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What should I do about Marketing? A Recession Guide for CEO’s

It’s official: we are heading into a recession. Economists have estimated the arrival of a nationwide recession within the next 12 months. We’re already seeing carnage from larger tech companies, and it’s moving its way down to layoffs in mid-sized companies as well.

As a CEO, you’ve got to make some tough decisions– none are popular. None are the ones you dreamed about making when working your way to get to the CEO seat, but no one else is going to make these tough decisions for you.

While we hate it as much as you do, GROW wants to help. We’re not just here when things are looking great; we’re also here to be a rescue boat when the iceberg feels like it’s heading straight toward you.

As such, we’ve prepared a list of considerations and contingencies that we hope helps CEOs, investors and leaders alike figure out the tough stuff before it gets figured out for you.

As a CEO, pressure is coming from all sides.

From investors vying for your “recession roadmap” to employees inquiring about future employment status, we here at GROW Powerful understand that CEOs are shouldering the anxiety coming from cash flow shortages, impending layoffs, yearly figures, and continuing with the remote work environment that’s worked for the past few years.

Something’s gotta change. Fast.

Figure out the company strategy

As a CEO, your available paths to navigating the upcoming recession are going to be largely dependent on your business strategy. From this, a plan of what to do about your company’s marketing can finally take shape

As we see it, there are four main, widely applicable options to consider, both within your marketing operations and the company as a whole.

Your first steps.

So, we’ve established a few main routes of navigation within a recession market, but as a company working within the B2B tech space, what should your very first steps be to ensure that you’re doing as much as possible to remain competitive? Here are a few steps that we at GROW Powerful recommend doing right now, no matter your chosen path.

#1: Stop random acts of marketing. Expenses and campaigns that don’t tie into either you or your brand’s vision are a waste of time and resources—full stop. Most companies are guilty of piling company funds into these random marketing campaigns, but if it’s not contributing to improved strategy or ROI programs, then it’s just dead weight pulling your company down. Remember: you’re looking to optimize available funds wherever you can— nascent advertising is not going to get you where you need to be. Pull the plug.

#2: Determine alignment. Establish your company’s alignment with the ongoing growth operation of the business. If you find that it’s simply not there, fix it. If your company is working with a Chief Marketing Officer, a Chief Revenue Officer, and a Chief Customer Officer, then it’s time to centralize these positions under one sole leadership position, and part with the rest. This is a tough decision, but forces the alignment in the fastest possible way.

#3: Create a fully measurable marketing plan. Ask yourself: does your marketing program have measurable goals and outcomes to determine growth? If not, start there.

#4: Do you know your customer? Of utmost importance in this climate is to know your customer; at all times, you and your team should maintain awareness of your customers’ profiles, buying behaviors, dislikes, and outlooks. As long as your company is looking to accommodate the needs and attitudes of your customers, you’ve already got a one-up on your competitors. Pro Tip: if employees don’t know the customer profile well - are they the right people at your company?

No matter what route you take, these four measures should be at the forefront of your operations, and we encourage you to scale your growth programs accordingly, regardless of how you choose to operate your marketing programs. Take it from us: as soon as you’ve tightened the reins on these measures, you’ll feel much more comfortable overcoming the next steps of the process.

Re-examining your routes.

Returning to your marketing pathways, let’s break each of these steps down further.

Tighten Your Ship

When it comes to marketing, this is the lowest risk approach and, frankly, needed on a regular basis. Jack Welch of GE fame was known for his model of firing the bottom performing 10%, promoting the top performing 10% and providing a mix of education/mentoring for the remaining 80%.

We’ve lived in the golden age of growth for the past few years, but those days are coming to an end. We now need to take a hard look at our greatest cost: people.

It’s also time to stop ALL unnecessary spending, and there is unfortunately a lot of it in the marketing program. No ROI, no go. Kill all the Google Ads “experiments”, expensive LinkedIn ads, etc.

