Event organiser Emma Roborgh nominates the comments that grabbed her attention at the first major APAC B2B conference event in Singapore.
To make a difference for their businesses and customers, B2B marketing professionals need to keep up with the trends that affect their industry. What better way to do this than by learning from the community of fellow marketing leaders who offer decades of experience and priceless insights?
The first B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Asia in Singapore covered many of the topics that have a significant impact on CMOs and their teams across the region. Everything from customer experience, thought leadership, localisation, personal development, marketing technology and change management.
All of the speakers offered excellent insights into how B2B marketers and businesses can be more successful. Many spoke in particular about the importance of marketing departments to be seen as revenue powerhouses rather than cost centres.
Here are a dozen things that were said across two days as well as actionable ideas that really resonated with me:
1. “Great marketers are great change leaders” – Thomas Barta
The ability of marketers to become true change leaders within organisations was a constant theme in Singapore.
To begin the conference, Thomas Barta, the co-author of 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader
, laid out the importance of developing change leadership skills. For CMOs to have a more significant impact on the C-suite, he said, they must show they can have a positive effect on revenue.
“The question is: what’s on the mind of typical CEO? What do they care about?” They are thinking about revenue a lot,” he said. “If anybody ever tells you that you’re a cost centre, change it or leave because you’re dead.”
Clockwise from top left: Volvo Trucks’ Ingela Nordenhav, HSBC Commercial Banking’s Tricia Weener, Microsoft’s Wendy Johnstone and Agility’s Mariam Al-Foudery
2. “Even if you’re not leading a marketing function, you have a pivotal role around change” – Tricia Weener
Tricia Weener, HSBC Commercial Banking’s Global Head of Marketing, spoke to delegates about what it takes for marketing leaders to be successful.
Weener said leaders find the right talent, set a clear vision, communicate openly, reinforce clarity and are open and listen.
Later in the conference, Accenture’s experienced Managing Director of Growth Markets, Karina Gan, explained how she built high-performing teams from regions as diverse as APAC, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
Gan said the key to success in regional markets is listening carefully to the needs of local customers and finding and retaining staff who use their distinctive voices while understanding the broader corporate culture.
3. “For the first 12 months, it’s about the people, the team and the culture. If you get that right, everything else will follow” – Wendy Johnstone
How CMOs can take the step into business management was another key conference theme. Wendy Johnstone is a former vice president of marketing APAC at Salesforce who recently stepped into the role of CMO and COO APAC at Microsoft, based in Singapore.
I had the privilege of speaking with her on stage about the challenges she faced adapting to the new role. “It’s all about building that trust across the team,” she said. “It’s about making sure the team has a very clear sense of purpose and mission and about leveraging all the strengths of people across the team.”
Johnstone admits her first year as CMO and COO was the most difficult of her career. “I think I probably under anticipated how big the stretch would be to get involved,” she said. “I feel like I have to be involved in every conversation across the organisation the CEO is involved in.” She advised marketers wanting to step up to find good mentors and get involved in projects outside of marketing.
Laura Ashton, who is Director of Marketing APAC at law firm Baker McKenzie, had similar advice for marketers who might like to move even further up the corporate ladder. Ashton explained that marketers can best set themselves up for future board positions by understanding their value proposition and developing a “superpower” – a specialised skill that makes them valuable and irresistible.
4. “We’ll only have ourselves to blame if we don’t take this chance to start to affect and impact the organisation in a different way than perhaps we ever have before” – Tricia Weener
Lafarge’s Tolga Pekel, NICE’s Catherine Swee, Accenture’s VC John and AIG Global Services’ Prasana Prapoo
A Day 1 panel, which included Weener, Johnstone, Volvo Trucks Global CMO Ingela Nordenhav and Agility Group CMO Mariam Al-Foudery, covered the “new CMO power place”. It was a fascinating discussion covering the role of modern leaders and how they can promote marketing within their organisations.
“How can you make everybody in the company a brand ambassador?” asked Al-Foudery. “How can you work closely with your sales organisation to make sure they articulate the story about your company and your brand makes sense? How can you work with your local country organisation to make sure they interact with the business issues, the community issues, that are appropriate and relevant in the local context and the global context? I think we spend a lot of time educating our own people on how to be marketers without calling it that.”
5. “We went to our employees and asked them: tell us what we should stop doing” – Harish Agarwal
An important aspect of change management is how brands can transform themselves while bringing staff and customers along on the journey.
Telekom Malaysia has been through a massive transformation, creating a single B2B brand, TM ONE. Its CMO, Mahmoud Dasser, explained that an integrated marketing approach was possible by eliminating silos and building a brand “truth” that focused on customers’ needs.
Harish Agarwal, Prudential Singapore’s Vice President and Head of Marketing, showed how his business was able to increase sales, unaided brand awareness and agency satisfaction. He said it achieved its digital transformation objectives by starting with the “why”, engaging with staff – through building a strong internal brand – and developing a culture based on purpose.
6. “We need to talk about purpose – not the product itself” – Ingela Nordenhav
In her presentation at the beginning of Day 2, Nordenhav explained how a change of focus seven years ago helped the manufacturer reframe its marketing activities. Nordenhav convinced Volvo Trucks’ management team that its purpose was to create “good transport solutions for society”, not just build large commercial rigs. “Instead of talking about the torque of engines, we wanted to talk about how trucks make life easier”.
