Why global horizons have never been more important for B2B Leaders

Coronavirus has forced marketers to lower and narrow their horizons, but thinking globally is likely to be more important than ever - both for personal growth and organisational survival, this much I learned from our recent B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable

I spent an hour and a half on Zoom this week with a cluster of B2B Marketing Leaders talking about the challenges of being a global CMO. This was a digital version of a roundtable, which we’d scheduled at the beginning of the year, and if I’m honest, sounded completely irrelevant given the arrival and impact of CV19 – which, as we know, has changed everything.

How wrong I was! Not only was interest and uptake very strong, but the discussion was lively, insightful and illuminated by a kaleidoscope of different perspectives based on the myriad of different ways in which coronavirus is impacting on B2B brands and marketers. Those taking part include marketers from HR services business, whose business is booming, and those from aerospace and travel, whose have obviously been decimated.

One thing I learned was that you don’t have to be a global CMO to be interested in global marketing – most enterprise marketers are selling to international markets, or collaborating with marketers in other territories or have an outsourced marketing function of one kind or other… or a combination of all three. It turns out that we’re all global marketing leaders. 

It was a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation – here’s a summary of some of the key points.

1. Over-compensate for cultural differences

Working with teams in different nations, territories or even geographies has always created issues in terms of understanding and interpretation. But in the good times, many of these could be glossed over, at least compensated for with a bit of latitude. But in current circumstances, there’s limited room for creative interpretation. Leaders need to provide firm and clear guidance and support, without railroading cultural sensitivities. It’s a difficult balance to strike but it won’t go away if you ignore it.

2. Extend horizons

Short termism is a natural reaction at a time of crisis, and attendees to the session reported that it’s proving very difficult to get marketing teams, particularly global ones, to see beyond the here and now and what’s coming immediately next. As lockdowns are relaxed, we all need to move on from this, and it’s the Leader’s job to gently extend horizons and remind team members that there are both medium and long term agendas and priorities – but again, without scaring the horses.

3. Look for the opportunities, and be agile

CV19 is hitting different parts of the globe at different speeds and to different degrees, so follows that demand or appetite will correspondingly vary too. Marketers need to be alive to the potential of moving to new markets, where appropriate, or doing new things in existing market, where dynamics have shifted. If there was ever a time to stick to tried and tested, this isn’t it. Fortune favours the agile.

4. Seize the chance to change

As one attendee put it, you can categorise companies into three groups right now: firstly, those who are doing really well, because what they offer happens to be in demand; secondly, those who have pivoted to do something new; and thirdly, those who are using this as an opportunity to fix that was broken in their organisation. If you’re not either in the first or second groups, that probably means you’re in number three – and finding the right fix might be critical for your organisation’s survival.

5. Reconfigure your relationship with the global marketing function

For EMEA marketers working within a global framework overseen by a corporate function, the relationship may always have been tricky. Marketers at all levels are learning to admit that they don’t have all the answers, and that applies to global teams in particular. They are not only having to learn lessons from the regions, but more significantly accept a more balance way of working, with a two-way dialogue and potentially more mutual respect.

6. Focus on building trust

Whether its communicating with outsourced marketing functions, colleagues in different regions, or the corporate marketing function, trust will be absolutely critical. Trust will allow you to collaborate on problems and share solutions. It may have been natural and even acceptable to have an ‘us and them’ attitude previously, but today that’s an anachronism.

7. Break down formalities – get to know them better, wherever and whoever they are

Don’t be afraid to show more of yourself that you might have previously. With a global team in particular, you’re increasingly likely to be on calls with them outside either your or their working hours, so embracing the fact that you’re overlapping with their life outside work could make your relationship that much more effective.

8. Build bridges internally – now more than ever

You need IT and sales onside to navigate the challenges ahead. An unexpected benefit of CV19 is that it is bringing marketing and sales together as never before - given that they won’t physically be able to meet their prospects, it’s likely that sales will rely on marketing more than ever. It’s time to cultivate relationships, build familiarity and grow together.

9. Walk the walk, and practice what you preach

Think inside-out. You need to embody and genuinely demonstrate the progress that you are evangelising. If you’re selling digital solutions, you need to show that your own digital infrastructure is up to it. As one attendee put it, “the time for bullshit is over.”

10.  Crowd-source solutions from within the team

Particularly where roles have changed, with activities paused or discontinued, get those team members to work with you to build out scenarios about who to deal with the future, and to adapt your marketing.