The digital transformation of B2B Marketing
Just as the world has digitally transformed over the past 20 years, so too has the profession of Marketing. As is mostly the case, B2C marketing is the first sector of marketing that embraces novel ideation and innovation. Eventually, B2B marketing catches up.
I recently had lunch with a client Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), who has become a good mate of mine over the last five years of working with him. We started our careers in marketing at about the same time. We did the hard yards of climbing the corporate marketing ladder together. We did nearly a decade of hands-on marketing work. We looked after small marketing teams to begin with and then became Heads of Marketing for our respective organisations. What we did share in common throughout was the sector of marketing we worked in – B2B. I must stress when I say B2B, I mean from organisation to organisation. This includes marketing to Government and Defence.
Over lunch, we reflected on how diverse and deep the skillset of today’s B2B Marketing teams are. The skills required of marketers today are far more complex than what the marketing profession called for in years gone by. Digital transformation, particularly in the areas of data and analytics, AI-led automation, social channels etc., has been instrumental in the change our profession has undergone.
Additional drivers of change in B2B marketing
Another driver for the change in B2B marketing skills is the need to deliver marketing that echoes B2C marketing. Buyers today are accustomed to B2C marketing in their personal life. B2C firms (such as Amazon, Netflix, Spotify etc.) use state of the art marketing that is highly personalised, just in time, and relevant, leveraging a wide variety of channels (email, social media etc.). This has shaped the preferences of consumers. They take these preferences to work and expect B2B marketing to employ similar levels of sophistication and finesse. This ‘buyer preference driven’ demand has resulted in B2B marketers needing to excel in areas such as video marketing, mobile marketing, segmentation and personalisation, as well as adopting a more ‘human’ approach to their messaging.
The C-suite has also increasingly entered the spotlight with the ever-growing trend against ‘faceless companies’. There has been a shift toward building leadership’s ‘personal brands’ with marketing teams playing a prominent (though background) role in strategic planning and guiding CXO’s social and digital profiles. This change has ushered in the requirement for exceedingly high communication and copywriting skills.
The B2B Marketing Skills of today’s high performing B2B Marketing teams
As the co-founder of a B2B marketing firm and as a CMO to 12 B2B organisations, I am well versed in the B2B Marketing sphere. I am aware of how vital the complete range of marketing skills are in realising a healthy ROI, increasing brand awareness and achieving a multitude of strategic outcomes for B2B customers.
Below I will share with you my opinion of the core skills that make up today’s Top Tier B2B Marketing Teams. Please note that I am starting with Marketing Strategy Skills as I firmly believe that any sound marketing play begins with a sound marketing strategy. Thereafter I have arranged the skills in alphabetical order and not necessarily in order of importance. So here goes.
These are the B2B Marketing Skills that high performing B2B marketing teams must have…
Marketing Strategy Skills:
It all starts with the right strategy. You get the marketing strategy wrong, and the finest and most disciplined marketing tactics yield no results. Every business, regardless of the size they are, or the vertical they operate in, must have a documented marketing strategy. It is the B2B marketing skill of foremost importance.
Simply put, a marketing strategy explicitly sets out your business goals, including who your ideal customers are and how you intend to reach them. A robust marketing strategy is the plan of action you will execute to grow your business. Every marketing team requires capable and skilled marketing strategists. In the absence of marketing strategy skills, teams tend to execute on marketing tactics that have not been strategised, planned or thought through.
Strategy must start with customer-orientated goals. Marketers must have the ability to consistently measure and refine their strategy in order to meet objectives. If there is one area I recommend that marketing teams amass skills in, it is that of Marketing Strategy. Get this skill right, and a lot will come right. Get this wrong, and a lot of pain will head your way.
Advertising (Digital and Traditional) Skills:
Your B2B marketing engine will need advertising skills of both the ‘digital’ and ‘traditional’ variety. You will need digital advertising skills for: search ads, social media ads, video ads, audio ads, retargeting, remarketing, mobile ads, etc. Equally, you will need traditional advertising skills for print, direct mail, sales enablement literature, broadcasting, telemarketing, etc. Advertising in the B2B world works, and it works well. However, you need to have an omnichannel approach to your advertising play.
