Waves of change are something marketers are accustomed to. We welcome them, even, timing our entries and exits to favorable market conditions. But when a powerful swell comes roaring in from the horizon before we're ready, marketers can be overwhelmed by the force and turbulence of the change.
In 2020, several tidal waves disrupted traditional marketing. Luckily, we've never been so well prepared and equipped to handle such chaos. Marketers today are the change agents in business organizations: driving digital transformation and innovation, breaking down silos, and leading success in the digital economy.
And, as a result of changing buyer behaviors and the consumerization of IT, marketing is more critical than ever.
So how can we successfully ride new waves of change without crashing down in a gnarly wipeout? The answer comes down to two mindsets and one skillset: confidence, curiosity, and competence. The 3Cs.
Confidence: Replicate the Silicon Valley swagger, wherever you are
I've spent 25+ years working in the startup and enterprise B2B tech ecosystems in Silicon Valley, giving me the opportunity to ponder the magic formula that makes the valley tick. I found a "holy trinity" that gives Silicon Valley its swagger: money, talent, and culture.
Money fuels growth. Whether it's in mature industries with large addressable markets or emerging opportunities with massive future potential, Silicon Valley is not afraid to put its money where its mouth is. SV startups attracted 44% of the nation's VC funding in 2019—to say nothing of the tens of billions more invested locally by private equity and large technology firms.
Talent is also in great abundance in the valley: An impressive 46% of the Bay area population have a college degree (compared with 28% nationally), and 20% have at least one graduate degree. It takes smart, educated people to win as frequently as valley companies do.
But culture, above all, is Silicon Valley's weapon for success. Workers exude confidence. Risk-taking is encouraged. Failure is celebrated. Bureaucracy is abhorred. The valley wholeheartedly embraces the "art of doing what's possible," with all of the pitfalls and setbacks that implies.
Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on the holy trinity. VCs and other investors are quickly becoming geographically agnostic. Innovators from Montreal to Melbourne and Beijing to Bangalore are leveling the playing field year by year. That is particularly true in software, where physical location is irrelevant, and the cost to scale up globally is marginal. There is no reason that talent needs to be local, especially with the worldwide adoption of remote working compelled by COVID-19. Even for roles in which physical presence matters, players in other locations can take advantage of the urban exodus that is currently underway.
So what does that leave? That culture of confidence! The Silicon Valley swagger! And, as any business coach or personal development guru will tell you—that's all you, baby.
Silicon Valley has already exported its culture of dreaming big and failing fast to other regions around the world. You can depart from San Francisco, fly 15 hours, collect your bags, and walk into a startup accelerator or coworking space in Berlin or Singapore. Silicon Valley is an attitude, not a point on a map.
For those who might not have the experience or inclination to walk with the Silicon Valley strut right away (looking at you, fellow Athenians), I say that inner confidence starts with the friends, family, and other trusted players who make up your personal social infrastructure. For me, it's my husband, my three kids, and two cats, along with my supportive father and siblings, who give me the strength to try, fail, and try again. They're the people who pick you up, dust you off, celebrate your victories with you, love you unconditionally—and build your confidence.
Curiosity: Learn to growth-hack, no matter your size
Between 2000 and 2017, 52% of the Fortune 500 were bankrupted, acquired, or simply ceased to exist. Research firm Innosight has predicted that a full three quarters of the Fortune 500 will be replaced by the year 2027.
Whether you are a plucky startup duking it out for market share or a highly established industry player, you cannot afford to sit on your market position and past successes.
Startups need to learn how to blitz-scale and gain first mover advantage. Established enterprises need to learn how to sustain growth using account-based marketing (ABM) and deal-based marketing (DBM). Both need to learn from each other to thrive in the unrelenting new world of digital transformation.
Start with the most powerful three words in the English language: "I don't know." Admit that you do not know everything, and begin to learn best-practices wherever you can find them.
The world of B2B marketing has changed radically, and it continues to change.
- Buyers are digitally driven, socially connected, and mobile, and they have full access to research information.
- One-third of decision makers are Millennials, who view the B2B buying process differently from their predecessors.
- Twice the number of B2B buyers now prefer digital touchpoints over conventional sales interactions, according to a recent McKinsey report.
- Self-service is now normal, and marketing has become 70-80% of the journey.
As a marketer, you must be willing to remain curious, continually learn, and try new methods to stimulate growth. Since nothing is static, you must always be learning new skills, hacks, and perspectives. I would even say you should be willing to rotate roles or even change companies if you are not able to constantly learn new ideas and mechanisms where you are now.
Competency: Master five core competencies to lead growth transformation
Confidence and curiosity are vital, but they won't get you very far if you don't know your stuff.
Marketers have five jobs—and you'll need to get them right in each of the buckets to succeed. According to the Aberdeen Group, SiriusDecisions, and other researchers, companies that successfully align B2B sales and marketing increase their revenue and profit growth by between 20-30%. Here are the five competencies that B2B Marketers need to help transform their organizations:
- Positioning. If you do not yet know where you sit in the hierarchy of competitors and what distinguishes your offering, then your customers won't either. Ask, "Why should the customer choose you?" and "What customer needs are we solving?" Then base all of your marketing messaging around that. Be the category leader if you can. If there is no category for what you do—create it!
- Storytelling. As an old Native American tale goes, "Tell me the facts and I will learn, tell me the truth and I will believe. But tell me a story—and it will live in my heart forever." I don't care how technical your product is, If your content does not harness the art of storytelling to convey how your product fits into people's lives, it's not going to sell.
- Engagement. Once you have your positioning and storytelling ready, you still need to find the right way to put your content in front of the right buyers. Buyers consume an average of 5-6 pieces of content on most B2B journeys, so choose your content mix wisely. Target all decision-makers in your account-based marketing. Use both inbound and outbound methods. Personalize (because you can). And make sure you are engaging buyers with your unique brand experience, online and offline.
- Monetization. At some point, mindshare must translate into wallet share. You need to know how to measure, analyze, and tweak marketing automation, personalization, nurture tracks, and lead scoring from inbound, webinars, and events. If you think that's "the sales department's problem," think again. Closing the deal is part of marketing success, whether or not you are the one to sign on the dotted line.
- Acceleration. At some point in your organization's evolution, you will have your positioning, storytelling, engagement, and monetization firing smoothly on all pistons. But guess what: Your job is not done yet! Once you have the basics in place, you can accelerate your organization's growth by creating an ecosystem of industry analysts, advisers, and strategic partners.
The most important metric for the competency of your marketing machine is Marketing's contribution to the sales pipeline, and, ultimately, revenue-related outcomes. And the most important metric for your own success as a B2B marketer is how well you master the 3Cs of B2B marketing success.
* * *
It's a splendid time to be a marketer. You are in the driver's seat. Get stoked! It's your time and your turn to grab the wave and have the ride of your life.
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