Tom Stein on How B2B Marketing Drives Growth


August 10, 2021

If there’s ever been a department that’s gotten a bad rap it’s the marketers in B2B companies. I’ve worked in this business my entire career, and I’ve watched as we’ve made progress at a snail’s pace compared with the shiny, sexy careers of consumer marketers.

But that’s changing. Really fast.

There’s been some interesting attention about what happens in the world of business before products hit the shelf. COVID made it strikingly clear that consumer products rely heavily on the supply chain, which is all about the world of B2B. Beyond the immediate crises of toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and web cameras for Zoom calls, we’re still feeling the effects of companies that rerouted resources or retooled factories to respond the emergency needs.

Add to that, the ship Ever Given runs aground in the Suez Canal. Traffic’s held up a whopping six days, which may not seem like much but think about this: Thirteen percent of the world’s trade passes through the canal. And it wasn’t just one ship that was affected, it was also the 369 that had to hang out and wait for tug boats to do the dirty work and set the big-guy free.

Most of these ships were on course to ports in Europe and the Middle East. Twenty-five were headed to the United States. These ships can hold 20,000 containers of goods each. This tallies up to $9 billion a day, or $400 million an hour, making their way to other destinations. Some ships chose to re-route south around the Cape of Good Hope. Even that was an expensive and time-consuming alternative.

Supply chain doesn’t sound like that big of a consumer concern until everything from mobile phones to designer phones, dishwashers to home improvement supplies are nowhere to be found.

This is why business-to-business commerce—and marketing—matter.

One of the people I’ve met on my B2B marketing journey who has a gift for telling this story is Tom Stein. We met when we were both chapter leaders for our respective states of the former Business Marketing Association and then served on the national board of the ANA.

Tom‘s been a leader and innovator for more than 30 years. As an inductee into the Creative Excellence in Business Advertising Hall of Fame, he’s also been named to the Who’s Who in B2B Marketing list for 13 straight years. In his free time (that exists?) he’s the President of ANA Business Marketing New York City. Tom’s not just about growing business for his clients. He’s also grown this chapter that focuses on the best in B2B to a whopping membership of 2,500 people.

His agency, Stein IAS, has been recognized as the Global Agency of the Year by ANA Business Marketing for 6 years in a row and racked it up 8 times in the last 11 years. They’ve transformed attitudes about waste, gotten emotional about saving the planet, and helped people rethink their eating experience.

What B2B marketers have believed in their hearts for years, newly released research from Stein IAS just proved to be true: B2B marketers are the growth drivers of their brands. While we used to be known for brochures and balloons, as Tom refers to it, we’re now the people who solve complex problems for customers, lead the vision for industries, and keep revenue coming in the door.

Truly, I could talk to, and learn from, Tom all day long. But I’ll share the biggest things I learned from our conversation.

Top 3 takeaways from my conversation with Tom

On B2B marketing being called boring-to-boring. “It’s something that comes from outside the industry because when you dig into B2B marketing, it couldn’t be further from the truth. When you’re marketing something like cloud technology or engineered polymer solutions, the kind of creativity and storytelling that’s required is beyond anything that would apply in a consumer context. While people may think it’s boring, they’re actually shunning the complexity of what it takes to do the work. Our challenge as B2B marketers is to turn complexity into something that’s accessible, simple, and enliven it with emotion and electric storytelling.”

Tom and I are both history majors. What’s that have to do with innovation? “Innovation is rooted in the past because each innovation builds on the one before it.”

On the evolving role of the B2B marketer: “The role of B2B marketing has historically been one of sales enabler. In the old days we used to call it brochures and balloons. Sales enablement is important, but B2B marketers have assumed so much more responsibility – the scope, depth and breadth of the function means they’ve increasingly adopted the mantle of growth enabler and in many cases, growth driver. They have a seat at the table with the Chief Revenue Officer, the CEO, the Chief Product Officer, the CIO, etc. in terms of leading the charge to create growth for their companies. It’s about identifying white space in the market and then finding disruptive approaches, understanding how to align, understanding what drives growth and what the barriers are.”

Download the 2021 Growth Marketing Maturity Study and learn why…

👉 36% of marketing leaders view their role as growth drivers
👉 46% of B2B marketing leaders say leading growth is a new focus for them, especially in the last two years
👉 COVID supercharged the importance of the B2B marketing role

Listen to our full interview here…

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.