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What’s Shaping B2B Marketing in 2017? #MarketingInfluencer

An interview with Russ Powell: Part 2

Inspiring marketer Russ Powell from Atos took some time out to catch up with us recently, to share his wisdom on all things marketing. In part 1 of our interview with him, he discussed what it takes to make a great marketer and why he shaped his award-winning career in-house and not in agencies.

In this second part of our interview, Russ goes on to discuss the marketing industry as a whole: how it is changing and, importantly for those following in his footsteps and working client side, how to forge fruitful relationships with agencies.

1. What do you love about B2B marketing?

I think the B2B community can sometimes feel like it is underdog of the marketing family. We don’t have the same budgets, tools or market access that our B2C cousins have – which can make you feel like the poor relation. But, I think the challenge drives a greater level of innovation, creativity and targeting in B2B. When you’ve only got a finite budget, a handful of channels and a very tight target list, you can’t waste resources on gimmicky, throw-away activity with a short life span.

B2B also operates in largely homogenised markets where what one supplier offers is very similar to another.

With these limitations, a lot of creativity is required to find the differentiator and make your solution or product stand out.

Because of that I think there’s greater long-term reward in B2B than there is in B2C. Consumer products have short sales cycles and you need to keep evolving to keep pace, making things quite transient. Whereas in B2B we have longer and finite sales cycles, so you can see campaigns and projects through from inception to completion, and with it a clear picture of the results.

2. What key trends are you seeing in how B2B marketing is changing, or will change in the future?

It’s not so much a trend, but the GDPR will cause a massive shift in how everyone needs to market and how organisations will manage the data they have access to. It remains to be seen what actually happens with the GDPR in its current form, what with the ongoing Brexit discussions, but if it doesn’t hit soon it will hit eventually. So, we as marketers really need to start getting our act together around data.

Influencer marketing will be big in B2B, but for me it means something different to the B2C approach. In B2C, it’s individuals like bloggers and celebs who are seen as the influencers and although there are equivalents in the B2B world (analysts, advisors, industry experts, etc) when I’m thinking about influencers I’m actually thinking of the people that report directly into decision makers. The people who do the research and fact-finding for the C-suite, to help inform their decisions and guide them. If we’re not engaging with these people as influencers through the right channels, and making what we say to them complimentary to the message the C-level guys get, then things will start to fall down when decisions are made by clients.

Finally – and it seems like one of those constant discussions – but ABM will be everything for B2B going forward. As marketing budgets shrink, the focus shouldn’t be on doing “more with less”, but about doing “better with less” and aiming for quality rather than quantity. The logical extension of this is to focus on individual clients and accounts and driving real Account Based activity, not just saying you do it by including a personalisation field for ‘organisation name’ in your automated campaign emails.

3. With these challenges, you need to get the best out of your external suppliers. So, what’s your advice for building strong agency relationships?

If you’re bringing in a new agency you must give them time to bed in and get an understanding of your business. On the client side, some get frustrated if an agency isn’t up to speed and delivering straight away – but that’s an unrealistic expectation. A new hire wouldn’t be expected to start delivering massive projects on their first day in a new job, so why should agencies be the same?

Something that goes hand in hand with that is too much focus on KPIs and SOWs too early on. I’m not saying they’re not important, and they do act a good foundation to work from, but if ALL you focus on right at the start of an agency relationship is metrics and “how do we get our money back when you don’t deliver?” it sets a really bad tone for the relationship. Because working with an agency is like a relationship, and you wouldn’t kick off a first date by discussing contractual obligations and performance metrics (I hope!) so you shouldn’t with an agency.

Once you’ve got the agency set up, I’d say the two main things to focus on are clarity and time (which should be two-way too).

Clarity from the client in providing briefs and guidance on what is expected, and clarity back from the agency on timelines and deliverables. No one should be assuming anything, it should be spelt out every step of the way. And if things start not to work, this is where I would refocus my attention – on rebuilding clarity.

And by time, I mean spending time together. Go and work from the agency’s office for a day. Go and grab lunch together, or get drunk together. Again, treat it as you would a real relationship. How do you build successful relationships elsewhere? Spending time together. So do the same with agencies.

If you have any questions or are looking for advice on where to start in building a career like Russ’ – in-house or otherwise – then just drop Jo a note on jo.wassell@invokerecruitment.com

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