B2B marketing is gaining momentum unlike ever before, with organisations across the globe harnessing technology to inject innovation into their business. When it comes to choosing that technology though, you need to know what’s right for your business, how much is too much and how to ensure the organisation is aligned, explains Joel Harrison, editor-in-chief and founder at B2B Marketing.
“In B2B you’re dealing with an average of 5.4 decision makers in every purchase. Those decision makers all have very different agendas, very different backgrounds and it’s a complicated process,” Harrison says.
This challenge is made more complex by competing forces, as marketers face the dual pressure of having to reach customers and report value back to the Board.
“The best marketers are the ones who’ve learnt how to do their own internal marketing,” says Harrison. “And it’s not just with the CFO, increasingly it’s the CIO because of all the technology that we’ve got. And the CHRO, the relationship with HR and the employees being the best evangelist.”
Tune in to this episode of Get Simple to discover why ABM marketing is having a renaissance, what marketers should be doing to streamline their tech and how the B2B marketingscape is set to evolve in 2019.
Read the full transcript
MC Mark Choueke
JH Joel Harrison
This episode of Get Simple is brought to you by Simple – the intelligent marketing platform.
Hello and welcome to Get Simple, a podcast that aims to help marketers claw back the cost of complexity.
Each episode we hear stories from the marketing and tech leaders reshaping the way we do marketing – as the battle for time, money and resources increases.
I’m your host, Mark Choueke, founder of Rebeltech and former editor of Marketing Week.
Our guest today is Joel Harrison and although not a marketer – Joel has cut his teeth as founder and editor-in-chief of B2B Marketing. A collection of content, resources, industry insight and events, Joel describes B2B Marketing as a post-magazine organisation.
The challenge for B2B marketers remains sizeable, Joel says, but so is the opportunity and the appeal for new talent, perhaps for the first time.
In particular, B2B marketers have to be far more shrewd than their B2C counterparts…
JH So B2B, inherently, involves the sales team, whereas consumer marketing doesn’t. And it has long sales cycles, complex decision-making units, and there are obviously some overlaps and common ground doing the same thing, but in very different circumstances to different ends.
The most complicated thing you buy in your personal life is a car or a house and that typically has a decision making of two, and hopefully, you’re generally aligned. If you’re not generally aligned, you’re probably not going to make the purchase.
So, in B2B you’re dealing with… CA, CEB showed there’s 5.4 decision makers in every purchase for a corporate organisation. And they’ve got very different agendas, very different backgrounds. It’s hugely complicated, hugely complex.
MC You built B2B Marketing from the ground up. I assume there’s some kind of team that you’ve worked with, but it’s gone from a fairly small team to a global brand now?
JH Yes, yes that’s right. So, it’s myself and a business partner. I’m the words guy and he’s the numbers guy, is the easiest way to look at it.
MC What made you… Because you weren’t in B2B marketing were you, yourself?
JH No, I wasn’t. I’d been in marketing, around the edges of it. I edited a magazine called Incentive Today, which is about sales promotion. I edited a newsletter called Financial Marketing about management marketing and financial services. Ironically, I also wrote, at the same time, something called Financial IT, which was about fintech, which, now, is the sexiest topic in the world, but then was the most boring topic under the sun.
So, James, my business partner, and I had this crazy idea: wouldn’t it be great… Shouldn’t we work for ourselves, we’re both in marketing, is there an unexplored niche? Oh, look there’s B2B. And the more you think about it, when you look at it, the more you think about it, the more think Marketing Week, Marketing, Campaign. Just…
MC All sexy big brands from the consumer end.
JH Acts as if it’s not there. And you know that… They do a great job and they still do a great job in slightly changed circumstances, but they act as if B2B isn’t there.
MC I asked a gentleman called Simon Carter, who’s a very good friend of mine and had, at one point in his career, switched from a high-level marketing career, big B2C brands and then went to Fujitsu in a very, very B2B… And had a long and successful career there but struggled for the first year of it or so. And I said: What’s the difference? And he said to me: When you’re selling to consumers, you’re selling dreams. When you’re selling to business people, you’re selling them this is not going to lose you your job.
