What would you love to do in B2B marketing in 2017?

The Business Marketing Club (BMC) is back with a sleek new logo and more progressive discussion from those at the vanguard of business marketing. The leading topic of Wednesday’s BMC Converge concerned marketing plans for the upcoming year.

It was a broad turnout with a mixture of faces representing both agency and client-side. And after one or two reception drinks, the atmosphere was relaxed and conducive to friendly debate and candid discussion. (That’s the refreshing thing about the BMC – the openness and honesty displayed by its members.)

After strong opening gambits from the panel, the audience were warmed up with several hands in the air. Here are the key takeaways from the ensuing discussion:

1. Customer experience

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2017 will see a huge push for CX, with ambitious B2B marketers striving to rival the levels delivered by B2C. At the top of the discussion, Adobe’s David Burnand's conceded that B2C are leading the way in terms of quality across app, audio, and many other areas – this needs to change.

As he pointed out: “It’s the customer emphasis which sets marketers apart from communicators or illustrators.”

2. Stop the excuses

B2B brands make excuses as to why they can’t do things – they don’t have data scientists, the investment, the right tools – but these excuses are running out: the technology is there, marketers just need to harness it. As one attendee pointed out: "All existing excuses are addressable.”

Data is often another excuse, but it was suggested that marketers can make data say whatever they want it to. We’ve all seen how research can be skewed to meet an agenda (think of how different newspapers cover the same stories), and data is no different. In 2017, define your organisation’s fundamentals, and stop talking in circles: the same kind of conversations will lead to the same results.

3. Confidence

By and large B2B still has confidence issues, and the way to overcome them is to build a strong future. Without wanting to get too George Osborne about it, marketers need to build a long-term strategic plan, one that everyone buys into.

Tactics within wider plans are fine, but the emphasis should be on the years rather than months. For starters, let’s stop getting distracted by the multitudinous channels, and start thinking bigger.

4. Getting over the inferiority complex

The notion that B2B is still sales-led was suggested, but rebutted. This is part of a theme that crept up in a few forms and needs to be quashed; "B2B is shackled by this inferiority complex," said an attendee.

B2B can never truly replicate the B2C model, so why bother trying? It’s a different discipline with different budgets, timeframes, and subjects. In 2017, let’s not get distracted.

5. Educate sales

An effective relationship with sales doesn’t mean giving them what they want. Now, on the surface this may seem stubborn, but it helps to get to the root of the problem. If it was up to sales to decide what content gets produced, for example, it would more than likely be highly product-focussed and consist heavily of case studies and examples. Needless to say, the results wouldn't benefit anyone in the long run.   

Instead, it’s marketing’s job to flip the conversation in sales’ favour: ask what is troubling them, and what results they want to see. This takes sitting down together on a regular basis to crack the problem. Also, listening to those working at the coal face of customer interaction is also invaluable for marketers devising CX plans.

6. Articulation

Much of marketing’s problems can be traced back to one major shortfall: the poor articulation of plans from the offset. If you don’t clearly outline your plans to the wider organisation, how will they judge you when they don’t immediately see value? Probably negatively.

Marketers need to define everything they do: what part of your job is based on leads? What part of it is based on brand? The company needs to know or else they’ll blame you for falling short on either. Thus, having a plan that everyone in the organisation can buy into is the goal.

7. Legacy

In the business of big spends and yearly contracts, legacy lends itself to B2B. But in a time of such aggressive technological advancements, customers can feel their purchases become outdated relatively quickly – which isn’t always the case.

The solution: start building a legacy through marketing.

8. Measurement

The big problem with measurement is that it’s used as an excuse. Marketers need to start shaking up the conversations (again, thinking from short-term to long-term). Put emphasis on the measurement of tangible, balanced metrics.

Metrics need to be simple – marketing has a habit of overcomplicating things. Always focus on the heavy metrics that matter and be very sceptical of social media and vanity metrics - nothing can be more off-putting to other departments than hearing these inconsequential numbers.

9. Celebration

One of the more resounding takeaways from the evening was the notion that B2B needs to celebrate more. Now, celebration isn’t self-congratulation – the echoes will reverberate through the industry and be heard by potential customers, which will instil them with the confidence they need to invest in your brand.

Celebrate great B2B brands like Adobe (the 5th fastest growing in the world!) that we all work with and your own quarterly wins.

10. Investment

Finally, in times of great economic uncertainty – the looming Brexit and possible (but thankfully not probable) Trump election – marketers need to invest in the future. This means nurturing young talent through internal mentoring schemes and getting them genuinely excited about working in B2B.

What will B2B marketers be doing in 2017?

The panel comprised David Burnand, senior marketing manager, Northern Europe, Adobe Marketing Cloud; Vicki Scheele, CMO at Pay4Later; and Alex Brayshaw, managing partner, OgilvyOne Business and dnx.

The Business Marketing Club (BMC) is an organisation aimed at driving the B2B marketing industry forward, raising standards, providing leadership and enabling co-operation and collaboration. It is run by B2B marketers for B2B marketers, and made of practitioners from all sides of the industry (in-house marketers, agencies and vendors) with one shared vision: to make B2B marketing better.