Take a hard look at the numbers of licenses in your marketing tech (MarTech) stack. Zoom, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Zoom Info, Apollo and others that charge per license may have people not assigned to licenses, but you’re still being billed for “ghost accounts”.

Take a hard look at volume-based subscriptions such as Hubspot, Salesforce, Marketo, Constant Contact, Mailchimp and others - you may have a lot of dead contacts in the database and these platforms charge by the size of the contact database. You could easily cut 50-60% of the contacts and not lose momentum in your outbound marketing efforts. It’s time to either clean up or renegotiate your terms here.

The “People” component may look like the easiest place to cut costs, but it’s not always the most efficient. Start by looking at EVERY SINGLE SYSTEM that’s used. The modern marketing team spends more on tech than most CIO departments.

Note: This is also a great time to put on your books to do a complete marketing spend audit at least twice per year. Not just during budget cut time. We as marketers need to make sure we’re not wasting any money - recession or not.

Get into Survival Mode

In the words of GROW’s Managing Partner, Brett Schklar: Put away the scalpel, grab the machete. Be prepared to put a full-stop on every operation in order to scale down to a small, quality skeleton crew focused on maximizing output. Perhaps painful, but sometimes putting a pause on the flashy sponsorships and doubling down on things like scheduled audits and maintaining dedicated, growth-focused employees will get you much farther than you anticipated.

If firing is a necessary step to go forward, then move quickly, decisively, and with purpose. Treasure your mission and those who support it, and part with the rest.

If you’re still struggling in the size down process, try a proven approach using a proven process: Current/Keep/Kill.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create three large columns on a large whiteboard

  2. Write every source of marketing spending on an individual sticky note in the ‘current category’

  3. Move every one of those sticky notes into the ‘Kill’ column

  4. Erase the ‘Current’ column

  5. Only move items from ‘Kill’ to ‘Keep’ if the business will suffer greatly without it

  6. Congratulations, you’ve now scaled down your marketing program to the essentials

Events should be mostly gone. Sponsorships: gone. Digital ads: gone (unless proven direct ROI).

Most important in this step, however, is the evaluation of your people. As we said, your employees are going to be the ones helping to steer the ship, so make sure that you’re all aiming for the same direction. Cut once, and cut deep.

If you find yourself struggling with this process, try onboarding a Fractional CMO to provide a fresh perspective with an objective outlook.

[Stop by GROW's list of battle-tested iCMOs to see what they can bring to your company’s operations.]

Get Bought

When approaching strategic, slimmed-down marketing in times of recession, it’s paramount to establish a dual matrix of ‘Strategic Fit’ and ‘Ability to Acquire.’ Ideally, at the center of this matrix exists the companies to whom you want to market yourself.

This is the step where you should really start to look for your Strategy Officer, as opposed to a cut-and-dry Marketing Manager. Making your company dynamic and flexible is of utmost importance when trying to market to a potential buyer. This Strategy officer should be able to manage PR, campaigns, email messaging, and all other content – off payroll.

The speed of sale always correlates with the company’s desperation to exit.

Outflank Your Competition

If you have the backing and investments, consider joining the 10% of companies that will take this route, and maybe the 1% of companies who have gone on to make this move successfully. Welcome to the most elite club on earth: the ones who have changed the landscape dynamic. You’re the next Salesforce, Oracle, and Rockefeller.

If you’re in a market of fewer—but larger—companies, their tendency is to take less risk, especially if they’re publicly traded or PE-backed. It’s time for you to take advantage of their size. If you’ve got good cash coming in, great deal flow, and have a company culture that can double-down when the opportunity is hot, then we have two questions for you: If not you, who? If not now, when?

GROW’s iCMOs have worked with companies in times of growth and recession, and we have utilized this method ourselves to earn our market share when other companies shied away. We’ve aided countless companies in outflanking competition, and while it’s never been fun, easy, or popular, it’s always been worth it.

If you’d like to hear more from GROW Powerful, be sure to visit our website, check out our Grow Up With GROW podcast series wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe to our LinkedIn newsletter.

All the best,


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