JH Exactly. That’s very spot on. When we started, back to the point where we launched from, marketing was the colouring-in department. It was the golf umbrella purchasing department. Do you want to put on an event? Oh, let’s call marketing, they’ll do that for me. And it’s very… I’m thankful to say it’s very different today. A lot’s changed.
MC Tell me about that change then, because I think there’s still a huge conversation going on around B2B. And part of it is always feeling benchmarked against B2C.
But I also think there’s a really positive strong conversation, with justification found everywhere, around creativity… And outside of your classic B2B sales cycle, touchpoints, engagement, content and thought leadership. There’s a big creativity conversation going on, which we’re… Which everybody is a part of.
JH Absolutely, and you’ve hit the nail… Well, that’s one of the reasons why it’s changed. You know, it used to be the case that B2B advertising, when it was mostly advertising and direct marketing, it would all be about… The classic conversation would be the marketing director showing the creative and the CEO would say, where are the product features?
JH Where are the bullet points to show the specifications of my server that I’m trying to sell? So, they were trying to appeal to a level of function… Assuming that buying was on a functional basis, it wasn’t on an emotional or an irrational basis.
And I think what we’ve learned increasingly, and what’s become accepted, is that there is… That there is a role, a really strong role of promotion in B2B and there’s so much science behind it now. Partly about… Thanks to the behavioural science area, people like Rory Sutherland – merely not a B2B specialist though, he’s great on B2B – have exploded a lot of this stuff. And, as you said, it’s will it get me sacked?
And there’s two… There’s different tiers of buying signals. There’s the rational stuff that might get you shortlisted but it’s the emotional… It’s what’s… Is it going to make me successful, is it going to get me hated in my company? Am I going to lose my job over it? That’s the stuff which gets you purchased.
MC So, what I’m really loving here is your very visible passion. I’ve got here, in my notes: Joel classifies himself as a passionate evangelist for all things B2B. And listeners might think, of course he does, he’s the editor of B2B marketing, it’s a professional necessity. But I’m actually seeing quite an animated passion for it. What I’d love to ask is in the discussions you have, the conversations you have with your contacts and marketers that want to tell you their stories, do you see that, elsewhere, they’re… Feels like there’s more promise in B2B than ever before?
JH So, I think that’s parts of two questions. One is, is there more passion around B2B generally? Yes, absolutely. We have a very strong network of CMOs who are really, really passionate and are committed B2B marketers. And the level of insight, engagement, and alignment with that is tremendously strong.
And when we launched 15 years ago, we our… We had an agencies league table and we struggled to get ten agencies. We’re going to launch one in the New Year, it’s going to have 95 agencies on it. And we know there’s another 50 that haven’t given us their figures for whatever reason. So, there’s a momentum behind it.
In terms of it as a profession for the young people, that’s an area we haven’t made as much progress as we’d like. I went and spoke at South Bank University’s marketing MA students last year, really lovely bunch of people, and… But they, all, very much, as you said at the beginning, they were after the big, shiny brands. You come and talk to them about all the… What B2B is, how it works, what the benefits are, and why it’s interesting, their eyes were lighting up.
And, for me, the thing which I think appeals to people and probably yourself as well, I like it because I’m a geek. I like depth of knowledge and insight, and you have to get really under the skin of topics to communicate it.
MC It feels, to those of us in B2B marketing, like your brand, is trying to be more than a trade mag. You feel like you’re doing more than just content, there’s… Well… Stories and news features, there’s… I see industry research, mentoring, we see events. There’s the Get Stacked Conference coming out, that’s happening very, very soon. What are you trying to do around the brand, to set yourself apart from the other B2B trade mags that we mentioned earlier?
JH So, I absolutely would agree with you that we don’t see ourselves as a B2B… As a trade publication. In fact, my business partner, if he were here, he probably would have thrown his cup around over the room, because he… We have a magazine, but we are not a magazine. Very, very conspicuously and deliberately not.
