The key to marketing success in 2020? Empathy

Now’s the time to prove to your team (and yourself) that you’re a great B2B Marketing Leader. And according to the participants at our recent virtual roundtable, here is how to do it.

It was pretty clear from our first virtual roundtable that the number one priority for B2B Marketing Leaders following lockdown announcement was the wellbeing of their marketing teams. Provisional data from our Covid19 impacts research, plus anecdotes from leaders themselves, shows that most B2B marketing teams were only remote working a small proportion of their time – most team leaders and members expected to spend a significant portion of their time in each other’s company, with all that that entailed around collaboration and support.

Consequently, formal and informal structures and procedures were not set up around this – and this in turn meant that the move to full-time remote working was both a big leap into the unknown… or a big wrench in terms of dislocation of interpersonal report. At best it's an ongoing adjustment – at worst, many marketers are struggling. And that means leaders too.

It was quite natural then, that team management and motivation should be the focus of our second Coronavirus Continuity virtual roundtable, and both immediate take up and participation on the day showed this was a strong choice. I’m indebted to the marketing leaders who took time to attend and candidly share their experiences, concerns, hopes and solutions with the group. As ever, I learned a lot from this session – here are the some of the most resonant things to emerg:

1. Balance calmness with honesty and pragmatism

Don’t try to appear to be omniscient. Marketing leaders need to balance the need to appear calm under pressure with a willingness to admit that they don’t have all the answers. ‘Transparency’ was a theme, which we returned to several times during the course of the conversation, married with a genuine collaborative spirit and esprit de corps. 

2.  Those who need support most might not be those you expect

The most junior members of the team, for example, may have no experience at all of working from home and not have the maturity or resilience to be self-starting in a non-working environment, or deal with the necessary uncertainties. Older team members, meanwhile, might be struggling because they are juggling more incompatible commitments. Anyone and everyone may struggle at one time or other during this period.

3.  Empathy is today’s most valuable team attribute

Leaders need to cultivate it and channel it, not just in themselves, but throughout the team.

4.  Listen first, ask questions later

Should you identify a team member who is struggling, the best way to help is simply listening. The more you can listen to individuals, the more likely you are to spot someone having difficulties before they become overwhelmed. Mental health first aiders are one solution, as are apps like Unmind.

5.  Make time to talk and socialise

It’s the interpersonal aspects of face-to-face collaborative working that marketing team members are likely to be missing most. Try to build in time and the means to recapture or stimulate that engagement within the new working structures and processes.

6.  Raise your communications game

Don’t assume that the team will know what’s going on outside of your team or one-to-one conversations. However informed you are about the wider picture, you can bet that your team is significantly less so. Informal sharing of information or objectives will have been severely compromised by remote working, so you’re likely to need to compensate by more formal and regular communications.

7.  Get back to basics

Use this as an opportunity to refocus yourselves and your team members on the core objectives and ensure they are delivering on these. It can be easy to lose track of these, and it will help them continue to prove their worth and help them not be distracted by bigger picture stuff when may not be relevant or necessary.

8.  Get to know each other a lot better

The divide between work and leisure has never been more blurred, with people fitting project management in around domestic duties as never before. Inevitably, we’ll all need to know more about each other, and the more we know, the more likely we are to be able to empathise, collaborate and help each other achieve our objectives.

9. Feeling first, doing second

Start every team on one-to-one meeting by asking people how they are feeling – and get them to be candid. Only once you’ve done that, should you start talking about work.

 10.  Don’t neglect yourself

Amidst all the time management for everyone else, and carrying everyone else’s emotional burdens, don’t forget to look after yourself, and make time for the things that help you do your job. Don’t let working from home mean sitting at your desk for 12 hours a day!

B2B Marketing is running regular roundtables to help CMOs, marketing directors, VPs and other B2B Marketing Leaders to navigate the coronavirus crisis and prepare for what comes next. For more information on the programme go to our website.

If you’d like to join one of these sessions, email