How to Adjust Your Go-to-Market Strategy in a Crisis, According to Carol Meyers

April 9, 2020

Managing your go-to-market (GTM) strategy is a challenging job in any circumstance, but what happens when life throws you an unexpected curveball like, say, a pandemic and looming recession?

As I write this, everyone I know is struggling to adapt—personally and professionally. We’ve seen an unprecedented level of upheaval across all industries, including the SaaS industry. So, we thought this would be a good time to reach out to Carol Meyers, an inspiring leader with impressive experience adjusting go-to-market strategy on the fly in the midst of very trying times.

A self-proclaimed growth junkie and IPO addict, Carol helped four companies—Shiva, Unica, LogMeIn and Rapid7—go from starting points between zero and $25 million to IPOs and hundreds of millions in revenue.

More to the point, one of her IPOs—for LogMeIn, one of the earliest product led growth companies—happened during the Great Recession.

In my conversation with Carol, she opened up about the lessons she learned from the economic downturn of 2008 and how we can apply them today, and she shared her four-step process for adjusting go-to-market strategy in the face of the current crisis.

Take control by refocusing on profitability

Unsurprisingly, profitability suddenly becomes much more important when things go south. The more dire things get, the more you have to be able to make the numbers work so you can show a clear path to profitability.

In LogMeIn’s case, the biggest challenge for Carol and her team was to figure out how to maintain the incredibly high growth they were experiencing while simultaneously employing razor sharp analysis to make surgical cuts to the marketing budget. At the same time, they were continuing to explore new channels and new ways of reaching people in order to drive growth in new areas.

This two-prong approach—cutting back while trying new strategies—allowed them to reduce their marketing budget by millions of dollars and create inroads with new audiences.

Make the hard cuts

While Carol remembers the LogMeIn team remaining fairly calm, she admits that the cutting back portion of the go-to-market adaptation strategy was definitely a little stressful. This was in great part because LogMeIn was one of the earliest product-led companies, so digital advertising/search—which represented an enormous percentage of the marketing budget—was kind of their lifeblood.

Carol and her team successfully used data and a series of tests to turn off a select set of search campaigns. They identified specific windows of opportunity (e.g., a standard end-of-year slowdown in search traffic), and then analyzed which campaigns weren’t generating enough of the right kinds of users to be truly worth the expense.

While I’m sure it was nerve-wracking, Carol explains that success came down to getting back to basics. “Making those cuts certainly had people very nervous, but it really all came back to understanding the buyer and the market, and having the right metrics in place.”

With those foundational elements in place, Carol and her team were able to monitor everything “pretty maniacally,” and the insights they gained provided excellent focus, alignment, and guidance for the entire process.

The other point Carol made was that you can always adjust your adjustments. “We ultimately decided we had probably cut too much out of digital marketing,” she says. “There were some things in the spend that were creating goodness for us—more web traffic and other things that we couldn’t directly tie to ROI.” So, they added some things back in and found the right balance between budget savings and performance.

Try new things

On the other side of the coin, the LogMeIn marketing team was branching out and exploring new territory. “It might sound a little counterintuitive, but the lesson we learned is that when you’re going through major changes, you should be creating opportunities to try new things,” Carol says.

Basically, since the status quo has already been disrupted—and you know that at least some of the things you’ve been doing all along won’t work anymore—periods of change can be an excellent time to try something different. As Carol put it, “That’s a door opening.”

In LogMeIn’s situation, there were a number of projects on the table that helped the team tap into new channels and test out new tactics.

For example:

  • Moving upmarket into enterprise: The team took the opportunity to do more targeted marketing to some of the larger accounts they were hoping to land.
  • Overhauling their email marketing: They replaced an in-house tool that wasn’t robust enough to support everything marketing wanted to do with a commercial solution that offered much more sophisticated features.
  • Launching an iPhone app: They also did a very successful launch of their first productivity app in what was then a much smaller app market. They used social media by giving influencers and bloggers a sneak preview of the app in exchange for an honest review. At the same time, Carol established relationships with Apple and other key players to help get the word out. The app zoomed to the top of the productivity apps category in the Apple Store, even at the hefty price tag of $29.99. Carol pointed out that the success wasn’t all about the strategy, but also about the product. “With product led growth, you’ve got to have some pretty serious confidence in your product,” she says. “And that worked beautifully for us.”

A critical key to their overall success in trying new things during a recession was making sure all stakeholders were apprised of and in alignment with the various initiatives. When everything is in flux, it’s a good idea to take extra care about maintaining clear and open lines of communication. Nobody likes surprises during the best of times, and even less so in the middle of a crisis.

