An intensive day’s debate was had at the ‘Making Sense of BtoB marketing’ Conference in Paris recently, as Dan Sheridan, Global Account Director in our Paris office, relays.
The inaugural one day symposium, held in Paris, brought together 70 BtoB marketing professionals from a wide variety of sectors. Providing an opportunity to share best practice, discuss challenges faced by the BtoB community and learn from the experiences of some of France’s top marketers, it certainly provided a platform for intense debate and discussion.
While it is apparent that the BtoB community here in France is growing, it is also apparent that it faces universal challenges.
Visibility of marketing as a major function within the wider commercial organisation emerged as a key issue, alongside the drive for technology and the role of automation in leveraging customer and prospect opportunities. With complex buying timelines and multiple messages delivered via multiple channels to multiple audiences, the changing nature of developing stand-out creative was also considered.
From The Top
There is no doubt that times are changing and the stature and professionalism of BtoB marketers in the French business community is increasing, but all our delegates agreed that there is still significant progress to be made, particularly when it comes to having a voice at board level.
Structurally all sectors seemed to conform to the traditional separation of marketing and sales functions, with limited presence in the boardroom. Not only is this affecting the rise of the BtoB marketer, but more importantly could be hampering business performance.
It was felt that, on the whole, board members were too remote from the customer, and with the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) best placed to provide insights into the customer relationship and experience, a commercial opportunity was being missed. A ripple of agreement greeted the example cited by Phillips’ former CMO, (now CEO), who used to start every board meeting by taking some customers in and saying to the board – “...here are our customers, remember who they are, they should be at the heart of everything we do.”
While BtoB marketers face the challenge of having to assimilate complex data from an increasingly broad variety of sources (the ‘marketing technology stack’), the ability to then interpret and present this customer insight data back to senior management represented a tangible opportunity for marketers to wield greater influence within their organisations and, where appropriate, move towards a more marketing-led approach.
Perhaps inevitably, technology – in its many guises and applications – dominated the day’s debate. Of course, we recognise that customers and prospects are researching products and services online, but not necessarily the extent, with 70% of the decision-making process completed before they even see a member of the sales team. Factor in the statistic that an astonishing 69% of BtoB purchases in France are completed without face-to-face contact, and the crucial nature of a dynamic digital presence to get ahead of competitors in the buying timeline is apparent.
How to do this? The increasing complexity of marketing intelligence was perceived as both an opportunity and a challenge. Automated systems are the key to rigorous planning, with the personalised, almost one-to-one nature of marketing messages and campaigns enabled by software, such as Oracle’s Eloqua, enabling more sophisticated and individualised targeting and nurturing of prospects.
By automating the process, organisations can define their brand and develop a clear and consistent story across the buying timeline, delivering multiple messages, to multiple audiences, via multiple channels. Gregory Lecointe of Oracle explained how modern marketing is about using technology to build a profile, or indeed profiles, of your audience. One of the challenges to achieving this, however, is in the quality of the information gathered and the ability to source data from across the organisation. It means that marketing and sales have to be much more closely aligned and, if anything, marketing has to own the majority of the buyer funnel.
As well as bringing these two functions together, Liliana Dolic of Alcatel Lucent stressed the importance of managing the internal culture when undertaking any marketing transformation. Investing time in setting up and training the team on new technological processes and best practice methodology to take advantage of the digital world has achieved positive buy-in from her team and helped themembrace digital marketing techniques.
Automation and BtoB does not restrain creativity, as Reuben Webb, our creative director here at Stein IAS explained. Creative executions featuring light bulbs, handshakes, magnets and other equally as predictable concepts are never acceptable (see our 101 clichés – insert link) but BtoB should not, and does not, mean boring. In fact, it could be argued that the nature of BtoB makes the creativeeven more important.
Just as the application of technology has changed the structure of marketing campaigns, the creative approach must also adapt to reflect this. In particular, the more complex and personalised nature of digital marketing has led to the need for robust ideas that have longevity and flexibility to meet this changing need. Here at Stein IAS we call this ‘the big, long idea’ and it fuels all our campaigns, enabling the delivery of concepts that transcend the entire buyer journey.
And the Sundowner….
With a cross-section of industries - represented by differing individuals and organisations - having tackled and debated a variety of issues, there was universal acknowledgement at the end of the conference that, really, there has never been a better time to be a BtoB marketer.