BMA14: Where B2B’s Going

Photo caption: Steve Ligouri, (left) president, Ligouri Innovations and 2014-2015 BMA Board Chair and Kathy Button Bell, CMO, Emerson, and 2013-2014 BMA Board Chair kickoff the BMA 2014 conference in Chicago May 28.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

At the Business Marketing Association’s annual conference there were five themes that consistently rang loud and clear. (As a disclaimer, I’m on the national board for the organization.) As the single, largest B2B marketing conference in the world, the event drew more than 1,000 people who came to learn from luminaries such as Beth Comstock, SVP/CMO, GE, Gary Briggs, CMO, Facebook,  Teresa Poggenpohl, Managing Director Global Image, Accenture and Brent Adamson, co-author of The Challenger Sale. Across the board, here are the consistent themes that rang true:

  1. Relevance is key.  B2B marketing isn’t just about being more human; you can go the “human-to-human” route and still be irrelevant. You have to get intimate with the people you’re trying to have conversations with (not just tell stories to) and that goes beyond just collecting data. When was the last time you, a marketer, had long-winded, in-depth conversations with your customers? If you’re not deeply involved with sales teams and customer conversations (see #3 for more on this), then it’s time that you insisted that you do. It really is about how you make customers and prospects feel. My favorite quote from the late Maya Angelou (paraphrased) is that people will forget what you say and do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. If you don’t know how the work you do makes people feel, then you’re truly running blind. It’s time to stop wasting their attention and your company’s money. The only way that you’re going to evoke emotion and create deep engagement is by being relevant – and there’s always more to the story than just data.
  2. Innovate or evaporate. At his lunch presentation (and yes, it was laced with f-bombs), Gary Vaynerchuk told marketers that they need to start marketing in the year in which we live. This, in itself, would be a HUGE step for B2B marketing. Why do we lag so much? We can’t use the “we’re not B2C so we just move slower,” crutch anymore. Our customers live in one world, and what they experience as B2C customers also impacts what they expect from B2B. And we’re sadly disappointing them. That’s why B2B companies who stray ever so slightly from the norm stand out – they understand that innovative mindsets are the quickest ways to capture our attention. The true innovators are able to wade through ambiguity and uncertainty, and get the market ready before customers and competitors know they need something.
  3. Sales and Marketing have to get their act together. I feel that we’ve been beating this drum so much for the past few years, but it’s certainly getting louder. (I also covered this at part of the Content2Conversion conference earlier this month.) Why? Because even execs now realize the impact of unrealized revenue from this misalignment – IDC claims it to be somewhere around 24%. What if your company could boost top-line revenue by 24% just by having sales and marketing get on the same page? It’s a no brainer. But marketing is going to have to take the leadership role here. We can no longer claim that we’re the brand people, and cover top-of-funnel activities and then leave the room when conversations get down to the nitty gritty of nurture and accountability. Granted, we will always need to rely on the sales team to do what they do best, but it’s time we man up and become intimately engrained in the sales process because we still need to know our customers when we’re trying to retain them. If marketing doesn’t take ownership of the entire relationship, who will? Exactly, no one. And what does that ultimately do for our brand, our reputation in the marketplace and the experience that our customers have?
  4. Mobile matters. Smartphone users check their phone an average of 250 times a day. That’s means every 3-1/2 minutes of waking hours, they’re accessing something. And by 2015, more Americans will access online content from a mobile device than through a desktop computer. Back to being relevant – are you? Think about your user experience and what people look for. Quit putting all of you PDFs in columns that are painful to read on the tiny screen. You have to decouple your content and think,during the planning stage, about how people will access it. Creating a great mobile experience takes a great deal of thought; it’s not just about reformatting it for a mobile user interface.
  5. Lighten up, it’s time that B2B marketing got interesting. Second City, Gary Vaynerchuk and Tim Washer. These people are funny, and they’re taking huge swings and cracking the nut that says B2B has to be serious and boring. Too many people – not just marketers – think that humor is dangerous. It’s not. Well, maybe the number of times Gary swore at his audience is risky, but I’ll take his approach as a wake-up call that needs to happen. You have to innovate and understand how to be relevant (sound familiar?) to effectively use humor in your marketing. It’s a way to add life to your work and get emotional engagement – which means that people will remember you. And isn’t that the point?

About Carla Johnson


Carla is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Having lived, worked, and studied on five continents, she's partnered with top brands and conferences to train thousands of people how to rethink the work that they do andth impact they can have. her visionary expertise has inspired and equipped leaders at all levels to embrace change, welcome new ideas, and transform their business.

Her work with Fortune 500 brands served as the foundation for many of her books. Her tenth, RE:Think Innovation (due out early 2021) busts the myth that innovation is something that requires a specific degree or special training. in fact, Carla explains why, to be a successful company in today's hyper-competitive, customer-driven world, innovation must be everyone's business. Her goal is to teach one million people how to become innovators by 2025.

Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.