Think beyond the immediate crisis

“One thing companies might want to do in this current crisis is to consider creating a small task force of creative people who can brainstorm and project ways the world might change,” Carol says. “This isn’t just about your company or your market, but about how the world might change as a whole and how you can bring that back to your business to create new opportunities.”

Optimally, the people on this team would have knowledge across a wide range of topics and areas. They wouldn’t be caught up in the day-to-day stress of what’s going on in your business, so they could instead focus creatively and proactively on the future.

Take these 4 steps to adjust your go-to-market strategy in a crisis

In addition to sharing specific tactics, Carol also gave us a high-level, four-step process for adjusting to a need for major change in your go-to-market strategy. Whether a pandemic, a recession or a new competitor drives this need, the steps are pretty much the same.

Step 1: Check in with your go-to-market team

How is your team responding to the crisis? How are they feeling? What have they already done to adjust?

This is a time for transparent communication. It’s also a time to reassess goals and incentives—not just to get the proverbial ship pointed in the right direction, but also to ensure that the team feels like they can succeed.

It’s important to keep morale up in difficult times. People need positive reinforcement to help them maintain a feeling of hope and enthusiasm. And perhaps most importantly, “they’ve got to feel like they have a great leader guiding them,” explains Carol.

Step 2: Reassess your market and adjust your forecasts

After checking in with your team, you’re ready to build scenarios—best, worst, and most-likely—so you can develop the appropriate metrics and milestones to help you stay on top of the situation and track which scenario you’re trending toward.

Think not only of your big-picture investments, but also about operational things like whether your sales cycle is going to get longer, and—if it does—what does that mean for your customers and for your sales team?

Step 3: Reassess your messaging, targeting and pricing

In a situation such as ours today, this step needs to happen simultaneously while you’re working through the other things. It’s a divide-and-conquer approach where someone with the right sensitivity—who is in touch with the brand and market—starts reviewing all of the content. Ask these questions as you audit your current marketing:

  • What does it say about you?
  • How does it compare to what your competition is doing?
  • Most importantly, is it appropriate for the current environment?

Customer communications are always critical, and in stressful times you have to keep a close eye on what’s going out. In a crisis, what was appropriate to send in an email last week might be completely inappropriate this week.

Carol shared an example. “I signed up for a service that I was curious about. The onboarding email they sent me a few days later suggested that I sign up to travel the world via a volunteering vacation. That is a completely wasted communication, and it also sends the message that the company in question isn’t even thinking about what they’re sending out right now.”

Not a good look.

Step 4: Think about how you can make things easier for people

In a crisis of any kind, people are going to be stressed. To help decrease prospect and customer stress, look for ways to reduce barriers to helpful information, be more transparent in your pricing, and offer access to more support resources.

The idea here is to make it extra easy for people to find and access the information they need. This might mean surfacing certain pieces of content or taking down paywalls, or any number of other tactics. The goal is to avoid adding new stressors and eliminate any existing points of friction.

Push past fear

Carol’s bottom line? Don’t let fear win. “Even if you’re in a business that seems like it will never have a future—if you sell exclusively to restaurants during a pandemic, for example—if you’ve got a really good product, and you can figure out a way to cut back enough and hang on, your day is going to come again.”

She suggests thinking like an earlier-stage startup that’s just taking whatever cash they have and putting it back into making an incredible product. And along with that, shift your focus even more towards existing customers than you normally would so that you retain them. Doing this means you may even be able to upsell them in the future.

It’s all about doing the work now so you’re better positioned to get ahead later. “Maybe the market won’t be as robust as it was before the crisis,” she says. “And there will only be room for a few players, so you’ve got to work to ensure you’re one of those few.”

This is about adopting a forward-thinking mindset that focuses on how you can prepare for when the market does come back. “I think for almost every business, there’s a way to figure out the right go-forward strategy,” Carol says. “It might be painful. But the point is, you don’t have to just hunker down. You can take some time with people who aren’t caught up in the day to day, and think about the future.”

“There are opportunities for people to not just respond to the fear and the stress, but to take it as a chance to learn some new things that they might be able to continue to use in the future,” Carol continues. “The one thing companies should do is be unafraid of looking for those opportunities. That’s what creates excitement within the business and in the hearts and minds of the people who build the business.”

More resources to help you adapt

Partner at OpenView

Casey leads the end-to-end strategy & programming for OpenView’s network of industry experts, advisors & corporate partners. Her role is focused on creating connections between founders & their teams and the partners, advisors, board members & events they need to reach their goals. Additionally, she manages the OpenView portfolio peer networks and hosts the #WeeklyWalk series.