6 Business Skills Every B2B Marketer Must Master

May 3, 2016

We’re barely into the week and I’ve already heard the same tale of woe from four different companies. They need a different kind of marketer.

Well, to be more exact, what they’re looking for is more of a business person who happens to be trained in marketing. But these executives are clear about one thing. What they want from marketers coming through their door is someone who’s freely willing to get out of marketing and get a bigger perspective about what drives their business. They want marketers to know the business that they’re in.

This makes many marketers uncomfortable. But this is the time, to draw from a phrase that my friend Tim Washer uses, to feel the fear and do it anyway. Marketers who are in demand realize that they need to understand the dynamics of business and become equipped to join in a much bigger conversation. This is the only way that we’ll be able to bring the voice of the customer inside our organizations and make something happen with it.

What does it take to become the kind of marketer that CEOs want to hire and the rest of the C-suite wants to work with? Here’s six skills that I repeatedly hear matter that marketers need to tune into:

  1. Speak the language of business. Marketers speak marketing. That’s not what the rest of an organization speaks. Research and development creates products to deliver something that will generate revenue. Sales sells in order to generate revenue. IT creates systems of engagement with employees and the external world to facilitate bringing revenue in the door. HR hires the people who will generate revenue. What does marketing talk about? The brand. The website. The tradeshow. As marketers we have to get out of our world and step into the bigger world of business. Read the Harvard Business Review. Read Fast Company. Read Entrepreneur. Read The Lean Startup, Rework, and anything by Malcolm Gladwell, Charlene Li and Seth Godin. Study great businesses and great business leaders.
  2. Learn how to sell. This will definitely bring you closer to one of your most important peers – sales – but it’s also a skill that you need to continually hone as a marketer. Daniel Pink unveiled how much everyone needs selling abilities in his book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. “Selling” can sound like a dirty word to marketers. But the truth is, if we want to boost our credibility, influence and respect in our organizations and the business world in general, we have to learn how to sell our value.
  3. Understand finance and accounting. How deep of a dive you need to take depends on the size of the company for which you work. If you work for a small firm that intends to stay that size, learn about cash flow, cost of goods sold, overhead expenses and net profit. If enterprise environments are what you call home, then know how cash flows through the business, where the money goes (equipment, research and development, working capital) and how to read basic financial statements. And if you’re a startup savvy marketer, make sure you understand how your company secures funding, how to calculate working capital and the difference between overhead, assets and liabilities. In every case, work with your finance/accounting team to understand how much it costs to acquire a customer and what’s their long-term value. This will help you make smarter decisions about where you invest marketing dollars and help you prove payoff over the long-term.
  4. Make HR your BFF. Many marketers groan when they have to work with HR. Get over it. You will never be able to activate a brand and deliver stellar customer experiences without getting your employees involved. That means enticing them through an employee experience that’s interesting and engaging, and then empowering them to bring it to life in ways that are personal to them. Apply the same passion and rigor to employee audiences as you do to external audiences.
  5. Know technology. The marketing technology landscape almost doubled from 2015 to 2016. Chief Marketing Technologist blogger Scott Brinker estimates that there are now over 3,800 marketing technology solutions. It’s not just that audiences are consuming digital information. It’s that they care deeply about their digital experience. They don’t want to be stalked online. They want conversations that offer value at the most critical moments when they make choices. Customers care less about ecommerce and more about experiences. If we’re going to turn our brand into a stellar experience for people, then we have to understand technology in order to make it happen.
  6. Realize that you don’t need a title to lead. This is the title of one of the best books I’ve ever read by author Mark Sanborn. This book will open your eyes to the potential of leadership in the most unexpected people, most of whom will never have a big title. Every person, everyday has the potential to lead. True leadership isn’t about telling people what to do. It’s about creating a powerful movement with people who want to move with you. Continual learning from leaders of every type and every form is a must for marketers. Whether it’s someone down the hall or someone who lived 100 years ago, great leaders are great readers and continual learners.

I’d like to thank Thad Kahlow, president of Business Online for inspiring me to write this post. As a savvy digital marketer, Thad’s constantly asking questions that push what B2B marketers believe is possible for our profession. As a successful CEO he’s built his company into one of the top digital agencies in the country. As an entrepreneur he’s launched hundreds of ideas for major brands. And as a friend, he’s always asking me questions that dig into what I truly believe B2B marketers need to be successful and become leaders at every level within an organization.

What non-marketing skills do you think that marketers need to be successful? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit: Flickr user Adrien Sifre

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author