The Marketing Strategist:

Accelerating Marketing Transformation: Five Takeaways from ITSMA’s 2017 Marketing Leadership Forum

June 7, 2017

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Transforming Marketing for the Digital Future

“Transforming Marketing for the Digital Future” was the theme of this year’s Forum on May 23-24 in Napa, CA, and the participants agreed that the pace of change in B2B marketing has never been greater.

As Forum discussions confirmed, many of the most pressing challenges facing marketing leaders today go beyond traditional ones and range from leading change beyond marketing, embracing marketing’s role as an advisor to the business on customer behavior, and directing sales “where to fish”, to integrating new digital channels and tools for an improved customer experience, and designing new programs to increase engagement and collaboration with clients, prospects, and partners. All said, it was a fun, enlightening, and inspirational two days!

Looking back at the Forum, I see five key takeaways.

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Slowing down to speed up

“Are we moving fast enough?” is a constant concern. According to new ITSMA research unveiled at the Forum, however, less than one third of B2B marketing leaders have a documented strategy, timeline, or framework for marketing transformation.

Taking the time to map out a transformation program is critical to ensuring focus on the right initiatives at the right time with the right objectives and metrics. As ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz noted, “Companies with a transformation plan are often focused mostly on the technology roadmap. Technology is important, but it’s just one element to consider.”

Instead, companies should consider all six elements of ITSMA’s new Marketing Transformation Maturity Model and look toward a set of specific, strategic objectives:

  • Role of marketing: Becoming a strategic growth driver for the business
  • Thought leadership and content: Providing personalized and strategic insight, ideas, and guidance for clients and prospects
  • Sales relationship: Collaborating beyond lead fulfillment to drive deeper customer engagement and success
  • Technology infrastructure: Delivering an omnichannel customer experience
  • Data, analytics, and insight: Optimizing customer outcomes while leveraging AI and machine learning
  • Organization and culture: Leading the business (not just marketing) with a creative, insight-led, agile, and collaborative approach

Joseph Puthussery, VP Digital Marketing at Cisco, provided a powerful example of the type of strategic approach marketing leaders should consider. Working along similar lines to the ITSMA model, Puthussery highlighted five aspects of Cisco’s digital marketing transformation:

  • Customer experience: Creating personalized experiences for customers and prospects based on digital utilities
  • Analytics: Generating actionable insights across four main dials: lifecycle, audiences, channel, and content
  • Omnichannel: Creating an integrated buyer’s journey supported by marketing, sales, and service working together at every stage
  • Technology: Updating its marketing technology stack to better enable interactive content, personalization, social, sales enablement, and data and analytics
  • Talent: Realigning the marketing team by moving staff from headquarters into the field, as well as beefing up digital operations, customer experience, and analytics

Orchestrating the full customer experience

Echoing Joseph Puthussery’s focus on customer experience, many participants highlighted the growing emphasis on the full customer experience, especially as more and more companies move to subscription and as-a-service offerings and business models.

Charlene Li, Principal Analyst at Altimeter, underlined the point in her presentation: “If you’re not focused on creating the next generation customer experience, you’re focusing on the wrong things. The only questions are which customers and which parts of the experience are you working on.”

In fact, Li suggested, managing marketing transformation requires a delicate balance of delivering short term results amid market disruption while simultaneously developing new approaches and teams for the future. Customer experience is the point of alignment throughout this balancing act, and the key to competitive differentiation.

Further, according to Dave Hutchison, SVP North America Marketing at SAP, innovation with customer experience needs to encompass more than just digital. SAP’s Business Reimagined Tour, for example, updates the traditional road show with a connected economy twist. Outfitting a highly customized trailer with the latest in virtual and augmented reality, an IoT coffee machine, a predictive analytics beer wall, and a digital board room, the SAP tour is bringing hands-on innovation to 170 customer locations in 2017 and touching $1.5 billion or more in active pipeline opportunities.

