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A meeting of B2B marketing minds

Delegates at the first B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Melbourne learnt their industry is about art, science ... and possibly having fun.

“I honestly think – and I've thought this for a good 20 years – that we are in one of the best crafts you could possibly be in.”

By any measure, NAB's Suzana Ristevski is one of Australia’s most successful marketers. In conversation with event MC James Lush at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Melbourne, the recently appointed Executive General Manager of Marketing and Customer Experience spoke at length about her career motivations and learnings.

“Marketing has got art, it's got science,” said Ristevski, who was a marketing leader at GE for 13 years before joining NAB two years ago. “You get to hang around with agencies. You get to play with data and analytics. There's so much opportunity to have some fun.”

At the first B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Melbourne, inside a full Showtime Events Centre on the banks of the Yarra River in November, delegates heard why experienced professionals love to "play" marketing. They also got to understand their challenges – especially the frustrations of dealing with management uncertainty and constant institutional and technological change.

Two major conference themes were how marketers needed to play a more significant role in their organisations and what they had to do to equip themselves on this quest.

Ray Kloss, the Director of Marketing at Cisco, explained why he is still passionate about B2B marketing and its prospects for the future. “I'd love to see our whole profession, especially within the eyes of our CEOs and our boards, rise much higher,” Kloss said. “As we become more and more of a digital world, I think our role is becoming more and more important.”

It's not always easy in marketing, of course – especially if you worked at Microsoft before Satya Nadella became CEO in 2014. Pip Arthur, the company's Australian CMO and Communications Director, said Microsoft at that time was chasing relevance in an increasingly mobile world and facing significant internal issues. She took delegates on Microsoft's difficult and ultimately successful voyage to "rediscover its soul".

"Cultural and transformative change of any size requires you to [create] new behaviours, new symbols, new systems and storytelling that brings all of this to life," Arthur said.

“I think the function of a leader is to create other leaders” – Pepper's Jo Thrift

Sessions covered many issues facing modern B2B marketers, including tips on coming to grips with technology. DOMO's Adam Cordner explained how the best B2Bs harness data and Cooperate's Amy Walker and Ansell's Mitchell Mackey talked about how his global company transformed its marketing operations.

The conference also featured presentations and case studies that helped delegates understand how the biggest brands reach target audiences and generate revenue. Marketing leaders Suzanne Robertson and Babi Kahveci from employment site SEEK explained how it changed its brand strategy, combining its B2C and B2B marketing forces to produce a “one-brand” approach for job seekers and hirers.

Penny Elmslie, Head of Marketing, Sales and Small Business Director at financial software company Xero, unveiled what she learnt after being made responsible for the end-to-end customer journey. Malte Weyhe, the Director of Asia Pacific Marketing at Korn Ferry, explained how “focus” became a key concept at the global organisational consultancy business.

Tori Starkey, CMO and GM of Marketing at technology and service company Ricoh Australia, revealed how “design thinking” and “embedded curiosity” – concepts championed by Managing Director Andy Berry – helped transform a company culture dominated by sales into one driven by marketing.

Former lawyer and journalist Coran Lill told delegates what he discovered when asked to build a global marketing team from scratch at financial services software provider IRESS. The Group Communications and Marketing Executive said his top priorities were standardising internal communications and getting the structure right, but understanding customer needs was also necessary at a 25-year-old company with no marketing history or data to rely on.

A central event focus was how marketing leaders get the best out of themselves and their staff. Trisca Scott-Branagan, ANZ’s Head of Marketing, Institutional, explained how adopting agile marketing concepts can help teams work more effectively. Business growth specialist Christopher Savage gave a high-octane presentation on the important things to help us find success in our careers and personal lives.

"You need to recognise you're living in a world of disruption, and that loyalty is deeply elusive" – KPMG's Lisa Bora

For many, the highlight of the event was the panel discussion involving some of Australia’s most accomplished marketers. SEEK Marketing Director Jenn ten Seldam, Pepper CMO Jo Thrift, Refinitiv’s Head of Marketing, Pacific, Kate Parker and KPMG Partner for Customer, Brand, Marketing Lisa Bora talked candidly about how they maintain high-performance teams.

“I think the function of a leader is to create other leaders,” Thrift said. “You really have to look for people [who] are going to challenge you … they are going to be decisive people who are going to appreciate a culture of candour where you can give [and receive] direct feedback.”

Parker said marketers need to keep their company’s needs in mind when looking for opportunities to improve themselves. She asked: “What are you missing that your organisation needs from you?”

Ten Seldam advised delegates who are making their way in marketing to look for either mentors or coaches to help them reset and achieve their goals. “Whenever you transition from one level to the next, you need to shift your mindset and reframe what success looks like,” she said. “That's a really useful time to have a mentor or coach, depending on the kind of shift you need to make.”

Bora said the best marketers are endlessly curious. “You're the representative of the customer and customers aren't rational,” she said. “So you need to be curious about what [customers’] ‘levers’ are.” She said modern marketers need to be comfortable around technology – to derive insights from data – and understand customer experience.

"You need to recognise you're living in a world of disruption, and that loyalty is deeply elusive," she said. "Curiosity has to be an ongoing test-and-learn mindset."

B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC events will be held in Sydney, Singapore and Melbourne in 2019. See here for more information. 

Main photo (clockwise from bottom left): Microsoft's Pip Arthur; Ricoh's Tori Starkey; NAB's Suzana Ristevski; panellists Jenn ten Seldam, Jo Thrift, Kate Parker and Lisa Bora; event founder Emma Roborgh; SEEK's Babi Kahveci and Suzanne Robertson.

Further reading: 12 memorable quotes from the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Asia in Singapore