7 top takeaways from the 2017 B2B Marketing Leaders Forum

At the 2017 B2B Marketing Leaders Forum at Doltone House in Sydney, marketing leaders and industry professionals from all over the world converged to figure out how to transform their departments into “revenue-generating machines” and demonstrate the value of marketing-led business. It was the second of its kind, with founder Emma Roborgh launching the two-day sellout event last year. Packed with insights across keynotes and deep dives from world-leading brands and cutting-edge agencies, the 275+ crowd departed the venue of Wednesday evening well-equipped to brief the C-suite on what they had learned. For those who couldn’t make it, or who’d like their memory rejigged, here are the seven top takeaways.

  1. Slow down

As the forum cruised into its first of two days of energising talks, excellent in-between snacks (feat. cronuts), and impeccable hair (inclusive of one mohawk owned by Chris J Reed), the image of Van Damme doing the splits reminded us all to slow down. Rarely does a morning reward us so well.

Volvo’s Ingela Nordenhav’s message to hold back and ask ourselves “Is this driving progress?” was to be found everywhere. Marketing leadership guru Thomas Barta echoed it, while acknowledging how hard it can be to chill when “every blog is telling you how great Steve Jobs is.” And as Tuesday evening rolled in, LinkedIn’s Jason Miller also made the plea: “Slow down. We don’t have to post every single day, multiple times a day! It just doesn’t make sense.” (Never mind that he himself was talking at a competitive auctioneer’s pace.)

If we don’t slow down, the speakers agreed, we’re never going to move. It’s that simple. Which bring us to the next key takeaway…

  1. Keep it simple

In this maelstrom of new information, tools and data, it is our job – and nobody else’s – to simplify. If we were to pick out just one theme which ran through the entirety of the forum, this would be it. And the imperative to do so cuts across all aspects of business.

Like, for instance, strategy. Using AC/DC and exploding pie charts, Miller told us that rather than blustering away with a million pieces of irrelevant, incoherent content, we should side with the ‘Big Rock’ band camp – deciding which conversation we want to own, and building a defining piece of content around that. This way, we’re not just pinging stuff nobody gives a toss about into the abyss.

Language was in the crosshairs too. That has got to be simplified. To be made, you know, palatable. Dispense with the paternalising esoterica and brain-killing jargon is an undersold priority, we learned. As Georgina Williams tweetably put it, “Language that makes you feel clever has the opposite effect on buyers. These words tell your customers: f**k off.” She should know as well – as Australian Super’s Former Group Executive – Marketing and Corporate Affairs, she dealt with phrases like ‘preservation age’ and ‘superannuation guarantee’ every day.

Our ability to reach buyers is, however, utterly contingent upon how much we can “win the hearts and minds of not only external, but internal customers – the C-suites and the boards”. This was the main takeaway from NAB’s Suzana Ristevski; a mantra she expressed as: “dumb it down.” Your boss doesn’t care about the billion data points you can capture through the funnel, she exhorted, so don’t dump an indecipherable mass of it in their laps. “Data is very different from insights”. Limit yourself. Restrain yourself. Tell them the two things they actually care about: cost and revenue. Know this already? Then act upon it.

  1. Create lifetime value

Imagine if The Office and Black Mirror got together. This is what the campaign mentality looks like: absurd and incredibly bleak. Jon Amery from Vocus enjoined us all to recognise this reality – that immediate short-term gains is long-term mediocrity at best. When we’re obsessing over how every dollar adds value to the funnel, or expending energies shoving more customers into the pipeline, we tend to lose sight of what matters.

If we want to grow, add value, enrich the people we ultimately serve – and especially for our B2B audiences, whose purchase journey is so much longer and complex – we have to orientate ourselves towards a long-term relationship. Sian Chadwick from American Express gave the graphs to show that it pays off if we just find the patience. Her corporation’s immensely popular, customer-driven Shop Small initiative actually saw minimal lift until about two years in. After this point however, it soared.

