can measure sales team under-performance; not just in terms of binary measures, such as target vs. progress, but identifying which specific parts of the sales process or product lines are not working for you.

It will also help provide an accurate picture for customer profiling. Although retail businesses tend to be better at this than other sectors, the lockdown may have caused changes in your customer profiles and buying habits. You may even have discovered new customer profiles in lockdown.

Questions to ask about your CRM system:

  • How does the CRM enhance or inhibit your marketing?
  • How can your sales and / or merchandising teams save time and money, or increase income via clever utilisation of data?
  • How does your data assist your new product development and buying decisions?
  • Can it help you to predict income and growth; patterns of buying and seasonal peaks, for instance?

Strip cost from the right places

I have had many, long discussions with the C-Suite leaders about not treating sales and marketing functions as expendable costs. One of the businesses I worked with reduced the marketing budget from six figures to zero overnight when it hit a bad patch, but was expecting more from the sales and marketing teams to help make up the deficit. Written in black and white it seems like madness to most of you, I hope, and yet, is a common knee jerk reaction.

As a CFO, you may have already asked to see measures from your marketing leader to demonstrate the return on investment from their activities. If you haven’t, now is a good time to start. When I am coaching marketing professionals, I say to them their data justifies their existence. Without it, it is hard to prevent the FD getting out the calculator, red pen and spreadsheet, and striking out rows of their marketing budget.

If your brand starts to disappear in public, the impact will be worse on the bottom line. Money saved on physical events in the marketing budget could be redistributed in part to digital marketing efforts, or invested in PR.

Your website, SEO, digital marketing and advertising budgets are more important than ever

Lack of investment in these areas are at your own peril. Before you pull the website redesign project to save money, work with your sales and marketing leaders to understand the cost vs. benefit analysis of improvements to this critical asset.


Rakhee Verma

For more information on anything in this article, contact Rakhee Verma   of Tigris Management.

Rakhee Verma left PwC in 2011 to pursue a successful career as a management consultant and interim director; helping her clients to    fulfil their strategic and commercial objectives, with an emphasis on building successful growth. With clients in the private, public and third sectors, she brings a unique insight from across a spectrum of businesses and not-for-profit organisations.