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B2B DIRECT MARKETING
The transformation of b2b marketing—driven by new technology, Big Data, social media and empowered customers—was the core theme of the Business Marketing Association's “Blaze” global conference May 29-31 in Chicago.
Marketers and analysts who spoke at the conference shared strategies for integrating technology, managing data and using social channels to engage with customers in new ways. The three-day event attracted a record crowd of about 800 attendees.
“We are at a chaotic moment in marketing—particularly in b2b marketing,” said Kathy Button Bell, CMO at Emerson Electric Co., who took the helm as 2013-14 BMA chairman at the conference. “We all need help right now. This is a scary and exciting time to be a marketer.”
Button Bell presented research from a joint study by the BMA and Forrester Research that found 97% of b2b marketers are doing things they have never done before as part of marketing, and 34% said they feel “overwhelmed” by change. The study was based on an online survey of 117 senior b2b marketers conducted in April.
Keeping up with new technology and handling Big Data were topics of several sessions at the conference.
In a panel titled “The B-to-B Agenda: What Is (and What Should Be) on the Minds of Forward-looking B-to-B Marketers,” John Jacko, VP-CMO at machine tool company Kennametal Inc., said innovation means integrating technology into all aspects of marketing.
“It's now all about the technology that puts everything together—from marketing automation, to email, to point-of-sale for distributors—and turning all that into an arrow for sales to use to close a deal,” he said. “Marketing sits at the center of all of this.”
Button Bell, who participated in the panel, said Emerson has developed an in-house initiative called “perfect execution” to integrate technology and data across the marketing cycle.
“It's all about how to marry everything, beginning with the customer experience and the initial engagement through to procurement, reputation, strategy and on to the end-life of the customer relationship,” Button Bell said. “It must be a culture shift internally, and will be a big, positive experience for the customer if we can achieve that.”
New to the BMA conference this year was a series of “Firestarter” sessions, which featured short presentations by marketers and others designed to spark conversations around a variety of topics, from technology to social media.
In a Firestarter session titled “The Ambidextrous CMO,” Lauren Flaherty, exec VP-CMO at Juniper Networks, said the pace of change in technology is so “breathtaking” that marketers must find ways to keep up or risk becoming an endangered species. “The shifts are tectonic; this is a time to pay really close attention,” she said.
Flaherty offered the following strategies for CMOs to stay on top of the changes: Get millennials on the team; start developing mobile apps; take notes from b-to-c on handling Big Data; give customers high-function tools that assist them in their everyday activities; and help customers create velocity, because “time is the new killer app,” she said.
In a panel session titled “The Future of Marketing and Technology: Are You Leading or Will You Have to Follow?” marketers said the proliferation of data—and the need for technology to understand it—is changing the marketing profession and enabling a better understanding of customers as individuals.
Panelist Katharyn White, CMO at IBM Global Services, said most marketers are unprepared for the changes they're encountering. “We are in the midst of a massive technological shift, as big as when the mainframe computer and PC were introduced,” she said. “And so many things are happening all at once.”
Also on the panel, Neil Blakes-ley, VP-marketing at BT Global Services, said an analysis of the company's current customers showed they used only a few of the many BT telecom products. Spurred by insights gained through technology, BT introduced a training program that helped sales target those customers with up- and cross-sell offers.
Technology enables marketers to “forget about the software and think of the buyer's journey,” said panelist Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions and the 2012-13 BMA chairman.
“Technology historically has been focused on cost savings, optimizing the back-end processes and squeezing an extra 0.2% out of distribution costs,” Conrado said. “But systems of engagement now are showing how to drive 2% or 3% of additional revenue by having better insights with customers.”
Using social media to engage with customers in new ways was another hot topic at the conference.
In a session titled “The Foundation to a Successful B-to-B Social Media Strategy,” marketers from Caterpillar Inc. and CDW Corp. discussed how they're elevating social media to a new level.
Like many companies, Caterpillar jumped into social media four years ago with the creation of multiple sites on the usual channels but with no plan, said Kevin Espinosa, social media manager at the heavy machinery and engine manufacturer. Since then, Caterpillar has created a social strategy based on four pillars: listening, promotion, thought leadership and customer support. Espinosa developed specific plans for each of the company's operating units, established an employee training program and crafted a content strategy based on “story themes.”
Technology products company CDW has focused on where customers consume social information and on what devices.
“The social site Spiceworks is where IT work gets done, and IT buyers access it via their desktop computers,” said Lauren McCadney, senior manager-social media at CDW, during the session.
“LinkedIn, however, is where our customers consume IT information, and that's primarily on laptops. On Twitter, our customers share IT information, and Facebook is where they share their personal love of IT.”
In a Firestarter session titled “How GE Crowdsources Innovation,” Steve Liguori, executive director-global innovation and new models at General Electric Co., and Anthony Goldbloom, CEO of analytics company Kaggle Inc., talked about how they partnered on initiatives to crowdsource innovation for two GE businesses using social media and other online channels.
“Crowdsourcing is really, really new in the b2b space,” Liguori said, pointing to GE's Flight Quest and Hospital Quest crowdsourcing contests, in which GE and Kaggle presented complex data sets to analysts in the aviation and healthcare fields and offered prizes for winning algorithms that would improve experiences in the two industries.
“This is not about customers or finding prospects; it's about developing brand-new products,” Liguori said.