Sometimes I’d like to joke and say we’re… Organisations define themselves by what they’re not, like a non-governmental organisation, almost a post-magazine company. We’re in the information services industry. So, if you look at our… Like a lot of the big publishers, ex-publishers, you look at people like RBI, or… Then, a lot of the brands they have are much… As much information companies and networks as they are, actually… If they have a magazine, great, but a lot of what they do is the services around that, rather than the… It’s the… The brand is on a… It’s the brand rather than just the printed product.
So… But, the thing we’ve done, which we think was most interesting recently, is we’ve gone into a kind of advisory arena. So… With account-based marketing, which is a big strong theme for us, we have a product now which we’ll take… Because a lot of people are exploring that for the first time, and we have a product which will take you from not doing it at all to launching a pilot. So, get you on the road, the track, to do that.
MC So, tell me why I’m coming to Get Stacked? Tell me about the conference?
JH So, it’s a conference which is an evolution for us, an event we already had, focusing on the marketing of technology. We’re going deep into MarTech this year. And we’ve got four streams of content. Three of them are on different stages of the journey, so early-stage MarTech, you haven’t really got much. Mid-maturity, so you’ve probably got marketing automation, but you may not be using it to its full extent. And then, innovative stuff, so we’re looking at Agile, AI, digital transformation, things like that.
And then we’ve got stream of stuff looking at best practice in technology marketing.
MC When is it?
JH It’s 21st March.
MC It’s a really, really important conversation. Marketers, primarily, in the past, haven’t come from technology. Then you get to a point where you are in enterprise marketing, you’re going to be using… If you’re the size of a big box retailer, you’re going to be using 40 different tools, just for your website alone, from social proof, to analytics, to customer experience, to what have you. Stock choice, call-backs, returns… And then you get to a point where there’s not a lot of vendors out there that do built-from-the-ground-up, end to end solutions, so then you’re either buying a lot of different solutions and having to get them to talk to one another.
JH It’s a really… It’s critical. And some of those marketing Cloud providers, aren’t as integrated as they might want you to believe that they are.
MC But that just adds layers of complexity to the marketing operations.
JH Yes, it does. And it is only going to get more important. So, the role of a technology person, technology leader in a B2B marketing team is going to become critical.
MC My contention is that technology buying, and integration can’t move as fast as the consumer, so…
JH That’s a very good point. I think if you don’t understand that there is a problem, then you’re probably not going to be in a job much longer – I would suggest. I think everybody… Our audience seems to understand, universally, that technology is really critical. I’ve been saying at events, don’t talk about the technology, but now I’m saying do talk about the technology because you need to know how to use it better.
JH And we’ve got a session in our beginner stream, for example, saying: What I wish I’d known about marketing automation before I did it. So, it’s about those people who are at the beginning of their journey. We’ve got stuff on AI and Agility. So that’s people who have really got all their stuff really nailed down and bolted down and they’re looking to really improve their process around the technology.
But the other thing to say, also, We’ve just launched our B2B MarTech Awards. So, we’re looking to recognise the excellence in terms of what the vendors are doing and in terms of what the integrator are doing as well, some of the agencies as well. And also, the personalities in the team, so the marketing operations people, marketing operations teams, the visionaries in the tech space as well.
MC Tell me exactly what led you to go in really, really big this year on ABM – Account Based Marketing?
MC Is there anything new in ABM?
JH Bev Burgess of ITSMA says… She says ABM is just good marketing. And it is just good marketing. And it is things we should have been doing for years.
JH But it provides another means, another layer, and a wrapping of a layer of the onion, in which sales and marketing work together. A new language and a completely different infrastructure and way of working. So, yes, it’s… It is… It is different… It’s the stuff we should have been doing for years, done better, and put in a new framework with more insights added on.
But the key difference is the technology. When you come to use it… Because the technology provides a much deeper level of insight into things like intent, which we couldn’t do before.
MC So, let’s drill in, because I hope you to be, as you’ve just hinted at, a true evangelist of the power potency and capability of… Given to us by the MarTech industry. But we think we’re reaching a tipping point in marketing too.