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) gains momentum, marketing must learn to put AI to good use. Traditional marketers shy away from Martech that is too complicated. To begin with, you will need the strategic capability on board to assess which AI use cases will benefit the business. To leverage AI, you will need access to relevant technical skills to convert the strategy to execution that yields results. Research skills, both quantitative and qualitative, will come in handy. You will need the skills to analyse data, convert it into information and serve it in a way that the executive layer can make informed decisions. Mathematical skills will become increasingly important as you include AI in your delivery mix.
Analytics and Measurement skills:
The pressure on Marketing to deliver a result is at an all-time high. The C-Suite frequently discusses Return on Marketing Investment. Your ability to analyse, assess, measure and report back on marketing campaigns etc., will be essential for you to improve your play and demonstrate to your leadership that you have a good handle on marketing initiatives.
Conferencing and Events Skills:
With COVID nearly behind us, there is a rise in in-person events; you will need end-to-end conferencing and event skills on board.
Content Development Skills:
When I say content, I use the word somewhat loosely. I mean content for social media channels, video marketing, the website, third-party affiliate marketing, events and conference agendas, and webinar and seminar topics. I refer to the word content in all its facets. I refer to whatever the intended or target audience interacts with, be it auditory or still visuals or animations or videography. You will need the relevant content development skills on board to build content of various formats and for different channels.
Content Marketing Skills:
You no doubt have heard of the statement “content is king”. I subscribe to the notion that “content is king, content is queen, and it is everything in between”. Cliché and lame as that sounds (reads), it is true.
Content marketing capability is vital to successful B2B marketing skills. Be it content for a website, social media posts on LinkedIn, scripts that underpin videos on YouTube, event and webinar agendas, or blogs on the corporate website, content forms the backbone of what you communicate with your audience.
A great example of an organisation that won through content is none other than HubSpot. HubSpot grew from three customers in 2006 to a $19 billion-dollar company by 2021. This success was largely achieved by publishing webinars, blog posts, and tools like Website Grader. These free offerings solved problems for prospects, buyers and repeat customers alike.
If you are a B2B marketing leader, you will need various content development and content marketing skills in-house or access to these skills through partners, be they freelancers or agencies. Please note that content marketing skills are a different skill set from content development. You will need access to both content development and content marketing skills to succeed through the lever of content.
Every organisation needs access to copywriting skills. Be this in-house or via b2b marketing agencies or specialist writers, you will need to copywrite. Most organisations do write; however, many do not write well. Whether you leverage the in-house writer, a freelancer or use an agency to develop your content, having a copywriter working on your content will ensure that the writing work is completed to a high standard. The greatest reasons for putting effort into copywriting are demonstrating thought leadership, establishing the value you provide and generating organic traffic and inbound leads. The ability to write copy that cuts through and copy that converts are essential skills given the volume of ‘marketing noise’ hitting buyer’s screens daily.
Design Skills (various facets):
Be it for offline marketing in the physical world or online marketing in the digital world, you will need access to high-end design capability. Design skills will be needed for a plethora of use cases – for a website, for custom landing pages that assist in lead generation, for eBooks, for seminar invites, for webinar presentation decks etc. A modern-day B2B marketing outfit requires design skills that can be applied across several existing and emerging tools such as Photoshop and Canva.
Email Marketing Skills:
Email marketing remains one of the most potent channels B2B marketers can utilise. Welcome emails, newsletters and drip campaigns form valuable facets of a robust email strategy. To execute email marketing well, you will need email marketing automation skills, design skills, copywriting skills, HTML and CSS skills, and analytics and testing skills.
Influencer Marketing Skills:
Influencer marketing has been a prominent channel in the B2C arena for quite some time now. Even in the B2B sphere, influencer marketing has been prevalent over the decades. However, modern-day Martech, social media and digital channels allow B2B focused organisations to leverage influencer marketing smartly, effectively, and efficiently. From guest blogging to event speaking to casual mentions during a keynote, influencer opportunities are abundant for marketers with the ability to think creatively. You will require PR skills to leverage influencer marketing. You might also need a budget to court well-known influencers in niche industries.
