7 Big Questions For B2B Marketing Leaders in 2015

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Tony Zambito

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seven_by_enframedAnother year and more questions facing B2B Marketing Leaders. We are faced with a rapidly changing digital economy and evolving buyer behaviors. Challenging the best plans and intentions drawn up for 2015.  Each year begets a new set of questions, which confront B2B organizations and B2B Marketing Leaders.

Let us take a look at 7 very pressing questions:

  1. Do we really know our buyers and customers?

A few decades ago, the famed management guru Peter Drucker stated one of the most important question a business has to answer is: Who is our customer? For CMO’s and marketing leaders, this remains their most significant question. They must contend with internal beliefs the organization does know everything about its’ customers. This contention is the reason behind rephrasing the question. In my helpful calls from all over the world, one of the most prominent discussions relate to how to make the case an organization truly does not understand everything about its customers. That, a business may be operating on old assumptions about its customers. My advice to CMO’s and marketing leaders today is to challenge these assumptions with rephrasing Drucker’s questions to focus on whether an organization truly does know everything about its customers.

  1. Have we adapted to digital buying behaviors?

The digital economy is surging and affecting how business to business gets conducted. Being slow to not only to understand changing buying behavior but also to adapt can have long-term consequences. For example, in recent buyer interviews, I am hearing and seeing more expectations for direct digital interfacing and sharing. If you are digitally out of synch with your potential buyers and customers, this could make a significant difference in terms of how decisions are made. It will be increasingly important to also adapt to demands for networked collaboration and experiences by B2B buyers and customers.

  1. Can we build brand allegiance?

An observation coming out of well over one hundred buyer interviews last year is this: the cost of change is decreasing. Unlike in B2C industries, whereby consumer choices to change may not come with significant costs, B2B industries have the element of cost of change. New digital as well as cloud technology is making the cost of change for business organizations to no longer be insurmountable. For years, B2B organizations may have enjoyed some degree of latitude in forgiveness in lapses of bad product design or in support services. No longer. Which means CMO’s and marketing leaders will need to look at how to foster and build brand allegiance.

  1. Why do we still suffer from low returns on content marketing?

In the last three years, we have seen many a CMO double down on content marketing. As I had previously written, this can be a precipitous road ahead. The financial and operations side of organizations can start to perceive a “the boy who cried wolf” effect as they sacrifice budget for content marketing. In addition, we are seeing cottage industries sprout up around content fixes, proclaiming the ability to correct this pervasive issue of low returns on content marketing. We have seen content audits, content gap analysis, content creation, content curation, and more promising the cure-all. In my direct qualitative research with buyers, there appears to be something far more insidious going on than appears before us. I had a startling interview last year with a CEO of a $4.1 billion B2B concern. His statement will bring this point home more than I ever could:

“I remind my team each and every time when they come to me with some white paper, report, or whatever it may be, that if it is vendor-produced, you cannot trust it or make decisions from it. Period.”

Until this riddle of vendor-tainted perceptions gets solved, through building trust via openness and transparency, no amount of services applied to fixing content marketing woes will be effective.

  1. How do I contribute towards building a customer-centric organization?

The idea of building an organization around its’ understanding of their customers is not new. We have seen this work well in B2C industries and in very few B2B industries. A recent CEO Study by IBM also points to more CEO directives focused on deeper customer understanding and building a customer-centric organization. Then where does the leap happen to achieve customer-centricity? Organizations aiming to achieve customer-centric capabilities need to start with – Whom else? – the customer. And, to operationally build common views, common interpretations, and common accessibility to customer knowledge and intelligence. What is often too far the case, customer knowledge may be vertically deep only in one silo – while the rest of the organization struggles to understand. B2B CMO’s and marketing leaders, in their pursuit of deep customer understanding, will need to shoulder a responsibility to make possible a “hub” of customer views, interpretations, and access for the entire enterprise. It is only in this way can they contribute towards a true operational build-out of a customer-centric organization.

  1. How do we make our marketing efforts more human-centered?

Last year, we began to see a movement begin to take shape. This is a marketing movement, which is long overdue. This movement establishes a new threshold for B2B marketing to adopt a more human-centered approach. It means B2B CMO’s and marketing leaders will need to meet buyer and customer demands for more holistic and immersive experiences. It will require adopting experience and design thinking to marketing planning. The complexity of multiple channels and touchpoints produces a challenge of how to tap into emotions and create a very human connection to their brand.

  1. What attributes should I seek to build a high performing team?

One thing we can be sure of in the world of business and marketing is the proverbial pendulum swing on new ideas, trends, and concepts. One of these happens to be content marketing. During the past few years, we have seen calls for marketing to totally transform themselves into a publishing department. Even creating yet another “Chief” position such as Chief Content Officer or Chief Publishing Officer. Hold on. The pendulum is swinging back. Building a staff replete with only publishing experiences and attributes can prove to be a disadvantage. As mentioned above, we will see new demands with new terminologies such as networked collaboration. Attributes, skill sets, and experiences requirements will change as a result. Look for CMO’s and B2B marketing leaders to achieve greater balance in their teams by focusing in on end-to-end marketing experience design.

There are more questions and sub-questions.  The above is offered as a starting point for CMO’s and B2B marketing leaders to begin examining and reflecting upon.

A Brave New Marketing World

We are entering the dawn of a new area in B2B marketing. Where the cold logic applied to marketing and sales give way to human-centered experience fulfillment. It will mean letting go of long held beliefs in rigid B2B product marketing and embracing a brave new world where human connection is not seen as fanciful but essential to helping businesses succeed.

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