“You have to commit over the long-term if you want to change these metrics,” she said. “Even when results weren’t moving we stayed the course.”

  1. Be in the revenue camp

“If you’re not seen as revenue, you’re seen as cost,” said marketing leadership maven Thomas Barta, and the room shifted in its collective seat. Yes: attribution is hard, and as Jon Amery noted, no algorithm exists that will prove the value of everything we do. But we still have to figure out some kind of relationship to the big ‘R’, or our credibility is lost.

How do you do this without compromising the customer? The solutions offered at the forum were various. Automatic qualified leads. Account-based marketing. Having a management team that supports what you’re doing. Co-Founder and Chief Content Adviser for the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose advocated structuring marketing as a business model, rather than a “campaign cost centre” as it’s more commonly known.

Barta used a great example of paywall. Instead of seeing it as a burdensome barrier, the Times framed it around saving quality journalism. Yes, it only goes so far; but it nonetheless gave an infusion of lifeblood to an otherwise moribund industry. Barta’s challenge: “What is your story of hope?”

  1. Build great teams

You are who you hire. But how do you hire? Repeated at least twice throughout the two days came the answer: hire for values. Create a culture.

“When you get those [team] values aligned, it’s an outrageous experience,” says Cisco’s Ray Kloss. “It’s a rocket.” Atlassian’s Head of Product Development Dominic Price, the closer of the event and the forum’s only futurist, concurred. Crucially however, teams who share the same vision and values don’t have to be homogenous. “Great minds don’t think alike,” Price said; “when you hire, go for cognitive diversity.”

It was also universally agreed that silos are despicable, inefficient and need to be dealt with. Sharing information, using message boards and displays to keep employees up-to-date and interconnected, creating ‘one source of truth’, and getting marketing and sales to shake hands – these were some of the ideas put forward as solutions.

Lexie Denby from TAL brought forward how businesses can enable employees to fully recognise the real, significant impact they have, and how this feeds into a better work culture. When a company claim comes in (one year, three years, 10 years down the track), that employee who closed the deal is made aware of it. Suddenly, they can envision in human terms how their work has made a direct difference to that customer’s life. That employee is now a living part of the story their brand tells, made to feel not only accountable, but proud.

  1. Innovate early

According to MarketCulture Strategies Inc. Dr Linden Brown, marketing has two mindsets: today’s and tomorrow’s business. To avoid the dislocation that mindset can bring, innovation – even if it means incremental, ongoing innovation – is crucial.

This is how Volvo was able to make a truck ‘sexy’, or how Marketo was able to sneak into a niche and own the emerging space, or how Lenovo was able to take on the challenge of scale. Any company can be big; but the credit and the sustainability goes to those who can be nimble, and who have the mojo to take risks when being cautious means death.

  1. Always put the customer first

“What’s the opposite of a delighted customer? A United customer,” quipped Thomas Barta. He’s not wrong. And United is a B2C company too. They’re supposed to be better than us at being customer-minded; not incredibly, awfully worse.

It is easy for B2B marketers to forget that their customers are people too. But putting that human face on your clients and accounts is critical. For broad operations with multiple audiences and outposts, doing the research to understand the customer’s nuances, channel preferences, time-zones and usage habits is vital. For an obvious example, take the fact that if your business clients are based in China, Facebook advertising won’t even be a thing.

Whether they hail from B2C or B2B, customers nowadays want the Uber experience. They’re waiting on you (or your competitors) to deliver that same frictionless, fluid experience. And if your competitor gets there first, they won’t hang around. Brand loyalty, we’re afraid to say, is a near-obsolete term. But by using the right tools and strategies, but most of all, the right stories, we can create for every B2B customer meaningful experiences at each point through their buyer journey.

Final takeaway? Find authenticity, for yourself and for your audience. Also: the Hawaiian-inspired chicken salad on Thursday was pretty great.