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From Megafax to Microsoft Teams: reflecting on 25 years of B2B marketing (where everything and nothing has changed)

These articles have been written by the second cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Cecilia Francolí Belinchón, Director Global Marcom at Adform

Recently I was talking to a friend about what I’ve learned over 25 years of B2B marketing and she told me it sounded like an assault course: constant obstacles being thrown in your way.  But whilst there’s truth to it, instead of fighters, I like to see me and my professional peers as artists. With every change in the industry, we’ve had to be creative.  Bringing harmony and elegance in a broad variety of actions to support the business goals. Leaving colourful and wise impressions in our audiences.

There is beauty in B2B marketing. And whilst – yes, perhaps technology has created an illusion of significant change – a life in this space has taught me that some things are timeless.

  1. New technology enhances (rather than replaces) the marketer 

When I started working as Junior Product Manager, instead of email we photocopied what we wanted to communicate, and left pieces of paper on employees’ desks. I was responsible for the star product: “the megafax”, which was a unique service allowing marketers to send 1 fax to lists of hundreds of customers.

Of course we are all now aware of the different, mostly digital, channels we use to communicate with customers. So that is the key: we still need to communicate with them and technology has made our lives easier. We just need to think differently and adapt our literacy when new sources appear. Remember when measuring marketing results was about asking the sales team how many meetings had they booked? How much had they sold? Now instead of asking, we check salesforce. Easier too. So really, it’s not about technology, it’s about common sense guiding it.

  1. You will always need a sales team… the persuaders… who are amazing at managing real human relationships

When I started 25 years ago, everybody told me Sales and Marketing were not a good match. “Beware of Sales guys”, they said!

And what did I find? They were wrong. So wrong. Sales are marketing’s best friends. When you achieve that symbiosis, like I was lucky enough to experience in British Telecom, Microsoft and now Adform, company results multiply.

Gartner research shows that B2B buyers only spend 17% in face-to-face meetings with suppliers, and predicts that over the next 5 years sales reps will be considered just another channel, with 33% of buyers desiring an entirely seller-free sales experience.

I’d argue this thinking is hugely flawed. The same research concludes that 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels by 2025. But this will be messaging, emails, even video calls (now we’re all used to them!) which is merely a digitised way of managing human relationships.

  1. We’ll never not need a strong marketing message!

*Craft* is timeless. Phyllis Davidson from Forrester describes content as “pretty much gold”, and B2B buyers have an average of 17 content interactions throughout their purchasing process. The only way to stand out is to have a consistent, memorable message.  What makes a message memorable? Killer facts, proof points, simple sexy wording and no technical, incomprehensible jargon.

  1. Feedback on your marketing is essential

Arrogant marketers get locked in a bubble. Jennifer Ross, A VP Research Director from Forrester believes that finally marketing leaders are comfortable saying the words: “I don’t know.” Not only have I learnt the power of “I don’t know” in building relationships, but also that getting feedback is the best – and sometimes only – way to learn.

We know marketers live at an intense rhythm, but we need to stop – and share our ideas with colleagues from other areas, other friend-marketers or friend-customers (these last are the best). Why? Fresh eyes and different angles.

  1. Simple executions for complex solutions

For some reason, marketers always want to treat B2B as a different beast entirely, but consumers will always want simplicity, regardless of how complex our processes are.

Sometimes, something you hear at the beginning of your career will stay with you forever. 25 years ago I got my first job as Product Manager at the incumbent Telco in Spain. Despite my happiness at breaking into the marketing world, but shared one big concern with the CMO: “I don’t know anything about technology, how am I going to be able to do my job?”

His answer has stuck in my head ever since: “That’s exactly why we want you – if you understand, then our customers will too. We need you to translate what we do into everyday language. B2B customers want simplicity as much as B2C consumers.

In building our latest platform at Adform, our engineers spent 3 years making the user experience as friendly as consumer platforms, as feedback from customers was that they expect the same ease of use in professional transactions as they would in their personal lives. Your customers are human beings: and whether you’ve worked in the business for 5, 25 or even a hundred years, that will never change.

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