Scaling account-based marketing with greater sales alignment, customer focus, and team development

ITSMA and our member companies have been at the forefront of ABM development for more than a dozen years, but the recent surge in ABM investment across B2B marketing has lent a new urgency to thinking strategically about how best to scale ABM programs. A conversation with three ABM leaders provided this advice:

  • Cultivate a closer relationship with sales: ABM works best when it’s fully integrated with sales but buy-in doesn’t always come easily. As Raianne Reiss from Juniper Networks noted, “You need to have people who can speak sales, get aligned with sales, maintain alignment on a continual basis, understand what sales is trying to achieve, and put the right ABM plans and activities in place to augment that.”
  • Commit to a customer issues focus: Resisting the temptation to promote off-the-shelf solutions is always challenging, especially as ABM programs scale to cover dozens or hundreds of accounts. “But you have to keep working with sales and account teams to understand the client and their issues,” said Scott Sobers of Teradata, and then work with salespeople to address those specific issues with the right programs and content.
  • Invest in the care and feeding of your people: “You can never underestimate the people side of ABM,” said David Armijo of Microsoft. “It will be a transformational journey for your people and you have to help them in this journey.” As important, Reiss explained, pay attention to burnout: “It’s quite high when you have a marketer focused on just one thing and getting deep, so you have to be prepared to address this and have a plan for career growth and progression with ABM.”

Making marketing more memorable

Amid the endless array of new and emerging challenges for marketing, one thing hasn’t changed: We’re all competing for mindshare with clients, prospects, and industry influencers, and literally trying to get people to remember our ideas and messages in ways that move them to action. For cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon, author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, the task of crafting marketing that is actually remembered is the most fundamental challenge we face.

Dr. Simon’s presentation provided both a quick dive into the latest science on memory and a simple but powerful framework to help us connect our content more effectively to the way our brains decide. The main point is to link to people’s reflexes, habits, and/or goals with messaging, materials, and conversations that play off the familiar and match what audiences find rewarding.

For example, consider the tension between novelty and familiarity: The brain craves familiarity while marketers typically stress what’s new and different. A bit of novelty is fine, Simon explained, but use “freedom within a framework” as a guideline: “Provide a framework that your audience finds familiar and then just play off that a little bit.” (For more on Dr. Simon’s thinking, see Brain Science Says: Three Keys to Memorable Marketing.)

Buyer personas are a great tool for helping marketers create more memorable messages for specific audiences…if they are created appropriately. Too often, companies create role-based profiles and crank out content that fails to connect. As Adele Revella, CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute, noted, “Personas were supposed to solve the problem of breaking through buyer resistance to our content, but most content still falls flat.”

To ensure effective personas, according to Revella, marketers need to focus on buying behavior and decision making, not simple profile information. Most important, useful personas are based on deep, qualitative insight into buyer expectations and criteria for decisions, not demographics and roles. Even more, marketers need to appreciate that a great deal of “benefits” messaging is just noise for buyers; they already understand the potential benefits. Digging into and responding to decision criteria is far more important.

(For more on developing effective personas, see Role-Based Profiles are NOT Buyer Personas.)

Meeting the leadership challenge beyond marketing

Effective transformation is above all a leadership challenge, and the scope and pace of change in marketing demands that leaders excel at bringing their teams along as quickly as possible.

The change goes beyond the marketing organization itself. As Naveen Rajdev, CMO of Wipro, noted, “We want to be at the center of the company connecting customer insight with executive leadership. This means pushing the culture of marketing into the whole organization, but also pushing the culture of business into marketing.”

This is far easier said than done, of course, but the tools of digital engagement can provide substantial support if utilized effectively. Charlene Li provided a useful three-part framework for the digitally engaged leader, as follows:

  • Listen at scale: Leverage digital listening tools every day to keep up with the latest from staff and other colleagues as well as partners, clients, competitors, and other influencers
  • Share to shape: Connect with team members socially to build relationships, reinforce priority initiatives, and share the stories that help everyone connect to the larger mission
  • Engage to transform: Reach out directly to employees, clients, and others to solicit input, test ideas, and respond to questions and concerns

The personal touch is especially important, as Michael Lobosco of LinkedIn noted. Companies are much more effective when their employees are “socially engaged”; they are more likely both to attract top talent and generate increased sales leads. But engaged leadership makes it possible with personal commitment, guidance, and support.

A larger sense of mission is similarly important, according to Dave Hutchison at SAP. Describing a push by CEO Bill McDermott to turn SAP into a brand-led company (versus being sales-led), Hutchison suggests that, “The most important change is changing the brand to become more purpose driven. Not only do our customers appreciate companies that are doing good things in the world, but from an employee standpoint, the engagement around this purpose-driven culture and the recruitment impact we get is really important.”

Final Thought

Now more than ever, strategic collaboration matters. Marketing leaders are facing great pressure to move faster, innovate more, and continue to deliver the numbers in the face of substantial change and uncertainty. We’re constantly tweaking our strategies and plans, but carving out the time for creative and longer-term thinking with peers and advisors can be extremely difficult. Gatherings like our Forum in Napa remind us of the value of doing just that. Thanks to all who were there with us!

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