Lead Acquisition and Lead Nurture Skills:
Marketing success in the B2B world is often measured with questions such as … ‘How many leads did marketing deliver?’ and ‘What was the quality of leads like?’
To be seen as commercially viable and to provide a return on the company’s marketing investment, you will need to have a lead generation engine that delivers high quality leads to the sales team. For each organisation, the lead generation mechanisms and vehicles will vary. It will depend on your product/service/offering. It will also depend on where you are in your organisation’s lifecycle. Lead acquisition can be quite cumbersome and complex in certain B2B industries. Nurture, even more so.
To acquire leads and nurture them well, you will need a plethora of skills. These will vary depending on the channels you leverage. For instance, if events are your way of acquiring leads, you will need event planners, designers, copywriters, project managers, etc. If your way to leads is through a large volume of outbound calls, you will need Sales Development Reps making the calls and you will need sales enablement assets to support them. If you generate leads through digital channels, then you will need the skills in line. The ability to take a customer’s product/service and craft copy that converts, combined with eye-catching design, is crucial to digital lead acquisition. This must be combined with the production of additional nurture materials such as drip email campaigns.
Marketing Technology (Martech) Skills:
This is the area of marketing where most of the disruption and innovation has entered the profession. These are the skills most removed from traditional marketing skills and the toughest skills to find, develop and secure. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Analytics, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Social Video, and Social Digital marketing are just a few of the skills that make up the burgeoning category of Martech skills. As a B2B leader wanting to gain a competitive advantage, you will need to invest in Martech skills. You will need skills in a wide variety of areas that make up Martech.
Mobile Marketing Skills:
Mobile marketing, as in marketing to the mobile device using channels such as SMS and WhatsApp, have long been used in the B2C marketing arena with great success. In the B2B sphere, however, many marketers think messaging to the mobile phone through direct messaging is over intrusive and inappropriate. Fact is, there are various plays of B2B marketing such as seminar/webinar invitation reminders, announcements of new product/service releases, and notifying recipients of a recently released newsletter/blog that can be conducted through mobile messaging.
Organic Search Skills (for Google Rankings):
Ranking towards the top of Google search rankings for desired keywords is a coveted position every organisation wants to be in. To rank at the top of search engine rankings, you will need various skills. Content writing, well designed and developed landing pages, backlinking etc., will be essential to ensure ranking supremacy. Persistence pays off with organic search. This means producing consistent SEO optimised blogs that match the searchers’ intent combined with a solid backlinking strategy.
Organic Social Media Skills (for B2B Social Media Channels):
Contrary to widespread belief, social media channels do work well for B2B organisations. But you need to leverage the right channels in the right way. LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram are relevant channels for B2B organisations. Yes, Instagram can be relevant if your agenda is talent acquisition or brand building across that demographic. Note that you will need design skills, copywriting skills, social media marketing skills relevant to each social media channel, and advertising skills relevant to each social media channel. You will need social media strategy skills. You will also need analytics, measurement and reporting skills.
Paid Search Skills or Search advertising (for channels such as Google Ads, YouTube):
Organic search is a rather tough mountain to climb. It requires a lot of skills, and that too from a diverse portfolio (design, development, writing, SEO, PR etc.). This is where paid search or digital advertising can help. Paid search can yield results sooner. When a paid search advertising campaign is developed, monitored and managed well, it can serve to be a very rewarding component of an integrated B2B marketing campaign.
Success in paid search does not come without the skills needed to make paid search campaigns a success. It is essential to make ongoing changes to improve the performance of a paid search campaign. Running a great paid search campaign includes knowing what to tweak (such as landing page quality or use of longtail keywords etc.) to ensure it is both successful and financially sustainable. There are multiple variables to consider. A solid paid search campaign requires a multitude of skills, including domain expertise, copywriting, design, development, software, deep analytical and mathematical skills. Without the required skills, digital advertising campaigns do not yield a result, and they absorb a lot of advertising dollars in the process.