This sense of adventure freed up Volvo Trucks to create one of the greatest video campaigns ever devised – Claude van Damme’s “epic split” between two trucks – that has had more 80 million views.
7. “If you really want to transform the data you have in your business … you need to observe, question and listen like a scientist” – Gabriel Garcia
Expedia’s Gabriel Garcia
Gabriel Garcia, who is Expedia’s Global Head of Mobile Apps Marketing and Head of Marketing APAC, explained how his company uses data science to deliver insights. He said it’s essential to develop hypotheses that you and your team can test and learn from quickly.
“It would be a mistake to think that data science can solve all the problems,” Garcia said. “Applying machine learning blindly is not going to help. You have to understand the problem that you’re trying to solve.”
How to develop effective data-driven marketing was the focus of Adam Cordner’s presentation. Cordner, who is Senior Solution Consultant at digital solutions business Domo, spoke about what true transformation means and how it can be applied to gain ROI.
“The vision for the CEO should be directly correlated with the behaviour of your customers,” he said.
Conference delegates also learned how data-driven decision-making was crucial in the brand development of financial software business Intuit. Wendy Walker, who is Intuit’s Head of Marketing, Global Expansion, said it was important for marketers to “walk in their customers’ shoes”, take data-backed risks and always consider cultural and emotional data to drive creative effectiveness.
8. “First and foremost, you are a marketer. Technology is only there to support you” – Kimberly Nelson
Kimberly Nelson, who is Director of Marketing Operations at commercial real-estate business JLL, explained how “non-technologists” such as herself can build an effective hybrid martech stack. She achieved this by using a hybrid model – one that took the best elements from centralised and decentralised approaches.
Her lessons? No one has all the answers, make martech a team sport (work with IT), know your strengths and realise that less can be more. “It’s really important when working with marketing technology to be harsh and don’t be afraid to get rid of stuff,” she said.
9. “I feel that working in regional or local marketing organisations is really the best job you can possibly have” – Susan Jain
Susan Jain spent three years as IBM CMO Asia-Pacific before moving to Dubai to take over the same role in the Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Pakistan. She spoke passionately about the way marketers can make a difference in the communities their businesses serve.
John Antos, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing APAC at global payroll provider ADP, was another who spoke about meeting the needs of local customers. Antos presented a great case study of how he established a regional office, learning along the way the importance of building specialist capabilities from the ground-up. He found that everything needed to be approached from a local context.
10. “Thought leadership is about leading from the front and talking about things that matter to your audience” – Danielle Uskovic
Yap Lee Yee, APAC Marketing Director for Bureau Van Dijk, described how her marketing team influenced an audience of hard-to-reach compliance managers through its award-winning demand-generation activities. It created content across a number of channels to find many qualified leads.
Lenovo also used thought leadership as a way to deliver exceptional marketing results. Its former regional digital and social leader, Danielle Uskovic, who is now at LinkedIn, explained how she convinced company executives to have a meaningful presence on social media.
“When I started the program, the leaders posting content had less than 20 views,” she said. “After six to 12 months, they were getting 50,000 to 100,000 views per post. People were reaching out to be connected and wanting to learn more.”
Results were also important for SzeKi Sim, Head of Brand at SGInnovate, a Singaporean start-up to assist start-ups. Its goal is to build a “deep tech community”, and it did this on the back of content and hosted events that told the brand story and helped raise awareness.
11. “Winning today is not about being a great authority – it’s about being a great connector of information” – Gabriel Tsavaris
Creating customer journeys can be difficult for any B2B business, especially when there are so many people involved in the decision-making process.
Gabriel Tsavaris, Commercial Director of Challenger Inc., showed research that confirmed how difficult it is to reach key decision makers. One of the ways to change this, he explained, is by creating content that is more weighted towards buyer enablement – building tools and diagnostics that help clients along the path to purchase.
Citrix’s Sandeep Pal
12. “Marketing needs to be like a bad party guest – arrive early, stay late” – Sandeep Pal
For Sandeep Pal, Vice President of Marketing APJ at Citrix, the best way to measure how well sales and marketing work together is by aligning them under one metric – revenue.
Pal said with any successful alignment, all sides must agree on what success looks like, they need to design for a unique go-to-market mix, balance brand and demand and get leadership buy-in.
Customer experience adviser and VisumCX founder Carlos Hidalgo also spoke of the need for businesses to define their success on revenue and maximise the value of their technology – their systems of engagement, intelligence and record.
Customer experience was the topic during the Day 2 panel discussion, specifically who owns the CX journey. The panel featured AIG Global Services’ Global Head of Marketing Prasana Prapoo, Accenture’s Regional Vice President of Marketing VC John, NICE’s Head of Marketing APAC and Middle East Catherine Swee and Lafarge’s Vice President of Marketing and Strategy Tolga Pekel.
To be successful in Asia-Pacific, John said, B2B companies need to ensure their strategies and tactics are highly targeted and localised. “Your choice of channels and the mix of channels by market can’t be one size fits all,” he said. “The customer experience is defined by how they
consume and interact and engage with what you put out there for them.”
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Emma Roborgh with Wendy Johnstone at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Asia in Singapore.
Further reading: 14 golden moments from the Sydney event in 2018