Tech Companies Get Creative As Coronavirus Threatens To Parch Their Pipelines


tech companies get creative as coronavirus threatens to parch their pipelines


tech companies get creative as coronavirus threatens to parch their pipelines 1

It’s a little difficult to strike handshake deals when, you know, you’re not supposed to shake hands.

An increasingly denuded 2020 events calendar – the live event components of the upfronts are the latest cancelations – could soon start to have a chilling effect on their ability to attract new clients.

“Lead gen and pipeline will be impacted,” said Tiffany Coletti Kaiser, EVP of marketing at digital media solutions company Digital Remedy. “The question is not if, but when.”

Screwed … together

Of course, everyone’s pretty much in the same boat, which helps leaven the impact – for now.

“If we’re screwed, we’re all screwed in the same way,” said Maor Sadra, CEO of Berlin-based user acquisition platform Applift.

tech companies get creative as coronavirus threatens to parch their pipelines

In Sadra’s view, the ad tech industry at large can probably tolerate at least a couple months of the new normal without any ill effects.

Remote work is relatively common in the tech world, and, if anything, the coronavirus crisis is generating higher eCPMs for publishers. There’s also no reason to imagine we’ll see a slowdown in ad spend from companies that sell virtual goods, such as games and utility apps.

There will come a point, though, when the sales funnel starts to evaporate. Events usually generate roughly one-third of Applift’s sales leads, and the company hasn’t been able to attend any since January.

Several Applift employees were supposed to meet with representatives from Publicis a few days ago, but an hour before the plane was scheduled to take off, the holding company put out a memo cancelling all external in-person meetings.

“In a way, this is almost like a test of brand positioning in the market,” Sadra said. “Hopefully our SEO and our positioning is good enough for people to remember us if they’re looking for a partner.”

But Applift, unlike some others, is lucky in that it’s somewhat insulated in case of a dry spell. The company, which is profitable today, was acquired by German conglomerate Media and Games Invest in June 2019, and that provides a helpful cushion.

“If I was burning cash right now and was in a position where I needed to make certain moves, it would be a very different story,” Sadra said.

In terms of sales targets, Applift, which sets its targets quarterly, is playing it by ear. March will remain unchanged, but Applift will most likely recalibrate in April, Sadra said, “and hope for the best.”

B2B account-based marketing vendor Demandbase is doing much the same. Although the sales team is currently on track to hit quarterly goals despite the pandemic, “we are being realistic that things may shift and are fully prepared to address any changes,” said CEO Gabe Rogol.

No more steak dinners?

Companies in certain industries – teleconferencing, home entertainment and pharmaceutical, for example – can take the long view and implement thoughtful, data-centric strategies. They’re well positioned to weather most of the business-related vicissitudes coronavirus brings.

tech companies get creative as coronavirus threatens to parch their pipelines 2But others – travel and traditional retail, in particular – are in a freefall, and that has a trickle-down effect on their ad spending. Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin estimates that spending on travel search ads alone could drop by $1 billion in Q1 and by $3 billion in Q2.

Applift has one client, a bus company, that is pausing its ad spend because it’s also temporarily pausing all of its routes due to coronavirus. Meanwhile, another company that provides in-person training services is panicking for obvious reasons, said Chris Franks, CEO at CleverFunnel, a Denver-based agency that works with the company.

CleverFunnel has several projects in the works with this training company, all of which have been tabled until further notice.

But for companies with the option to do their business online, the coronavirus is “a forcing function for the new digital world” in which they’ll be able to see how much bang they really get from all the money they spend traveling around the world to wine and dine existing customers and new prospects, said Jeff Lunsford, CEO of Tealium.

“Companies that are reliant on travel, on steak dinner-type interactions, are going to struggle, and companies that know how to operate efficiently digitally will do well,” Lunsford said. “I believe face-to-face engagement is extremely valuable, but I also believe it’s possible to run your business and engage with customers remotely. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 24 years, and I’ve done it both ways.”

Getting creative

Videoconferencing is the obvious replacement for the lack of in-person engagement. But there are also other ways to create connections while in quarantine.

Since networking during happy hour at trade shows isn’t possible, Criteo, for example, is encouraging its commercial team to use LinkedIn and Twitter to reach out to other registered attendees of canceled events to request virtual one-on-ones.

“Outside of just replacing conference networking, social media is a great tool for salespeople to utilize to continue building leads and connecting with contacts,” said Criteo CEO Megan Clarken. “By connecting with potential clients online and engaging with what they’re posting and sharing, salespeople are able to build virtual relationships while in-person meetings are on pause.”

But some companies are putting a whole new spin on virtual conferencing.

Cockroach Labs is a computer software provider that develops commercial database management systems and usually relies heavily on events to capture leads and generate broad awareness. Without events to attend, it created a “virtual badge scan” that uses a landing page to capture contact info and then makes a small donation to Women Who Code for every email address it gets. One-on-one meetings with company reps are incentivized with the promise of a larger $50 donation.

“The silver lining is the impact this will have for new creative ways to build out a [go-to-market] strategy,” Jim Walker, VP of product marketing at Cockroach Labs.

But, perhaps, there’s also another benefit: Cutting down on unnecessary meetings that should never have been meetings in the first place.