Paid Social Media Skills (for B2B Social Media Channels) :
When developed, monitored and managed well, paid social can be a very rewarding component of an integrated B2B marketing campaign. From the get-go of a paid social campaign and throughout the campaign’s journey, various elements can impact the budget, visibility and the end results. It is extremely important to frequently assess your analytics to make sure the campaign is on track. To run a successful paid social media campaign, you will need strategic skills, copywriting, design and analytical skills.
Partner/Supplier Management Skills:
If you are in the B2B space, chances are you are working with partners, be they supply chain partners, firms that partner with you to deliver a complete value equation or distribute/sell your products/services. You will need to manage these partners and suppliers well from all aspects, of which, marketing is a core one. In the B2B marketing arena, having access to partner/channel management skills is a handy skillset to have on board.
Public Relations (PR) Skills:
The ability to strategise, plan and execute a Public Relations (PR) campaign is vital in raising the profile of a company and company leaders. PR is the premeditated and proactive management of a company’s reputation and its leaders. It is the management of the communication process intended to create positive perceptions amongst your target audience and customers. The aim of PR is to ensure that people think and speak positively about your organisation and its leaders. Merely being familiar as a brand is not enough. PR helps put your brand front of mind. An organisation’s reputation is the sum total or the reputation of the firm and of the prominent personalities of the business. It is the culmination of everything your organisation says and everything you do combined with what is said or written about you, by others. Every firm has a reputation, whether they wish to have one or not. Your reputation is out there. As a marketer, it is up to you to shape the firm’s reputation. PR skills can help you manage your company’s reputation and build a positive relationship with your internal and external stakeholders. To be competent at PR, you will need strategic capability, domain expertise, research skills, copywriting skills, design skills, connections in the industry etc.
Relationship Management Skills:
An astute marketer – be they internal or external marketers – know precisely how to manage customer expectations. If you are a CMO or Head of Marketing, you will need to ensure that you, and the team you lead, are well versed in managing relationships with other functions (finance, sales, engineering etc.). You will also need to make sure that you manage upwards (the C-Suite) well. If you are a freelancer, contractor, or agency lead, your ability to manage relationships with all relevant customers within the account will be mandatory. As a marketer, your ability to build and maintain relationships with external parties such as customer execs, partner execs, supplier execs etc., will also be important.
Video Marketing Skills:
‘Casual’ short-form video skills are essential, particularly for social content; however, there is still a need for long-form video in the B2B sphere. Traditional video skills such as scripting, storyboarding, lighting, sound and direction are still required, particularly with educational content for websites and internal training at larger organisations, etc.
Web Skills (Design & Development):
Be it B2C (Business to Consumer), B2B (Business to Business), B2G (Business to Government) or B2D (Business to Defence), regardless of who you are marketing to, your website is your 24×7 shop front. A state-of-the-art website that provides a world-class experience irrespective of the device will help put your business in a position where it can engage with and sell to prospects around the clock. Being online with the right fabric of website will increase your business’ exposure and help it to generate new customers. You will need web strategy, web design, web development and copywriting skills to make a best in class website. Furthermore, you will also need Search Engine Optimisation skills to ensure that your website is found for the keywords that are important in your market.
Webinars and Podcasts Skills:
COVID ensured that digital means of collaborating with partners and customers gained momentum. As such, webinars replaced seminars, and podcasts in the B2B arena gained more momentum. Webinar production end to end requires a multitude of skills such as social media, landing page design, web copy, copywriting, project management, etc. The webinar and podcast skills must include post-event nurture and lead generation skills.
As a business leader reading this rundown of B2B marketing skills, you may be surprised to see just how complex B2B marketing has become. It really has. Each year, the complexity further grows as new marketing software applications are introduced into the mix. If you have worked with marketers who do not possess the full scope of skills required today, this blog may shed light on why some of your marketing campaigns and efforts have not yielded the expected results.
Business leaders have an obligation to their organisations to achieve growth outcomes. Similarly, business leaders have an obligation to understand the minutiae of the marketing skills required today to make informed, educated, and sound decisions in precisely who they engage to govern and execute their organisation’s marketing.
Marketing is vital to achieving every B2B organisation’s short-term and long-term growth milestones. Equally vital is the need for competent, diversely skilled, highly specialised marketing partners who can deliver marketing outcomes that meet the needs of today’s environment.