The pandemic has given B2B marketing leaders a golden opportunity to rethink the culture of their marketing teams. Rather than worrying about how to recover, B2B marketers should be thinking about how to get stronger.

Culture change takes time, but one of the best ways to start is by integrating new steps into your employees' professional development plans. After all, you are what you measure: Campbell's Law posits that if a raise or corresponding value judgement is solely dependent on meeting a sales quota, employees will sacrifice their other job responsibilities—team management, skill development, and so on—to meet that quota.

If you integrate innovation into development plans, and subsequently into employees' annual reviews, you can start holding them (and yourself) accountable for the changes you want to make. The metrics that make a successful employee must start including behaviors you want to see; otherwise, your teams will treat culture change as "nice to have" instead of a necessary focus.

That said, telling your employees to "be more innovative" or "take more risks in your work" isn't helpful. Instead, create professional development goals that are specific, attainable, and measurable, and then provide detailed recommendations that are time-bound and actionable.

Use the pandemic as an opportunity to assess your professional development plans, for both yourself and your teams. Start with these questions:

  • Do you have a development plan? Do your employees? When was it last updated?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your career goals? This year? Over the next 3-5 years?
  • What do you need to accomplish those goals? From yourself? From your team? From your boss? From the organization?
  • When was the last time you spoke with your team members about their personal career goals?
  • Do you have a plan for how to help them achieve those goals?
  • Do you hold them accountable for meeting their goals?
  • When was the last time you went down on the factory floor to better understand the complexities of your product manufacturing?
  • Do you monitor industry associations and know what the latest trends are?
  • Have you shadowed your sales force to truly hear the voice of your customers and understand their needs and what they are looking for?

Once you've assessed the current situation, start creating plans that will form the foundation for a more innovative and effective marketing communications department—one that will attract, develop, and retain innovative employees.

Professional development plans, like your professional development goals, should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely). Here are a few sample development plans for employees up and down your organizational chart. Carrying out these plans can help you build a foundation for a more innovative marketing team that can feasibly apply the strategies and tactics you see in conference agendas, blog posts, and whitepapers.

For Senior Leaders

Goal: Build a more effective marketing communications function that is recognized both internally and externally for its innovation, creativity, and effectiveness.


  1. Win at least one external award for the team's work.
  2. Secure at least five positive testimonials from business unit leads across the organization that speak to the value the team added.
  3. Identify and measure the direct impact of the team's work on helping at least one business unit meet its sales target; then build and share a case study on the work on your intranet.
  4. Incorporate innovation, creativity, and effectiveness into the team's success metrics.

Development actions:

  1. Before the end of the year, research, identify, write, and submit an award entry highlighting one of your team's projects to at least three marketing awards that focus on industry innovation and/or creativity (e.g., IW Industry Excellence Awards, ANA B2 Awards, The Drum B2B Awards, Stevie Awards).
  2. In the next three months, develop a case study template to highlight your team's work and create at least three case studies that include measurable results.
  3. Within the next month, develop and implement an internal process for assessing your team's employee satisfaction, specifically with regard to its innovation and creativity. Create a baseline value, and by the end of the year increase its level by at least 50%.
  4. Within the next year, develop a presentation to brief executive leadership on the marketing team's creativity, innovation, and effectiveness.

For Mid-Level Employees

Goal: Become a model for identifying and applying new and innovative marketing techniques.


  1. Lead at least one project that is then identified and submitted for at least one external innovation or creativity award.
  2. Become known as the company's expert for at least one new aspect of innovative marketing.

Development actions:

  1. In the next month, work with your team lead to identify, enroll in, and complete an online certification course on a new marketing or communications skill. Train at least one other team member on that skill, and then apply it to at least one project.
  2. Within the next six months, attend at least one marketing or communications conference outside of the manufacturing and B2B arenas; then develop and share a presentation on how you and your coworkers can better apply that experience internally.
  3. Within the next year, develop a presentation on your identified skill, and brief the executive leadership.

For Junior Employees

Goal: Become a well-rounded marketing employee by learning how creativity and innovation are applied across the entire department.


  1. Secure positive reviews on your annual review from at least three colleagues outside of your immediate team.
  2. Be a core team member on at least one project that's submitted for a marketing award.
  3. Contribute to your team's reputation for creativity and innovation by creating or identifying content to share on a monthly basis with the rest of the organization.
  4. Gain a greater understanding of the business of your company.

Development actions:

  1. In the next month, work with your team lead to identify, enroll in, and complete an online certification course on a new marketing or communications skill.
  2. In the next month, identify at least two other job functions in other areas of the company where you can shadow colleagues and gain a greater understanding of what they do on a daily basis. Shadow each of them and apply what you've learned in your communications.
  3. In the next three months, develop a channel (intranet blog posts, email newsletters, staff meeting presentations, etc.) where you create and curate innovative marketing campaigns from across industries and highlight lessons learned and best-practices that could be applied at your company. Share content at least twice per month.

* * *

Development plans should always be customized to the individual employee, as everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, goals, and interests. But the above outlines provide a good framework for creating lasting culture change in your B2B marketing.

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How to Become an Innovative B2B Marketer: Integrating Innovation Into Professional Development Plans

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image of Steve Radick

Steve Radick is a senior vice-president and senior director at BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe), one of the largest full-service global communications agencies.

LinkedIn: Steve Radick

Twitter: @sradick