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B2B art and science collide at marketers’ meeting

CMO study showcases the need to embrace data and collaboration

While the theme of the recent Business Marketing Association (BMA) conference was the aspirational “B2B Rising,” the discussion was decidedly grounded by the operational challenges brought on by a role still in transition.  Last year, the conference focused on the need to face the loss of control in omnichannel marketing.  This year, digital disruption and the need to work differently were givens. 

Columbia University professor David Rogers started the discussion with a forward-looking list of the “seven habits of great B2B marketers:”

  • Use data to solve problems
  • Create beautiful experiences
  • Be ready to experiment
  • Think like a media company
  • Make innovation your story
  • Build platforms, not products
  • Think peer-to-peer, not B2B

Rogers’s themes, particularly taking a more entrepreneurial approach, were echoed throughout the day by speakers from even the biggest and most entrenched companies.

Still, there are operational challenges. Laura Ramos, Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, presented a report co-sponsored by the BMA that paints a picture of increased responsibility and influence among the marketing function, but one of limited resources and increased expectations. The result is the need to rethink not just what marketers are trying to accomplish, but how.

“CMOs must turn their attention to the business issues that matter,” says the report, based on research with 117 CMOs. “They need to rethink the marketing strategy over tactics, prioritize collaborative opportunities, strengthen the marketing team, and collaborate with peers about how to put real customer needs front and center.”

To do so, marketers must re-evaluate the skill sets resident in their teams, adding more analytic and technically savvy colleagues, and team with other parts of the organization, most notably with IT. 

“IT underpins customer-obsessed competitive capabilities, and firms like Amazon.com, Best Buy, and IBM use technology to learn continuously about their customers,” the report says. “This means marketing and IT must work closer together to ensure that systems support customer expectations as well as business decision-making.”

The report notes that there is some risk that marketers spending more time with non-traditional partners will steal time spent with agencies and even with their own teams.

As the discussion pressed on, with panels on innovation, creativity, technology and the convergence of media, it became clear that to fulfill Rogers’s prescription marketers need to re-make themselves.  They must be change agents.  They must be technologists.  They must be data analysts.  They must be curators, storytellers and community organizers.  They must bring together the product, the customer journey and the brand experience.

As Accenture’s Katrina Klier said:  “It’s ‘Mad Men’ plus ‘Math Men.’”