7 top takeaways from the 2017 B2B Marketing Leaders Forum

B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC organiser Emma Roborgh’s lightbulb moments from the 2017 event.

More than 275 B2B marketing leaders and industry professionals converged on Doltone House to figure out how to transform their departments into “revenue-generating machines” and demonstrate the value of marketing-led business. For those who couldn’t make it, or would like their memory rejigged, here are my seven top takeaways.

Slow down

The image of Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two trucks reminded us to take our time and be careful. Volvo’s Ingela Nordenhav said we needed to hold back on our marketing efforts and ask ourselves “Is this driving progress?” Marketing leadership guru Thomas Barta echoed this, acknowledging how hard it can be to stay cool and calm when “every blog is telling you how great Steve Jobs is”. LinkedIn’s Jason Miller also pleaded: “Slow down. We don’t have to post every single day, multiple times a day! It just doesn’t make sense.” If we don’t slow down, the speakers agreed, we’re never going to move. It’s that simple.

Keep it simple

In this maelstrom of new information, tools and data, it is our job – and nobody else’s – to simplify. The imperative to do this cuts across all aspects of business. Take strategy. Miller told us that rather than blustering away with a million pieces of irrelevant, incoherent content, we should decide what conversation we want to own and build a defining piece of content around it.. It’s also important to use easily digestible language. We learned that we need to dispense with the paternalising esoterica and brain-killing jargon. As Georgina Williams, former AustralianSuper Group Executive, Marketing and Corporate Affairs, put it: “Language that makes you feel clever has the opposite effect on buyers. These words tell your customers: f**k off.” NAB’s Suzana Ristevski said we need to “dumb it down” to win over our “internal customers – the C-suites and the boards”. Your boss doesn’t care about the billion data points you can capture through the funnel, she exhorted, so don’t dump an indecipherable mass of it in their laps. “Data is very different from insights”. Limit yourself. Restrain yourself. Tell them the two things they actually care about: cost and revenue.

Create lifetime value

Jon Amery from Vocus warned that we need to avoid a “campaign mentality” and recognise that seeking immediate short-term gains often leads to long-term mediocrity. When we obsess over how every dollar adds value to the funnel, or commit our energies trying to shove customers into the pipeline, we can lose sight of what matters. If we want to grow, add value and enrich the people we ultimately serve – and especially for our B2B audiences, whose purchase journey is often long and complex – we have to orientate ourselves towards long-term relationships. Sian Chadwick from American Express said patience pays off. Her corporation’s popular, customer-driven Shop Small initiative only soared after two years of persistence. “You have to commit over the long-term if you want to change these metrics,” she said. “Even when results weren’t moving we stayed the course.”

Be in the revenue camp

“If you’re not seen as revenue, you’re seen as cost,” said marketing leadership maven Thomas Barta. Attribution is hard and, as Jon Amery noted, no algorithm exists that proves the value of everything we do. But we still have to figure out some kind of relationship to revenue or we lose credibility. How do you do this without compromising the customer? The solutions offered at the forum were various: automatic qualified leads, account-based marketing, having a management team that supports what you’re doing … Robert Rose, the Content Marketing Institute’s Chief Content Adviser, advocated structuring marketing as a business model, rather than a “campaign cost centre”. Barta used the example of paywalls. Instead of seeing a paywall as a burdensome barrier, the Times framed it as a way to save quality journalism. Barta’s challenge: “What is your story of hope?”

Build great teams

Hire for values. Create a culture. “When you get those [team] values aligned, it’s an outrageous experience,” says Cisco’s Ray Kloss. “It’s a rocket.” Futurist Dominic Price, Atlassian’s Head of Product Development, agreed. He said, however, that teams sharing the same vision and values don’t have to be homogenous. “Great minds don’t think alike,” Price said. “When you hire, go for cognitive diversity.” It was also universally agreed that silos are despicable, inefficient and need to be dealt with. It’s important to share information, use message boards and displays to keep employees up-to-date and interconnected, create “one source of truth”, and get marketing and sales to shake hands. Lexie Denby from TAL said employees need to know the real, significant impact they make on the business, and how this feeds into a better work culture. When a company claim comes in (one year, three years, even 10 years down the track), the employee who closed the deal is made aware of it. Suddenly, they can see how their work has made a direct difference to that customer’s life. That employee is now a living part of the story their brand tells, made to feel not only accountable, but proud.

Innovate early

According to MarketCulture Strategies chairman Dr Linden Brown, marketing has two mindsets: today’s and tomorrow’s business. Innovation can help avoid the dislocation this mindset brings, even if it’s incremental. It’s how Volvo made a truck “sexy’, how Marketo owned the emerging space, and how Lenovo took on the challenge of scale. Any company can be big. The credit and opportunities go to those who are nimble, and choose to take risks when being cautious means death.

Always put the customer first

“What’s the opposite of a delighted customer? A United customer,” quipped Thomas Barta. He’s not wrong. And United is a B2C company, which is supposed to be better at being customer-minded than a B2B business. It’s easy for B2B marketers to forget that their customers are people, too. But putting that human face on your clients and accounts is critical. For broad operations with multiple audiences and outposts, doing the research to understand the customer’s nuances, channel preferences, time zones and usage habits is vital. If your business clients are based in China, Facebook advertising won’t even be a thing. Whether they hail from B2C or B2B, customers want an Uber experience. They’re waiting on you (or your competitors) to deliver that same frictionless, fluid experience. And if your competitor gets there first, they won’t hang around. “Brand loyalty” is a near-obsolete term. But by using the right tools and strategies, but most of all, the right stories, we can create meaningful experiences for B2B customers at each point of the buyer journey. Final takeaway? Find authenticity, for yourself and your audience. If you have a B2B Marketing success story you’d like to share with 300+ B2B marketers in 2018, please contact emma.roborgh@b2bmarketingleaders.com.au