The Marketing Strategist:

Highlights from ITSMA’s 20th Annual Conference

November 21, 2013

  • Commentary
The theme of this year’s Conference was “The New Face of Marketing.” That face emerged in talks from ITSMA experts and member companies including Cisco, CSC, Dell, EMC, HCL, IBM, and others. Marketing used to be the creative center of the organization. It’s still creative, but informed by the budding stereotype of the customer-focused, data-driven startup nerd, feeling the way forward in an emergent field. The air is rich with possibility—and each speaker had a unique vision for how to make that possibility real. Here are some of the key takeaways of the conference. The path to power. Two quotes from conference speakers highlight different routes to influence. CSC Global Brand & Digital Marketing Director Nick Panayi: “Activity brings data, data brings knowledge, and knowledge is power.” And Cisco’s Karen Walker, on how to prove marketing’s value: “Find an area where sales has no presence. Create a campaign. Anything that happens subsequently is due to marketing’s influence. Proof that marketing works.” It’s all about the revenue. Marketing, in close collaboration with sales, is becoming accountable for revenue generation. It’s a function of increased focus on structure, discipline, and collaboration: the adoption of a value chain model (structure), an embrace of measurement (discipline), and lots of upfront time working with sales (collaboration). Walker explained how Cisco marketing has signed up for a specific annual revenue goal and has gone “where sales has not gone before”—new market segments (e.g., mid-market) and new countries. Planning is done in close alignment with sales, and marketing leaders sit in on the calls in which sales lays out its forecasts. Even with events, which she called “our cocaine,” marketing has moved from measuring customer experience to measuring contribution to revenues. Shifting from “marketing-influenced opportunity” to “marketing-generated opportunity,” Cisco marketing measures marketing’s contribution to revenue with the same level of discipline and scrutiny as sales. From B2B to B2I. Personal relationships with prospects and customers used to be the sole responsibility of sales. Now it’s a big part of business marketing’s job. According to Cisco’s Walker, the business buying process is now self-initiated and starts online. And according to ITSMA’s How Buyers Consume Information study, 85% of B2B buyers use social media during the purchase process. The result, she said, is that geographic, platform, and organizational boundaries have disappeared. So has the old distinction between B2B and B2C, both of which have given way to a new acronym, B2I—business to individual. To master B2I, says Panayi, “first, study the digital body language. When they raise their hand, you must already know everything about them.” How to satisfy buyers’ hunger for knowledge. According to recent ITSMA data, buyers are driven by a relentless imperative for knowledge and a hunger for credible, trustworthy, human contact. Half of buyers spend an average of nine hours per week researching technology trends. And the bigger the company, the more time they spend. That translates into a need for subject matter experts (SMEs) at the start, at the end, and all through the sales cycle. Organizations are working to increase the number of SMEs. And they’re trying to extend the reach of the ones they already have. Salespeople are the new thought leaders. Only 21% of companies think that they’re very or extremely effective at using thought leadership in the selling process, according to ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Selling study. In my Conference opening address, I exhorted the audience to enable thought leadership selling, observing that we are producing fantastic thought leadership and engaging stories, but we are not helping sales understand how to use it and how to customize it. One way to overcome this challenge is to find ways to make sales reps SMEs. Buyer behavior is “driven by relentless need for knowledge,” said ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz, “and buyers can’t learn everything digitally—they need to interact with people, especially subject matter experts.” When asked what salespeople should be doing during the purchase process, buyers ranked “Put buyer in touch with SMEs” as their #2 priority (after “Provide product or service information”). Marketers ranked it #7, showing that they often miss the need to provide greater access to SMEs. Scale your SMEs. “You need to find ways to scale your SMEs,” said Schwartz, either by making SMEs more accessible or helping sales become more like SMEs. An example was given by EMC’s Barbara Rubidoux. EMC has been offering its customers a free half-day workshop on IT Transformation, where “EMC IT rock stars” share their expertise and their experiences helping other customers change their IT delivery models. The workshop helps EMC customers clarify their needs, understand how they stand relative to other companies, and decide on the next steps they should take. It also helps EMC better understand the customer’s key IT and business issues, serving as a conduit for thought leadership selling. The new collaborative relationship: CMO and CHRO. There’s been a lot of talk about CMO-CIO collaboration. But CIOs are increasingly focusing on system support and infrastructure management, while CMOs are bypassing CIOs by harnessing user-friendly applications in the cloud. The next collaborative relationship is likely to join the CMO and the chief human resources officer (CHRO). The right people will enable marketers to transform their organizations. The CHRO can find them. (As well as help train the people who aren’t yet singing from the customer-centric songbook.) Get on the delivery truck. The “Undercover Boss” TV show is popular in part because it shows how little senior executives know about their own companies. The CEO joins low-level workers and is frequently humbled by their knowledge, dedication, and ability to work well under difficult conditions. Dell VP of Strategy and Sales Enablement David Lee used a pithy phrase to refer to the same idea: “Get on the truck.” It refers to getting on the delivery truck to visit stores and visit retail customers. B2B services companies don’t deliver products on trucks. But the idea is still powerful: take any opportunity to work with someone who interacts with the customer at a different level or in a different part of the company. Better yet, work directly with the customer yourself. You’ll learn about the customer. You’ll learn empathy. You’ll become a better marketer. And you may become a better person. Don’t forget in-person relationships. The buyer in B2I, cautioned ITSMA’s Schwartz, is not to be found solely online. She shared recent findings from ITSMA’s surveys of business buyers of large-scale, complex technology-based solutions: only 34% of the buyer’s time is spent online in the process of learning about technology solutions. In contrast, 22% is spent with solution providers or outside experts and 23% with peers. That’s a total of 45% of the buyer’s time that is spent with other people. “In B2B,” said CSC’s Panayi, “buying is [still] a group sport.” The new marketer is a Poogle. No, it’s not theoffspring of a beagle and a poodle. It’s the marketing savvy of P&G combined with the digital proficiency of Google—the combination of Mad Men and Math Men, according to Cisco’s Walker. But does such a person exist? The consensus seems to be no; the marketing generalist is giving way to a squad of specialists. Walker recently grew her team by about 10%, adding only newly-minted college graduates. Their social media skills are “completely native,” and in a reversal of roles, they are great at “mentoring old fogies.” They also bring a fresh perspective, asking questions like, “If I go to a meeting, does this count as work?” CSC’s Panayi, in contrast, highlighted the diverse skills of digital migrants compared to the younger digital natives. The identity of B2B marketing is changing. Like other “overhead” functions, it has been pressured to justify its existence by contributing to revenue rather than simply managing costs. Marketing may still have a unique role within the business apart from its contributions to the pipeline. The assembled experts at the ITSMA Conference didn’t reach a consensus. But it’s clear that, at the B2B services and solutions companies that dominated the ranks of Conference goers, marketing has come a long way from being considered as overhead.

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