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Time to Grow: the annual BMA conference in Chicago delivers once again

The Business Marketing Association’s (BMA) 2012 conference – entitled Grow – was just as impressive as the 2011 version. Particularly impressive were both the scale of the event itself, at over 650 attendees, and the standing of the speakers, who included a variety of CMO’s, academics, authors and even a CEO, in the form of Greg Brown from Motorola, who paid homage (in an almost embarrassingly over enthusiastic way) to his CMO Eduardo Conrado, the incoming chair of the BMA.

Two stars of the show stood out for me, first Guy Kawasaki, the former Apple insider and now celebrity speaker who lived to tell the tale of what it’s like to work with the late, great Steve Jobs. His presentation was a masterclass of slick, effortless business enthusiasm, pulling key thoughts and findings from his book ‘Enchantment: The art of changing hearts and minds’.

Next, but in my view, more importantly, Gary Slack, the conference’s chief organiser and chairman, who managed proceedings over the protracted three days with grace and enthusiasm, tying things together and smoothing out the ripples. The importance of this role cannot be understated, and the success of the event is in no small part due to his enlightened stewardship.

The times are a-changing for the CMO
Perhaps the key conference theme, in my opinion, was the attempt by many of the speakers to seek to quantify or specify the role of the CMO in a modern B2B organisation. Greg Brown from Motorola returned to this theme again and again when praising Eduardo, who went so far as to say that he “Understands more about the business than the CEO. When he comes to me, he’s not the marketing guy: he’s the business guy.” High praise indeed. But this was also picked up by other speakers, which I would regard as recognition of the changes to the character of business wrought in particular by the credit crunch and it’s enduring repercussions. The role of the senior marketer is not set in stone, and needs to constantly re-explored and redefined by each organisation, to ensure the impact that these key personal are having is maximised.

There were further excellent developments on this theme from the likes of Kathy Button Bell, CMO of Emerson; Jim Stengel, author of ‘Grow: How ideals power growth and profit at the world’s greatest companies’; and Saga Shoffner, VP of OI (amongst others).

Inviting Greg Brown of Motorola to speak and provide this perspective was a shrewd move, providing a different context and perspective for the discussion of the role of marketing, as well as another very good speaker. There was a similarly good perspective on sales from Prof Neil Rackham, author of ‘Rethinking the salesforce’ (and a fellow British voice - my brief contributions taking place on the final day). There is certainly room for non-marketing specific objectives in an event which runs for almost three days.

Overall, BMA 2012 Grow was a fantastic event, and one which I was delighted to attend and proud to be part of. Despite the jetlag, it’s well worth a visit. All other thoughts, recollections and opinions on this event are welcome.