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Enter the Golden Age of B2B Marketing

Rolf Andersson reminds me of the white-bearded-version of Ernest Hemingway. Rolf has written copy for B2B companies for the last fifty years and has seen B2B marketing go from an afterthought to the most strategic division in big B2B companies. When I sat with him recently in his high-rise office overlooking Stockholm, he smiled confidently and told me that we have entered the Golden Age of B2B Marketing.

I remember listening to Larry Ellison speak to the Oracle sales team twenty years ago. At the end of his presentation, he answered questions. One sales manager talked about how he had recently read a Wall St. Journal article about the 100 most recognized brands and was disappointed Oracle didn’t make it. What, he wondered, was Oracle going to do to address that problem? Larry sarcastically said that he was going to open up some hamburger stands, maybe an Oracle soda, and advertise during the Super Bowl. His point was that enterprise software didn’t get bought through advertising and brand building. It was, at the time, sold through boots on the ground with sales teams trading information for access to power. Today, however, nothing could be further from Larry’s vision, as correct as it was at the time.

At Forrester’s (incredible) B2B Marketing show in Austin, TX last month, Forrester analyst Mary Shea said, “The sales process no longer exists.” Why? Because what matters now is the prospect’s buying process. Laura Ramos reminds us that it’s all about empathy. “Mindset change starts with empathy,” she said. Steve Casey, however, explains why doing that has become so difficult for sales teams. “Your prospects,” he tells us, “don’t want to talk to you.” It’s pretty hard for sales people to express that empathy Laura Ramos teaches is so important when their buyers won’t to talk to them. This is today’s huge opportunity for B2B marketers: to pick up where sales teams get shut out. Marketers can reach those same buyers to create meaningful, digital conversations in similar ways B2B sales people once did.

Because of the ways buyers now evaluate solutions – they use the Internet for business evaluations the same way we all do in our daily lives to research for personal purchases – marketers can now take over where sales people are getting shut out. It’s been 25 years since Peppers and Rogers wrote The One to One Future. That notion became reality in the B2C world early this century; it’s reality now in B2B as well. The buyers already know it… they won’t engage with companies who don’t communicate with them digitally using ultra-tailored, personalized, meaningful content. Unfortunately, however, many CEO’s who want to sell to them don’t fully get it. The B2B companies who recognize this and respect how their buyers want to buy have a chance to run away from the pack. There’s been a winner take all finish in B2C online selling, and it’s critical that B2B companies as a result, marketers organizations have become the engine that leading B2B companies are relying on to snatch the lead in the digital race.

Putting marketing first also helps the sales teams. At the Forrester show, Cate Gutowski of GE Digital said, “Our sales team wants to build trusted relationships with sellers, so together we can change the world.” Because of the work GE is doing with digital, their sales teams have a chance to do that. When the information is digitized and made available to buyers on their teams, sales teams have the high value conversations that are fruitful for both sides.

Today’s most successful CMO’s are telling their peers not to wait, not to wait for the head of sales to pass them the baton. They’re telling their peers to march into the CEO’s office and demand it. This is the Golden Age of B2B marketing, and the future of B2B companies depends on their CMO’s ability to communicate in personalized, meaningful ways with the consumerized B2B buyers.

Our CMO guide to account-based advertising can be found here.

Written by Meredith Bell.