And you might not expect to hear it from a MarTech vendor like Simple, but we wonder whether there’s too much MarTech. We wonder whether the Scott Brinker, chief MarTech Landscape that started as a very, very useful exercise in drawing a journey and linking capabilities together, and giving insight, has now become a massive burdened, screaming infographic of the tyranny of choice. 7000 MarTech vendors on there and probably growing at 30 or 40% a year.
When does it become way too much? When does it become a problem that we are automating every part of our jobs, and, therefore, losing skill and capabilities?
JH Sure. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It is already a problem. And that’s part of the reason… The opportunity and the requirements do stuff, but, actually, there is this tyranny of choice.
And Scott Brinker is a fantastic guy, and he’s done incredible stuff, and I think his MarTech Landscape is the best bit of content marketing we’ve ever seen. But it is… Become a beast, your absolutely right. And it is confusing people and it isn’t helping.
We did some research in the summer, we interviewed some CMOs, and they talked about their… the size of their MarTech stack. One company, a couple of hundred people, over 50 different applications in the MarTech stack. Some of them not doing anything, a lot of them could turned off, a lot of repetition. So, it is a really, really big challenge, and people are haemorrhaging cash on this.
MC Yes. We read an article that you wrote, I think on LinkedIn earlier this year, Joel, describing conversations you’ve been having with marketers about the relationship between the CMO and the CFO. And if this is correct, the quote was: In terms of the extent to which the CFO actually understands marketing, the picture was variable, with responses ranging from the CFO believes they can do their own marketing too. They don’t believe in marketing. So, often, a relationship is best described as ethereal.
It’s not… It’s… I wonder whether there’s a complexity to marketing already, but that it’s added to by the fact that not only does a marketer need to project outward to meaningfully touch customers, especially in B2B… But also needs to figure out how to report and value their work internally, in a way that’s not their language.
It’s always that learn to speak the language of the boardroom, whereas, we never expect CFOs to learn to speak the language of marketing.
JH No, absolutely. And that’s a legitimate complaint for marketers. But, at the same time, the best marketers are the ones who’ve learnt how to speak to those people. And because, ultimately, it’s marketing. They’ve learnt how to do their internal marketing. And it’s not just the CFO, it’s also, increasingly… It’s always been the CSO, sales is from Mars and marketing is from Venus, all those kind of things.
Increasingly, it’s the CIO as well because of all the technology that we’ve got. And the CHRO, the relationship with HR and the employees being the best evangelist. So, there is a sense that marketers… The best marketers are the ones that manage to understand and talk to those stakeholders in the right way.
MC Listen we are coming to the end of our podcast, but we’re asking the same three simple questions to all of our podcasts guests. What’s your number one frustration with marketing right now?
JH Off the top of my head, I think it’s all the noise. How do you stay on top of things, it’s all the noise, there’s so much out there, and it’s hard to, often, distinguish the signal from the noise.
MC If you weren’t a marketer, you would be a…? So, for you, if you weren’t Joel Harris and group editor of B2B Marketing Business Information Service, what would you be?
JH So, if I wasn’t a journalist, I’d probably be a marketer. If I wasn’t that, God knows what I’d do. I’d probably work in a pub or something. I’d be completely bereft of ideas beyond that.
MC What did you study at university? You studied something really interesting and different.
JH You’ve been socially stalking me. I studied urban design, urban planning, and management. So, I’d love to do something that worked… In the built environment would be lovely. So, I’ve got a passion for architecture and for cities and things like that.
MC And your most despised marketing buzzword and why?
JH I’m going to go with deep-dive at the moment, even though I did use it earlier on. Not so much marketing buzzword, it’s more a business buzzword. And it’s one of those ones which I will be using with impunity in two years’ time, but it’s still grating on me every time I hear it pop into my head.
MC Joel Harrison, thank you so much for your time.
JH You’re welcome.
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That’s all for this episode of Get Simple.
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I’ve been your host Mark Choueke, thanks for joining me.