DEMAND GENERATION: The changing role of the B2B marketer

What does a B2B marketer’s job look like in 2011? Alex Blyth examines the roles and responsibilities of this evolving profession

The world has changed in many ways since 2006, but the world of B2B marketing has changed more than most. “Five years ago the average B2B marketer was looking forward to adding the 2006 customer satisfaction survey ring binders to the annual collection on the shelf,” recalls Craig Duxbury, group account director at agency IAS B2B Marketing. “Then suddenly it all changed.”

He goes on to describe how storytelling via social media replaced measuring column inches to work out advertising value equivalent, how virtual salespeople replaced brochure sites, and how segmented and automated content strategies replaced salespeople’s car boots with CD-ROMs and memory sticks.

These have been seismic shifts, and for many it has been hard to keep up. There are still plenty of old-school B2B marketers out there, but at the cutting-edge of the profession is the B2B marketer of 2011. The job requires a raft of new skills, and in the years ahead it will be the marketers who understand these changes, and know how to acquire these new skills, who will rise to the top of the profession.

Drivers of change
“In the past five years, the role of the B2B marketer has not evolved,” says Nathalie Chaboche, chief marketing officer at email marketing provider Emailvision. “It has been through a complete revolution. We have been affected by an unprecedented combination of new technologies, new economics and new forms of communication.”

She continues, “In 2008, a perfect storm emerged. Marketing budgets were slashed and online marketing instantly became the most cost-effective method for reaching targeted audiences around the world. The adoption rates of SaaS technology, particularly for CRM, made it possible to more easily connect sales and marketing data. At the same time, between 2006 and 2008, the number of users on Facebook went from less than 10 million to more than 150 million. Suddenly the world was on social media.”

So, as buyers discovered they could get the information when they need it, rather than when a vendor offers it to them, marketing budgets collapsed, marketing campaigns went digital – both in terms of online and automation – and almost overnight traditional skills of print advertising development, direct mail evaluation, brochure production, and so on, became redundant. In their place emerged the following six new skills that the marketer of today, and tomorrow, needs to acquire before they too find themselves redundant.

The six new skills for 2011

1. Quant and creative
Fergus Gloster, MD EMEA at B2B marketing automation provider Marketo, says, “Today the B2B marketer has to be both a ‘quant’ and a ‘creative’. They have to understand their return on marketing investment and be able to drive unique and engaging content.”

He continues, “This means B2B marketers are becoming more revenue-focused. With new analytics solutions now available, marketers have the power to take more control over the revenue process and predict dollars that will be generated from today’s campaigns, quarters into the future. Being a ‘revenue marketer’ is paramount in today’s volatile economy when part of your job is to convince your CEO and CFO that the investment they are making is paying off.”

2. Digital natives
Phil Dunk, MD of agency River Marketing argues that it is no longer enough for B2B marketers just to be able to use digital tools; they must be full-on digital marketers. He explains, “To become a digital marketer, you need to become a digital consumer and immerse yourself in a digital world. Take part in social media, be open to digital consumer marketing, use a smartphone to surf, bank, shop, read, complain, email and poke! Understand the language, the style, the content and the user journey, and each time think how you could apply it to your clients and do it better.”

3. Loop not linear
Charlotte Graham-Cumming, MD at marketing and events company Ice Blue Sky, says, “Five years ago B2B marketers were there to provide leads for sales. Little attention was paid to how their conferences, direct mail packs, email campaigns, and so on, converted into bottom line revenue. Now, marketers are gradually being held more accountable for the whole process. Increasingly they are managing a loop as opposed to a linear process.”

She continues, “Look at the way IBM is using thought leadership to engage with senior audiences. And I mean real thought leadership – not just creating whitepapers. They engage senior client-side executives throughout the research process, which not only leads to more original, interesting ideas, but also builds stronger client relationships.”

4. The realm of science
There is a far greater breadth and depth of data in 2011 than there was just five years ago, and today’s B2B marketer needs to be comfortable analysing and using it.

Pete Jakob, IDM B2B Council member and brand manager, IBM UK & Ireland, says, “Marketing is shifting more and more from intuition into the realm of science. Interactions are leaving huge trails of data that must be interpreted for optimised results. Marketers can’t afford to conduct business without data-driven optimisation – it just isn’t affordable when there are competitors who will use data as a weapon to optimise their reach and literally squelch your message.”

He adds, “Investing time to understand your company’s marketing data will help you not only become a more efficient marketer, but also have fact-based discussions with stakeholders. Blending an understanding of data with an appreciation of current marketing technology and traditional marketing skills makes you a pretty rare beast.”

5. Customer dialogue
Increasingly, B2B marketers are holding online conversations with customers. This is a transformation from not so long ago when customer interaction tended to be seen as a waste of time. Rax Lakhani, director of online PR agency Onlinefire, says, “Conversation is rapidly replacing conversion as the B2B marketer’s byword. Simply saying that your ad or editorial is in a publication your target might read is no longer good enough – you need to show customers talking back and conversations developing. So, B2B marketers must understand the etiquette and value of a two-way online conversation.”

6. Campaign testing
According to Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at content management platform provider Ektron, today’s marketers need to behave less like Don Draper from ‘Mad Men’ and more like Sir Ronald Fisher, the father of modern statistics and experimental design.

He explains, “Experimental design is the predecessor of multivariate testing on a website. This gives marketing teams the ability to test ideas like copy, layout, imager, and calls-to-action so they are able to deliver the best possible web experience. Instead of marketers going off their gut instinct, they need to take a mathematical and statistical approach to marketing, constantly running experiments to drive outcomes and better business results.”

The more things change
While much has changed in marketing, it is worth noting that some aspects have remained the same. B2B marketers still need to be able to manage staff, analyse competitors, report to colleagues and so on, and at the end of the day the fundamental principles and processes of good marketing remain constant.

Susie Lee-Kilgariff, group head of marketing at Parasol, a company that helps freelancers, contractors and small businesses manage their accounts, says, “Some things in marketing don’t change, and above all else B2B marketers still need to truly and thoroughly understand the decision-making process that takes a business from generating a lead through to closing a sale. Those processes may have become faster, more diverse and more complex, but the principles endure.”

Another B2B marketer, Diana Abebrese, commercial director at CBS Interactive B2B UK, admits that technology is indeed transforming her profession. However, she argues it is still less important than a fundamental understanding of what drives people to buy. She comments, “In this brave new world of marketing automation, behavioural tracking and performance-based campaigns, it can be easy to forget that stats on a spreadsheet alone won’t sell your product. It can be easy to forget about people, and that is a mistake.”

The keen and curious beast
The fundamentals of process and people may have stayed the same, but much has changed. And it will keep changing, so B2B marketers must seek out information and training to remain relevant.

Duxbury at IAS B2B Marketing offers this advice, “First – you always learn from implementing digital campaigns because they’re measurable. Second is training. Even agencies need to re-skill their employees to offer better value to clients (three years ago, we placed every employee on an intensive personal digital training programme). Finally, there is a very large and growing B2B marketing community actively sharing knowledge via social channels, so create the time to participate.”  

However, you do it, it must be done. As Bryony Thomas, owner of Clear Thought Consulting, concludes, “I was gobsmacked by someone I recently interviewed for a head of marketing position who said they didn’t need to read any blogs because they’d studied marketing at university. Marketing is not a discipline you can ever consider to have mastered. Today’s B2B marketer is a keen and curious beast who is sucking up the vast resources available, digesting them and putting them into place against a core understanding of how real people really buy.”

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2011-06-02T17:10