Building a B2B Marketing team is not easy.  I was recently asked to pen a chapter in #TheEvidence – A special report produced by B2B Marketing on the winners (and runners up) of the B2B Marketing awards; the world’s most prestigious B2B specific marketing awards ceremony. Below is my chapter, but if you’ve not got the time to read 3,000 odd words – here is the slide deck i presented at the event on the 20th March.

The last 10 years have witnessed a revolutionary shift in marketing. Cast your mind back to 2004; no social media, no mobile responsive sites, no e-mail automation tools, no analytics, the list goes on. One thing has remained true through these years however, and that’s that marketing’s main function is to drive revenue for its respective organisation.

It’s the businesses that invest in change that differentiate. Those that see the shift, before we’ve even ‘shifted’. They gain the extra inch, yard or even mile on their competitors and marketing sits at the forefront of this journey. The marketing leadership needs differentiate through innovation, to influence key stakeholders, but most importantly, build and motivate a team for success. But where do you start?

I have broken my evidence and thoughts down into 3 categories. Knowledge, Innovation and Specialisation, all equally important when wanting to build a dynamic and effective B2B marketing team and none of them can afford to be overlooked.

Section 1 – Knowledge (and it’s 3 dimensions)

Having spent the last 15 years rolling my sleeves up and learning the functional side of marketing the hard way, it’s only now I can truly see the benefit of understanding the grass roots. Throughout my career, I’ve worked for organisations with limited or no budget, within small teams expected to transform a business with no agency support and in a global, multi-discipline marketing teams with budgets to envy. What has struck me in the larger companies I have worked for, is the lack of knowledge in the marketing leadership. Now, I need to clarify what I mean by knowledge in this example, as this could be easily misinterpreted. Dimension 1 looks at ‘Hands-on Knowledge’. Knowing how, or at the very least, exactly what is involved in delivering the tactical elements of a marketing plan and strategy. Building websites, creating social media presence, designing a brochure, creating an animation, writing thought-leadership articles, managing complex agency relationships, placing articles in the media, producing SEO friendly copy, creating, managing and reporting on PPC campaigns, developing email automation campaigns, understanding print specifications…

The list is endless. But it’s also very important. If, as a leader of a B2B marketing team you don’t understand every one of my previous examples, how can you effectively build and then manage a team to deliver them? How can you accurately select the best agency for the job? And more importantly, how can you properly budget for it? It’s not about being a graphic designer or web developer, but more about understanding what’s involved. In my opinion it’s fundamental, not optional. And what’s more, your team will have a greater level of respect for a leader that understands what they do, than one who blindly dictates.

But knowledge doesn’t end with the specific disciplines within a marketing team (we’ll come back to this later) and it certainly doesn’t end with just the ‘leader’ of the aforementioned team. The B2B Marketing team is ultimately responsible for the outbound message of its respective organisation. To be able to accurately portray the business, the marketing team needs to intrinsically understand it. Here is dimension 2; ‘Knowledge of your Business’

There will always be subject matter experts within a business and more often than not they will know more about the area they focus on than any member of the marketing team could wish for. What’s important though, is that the marketing team has a base level of understanding across all products and services, so that it’s able to build relevant, engaging campaigns and communications. Marketing teams must make it their business to interact and engage with the knowledge rich communities that surround them in the physical and/or virtual workplace and it’s the marketing leadership’s responsibility to ensure that happens.

The 3rd dimension of knowledge that is vital for any marketing team is the understanding of the market. The challenges our customers and prospects face should shape the way we market our products and services. It’s down to the marketing management to explicitly understand not just those we sell to or could sell to, but also the competition and the growing number of influencers in any given market. As a leader of a marketing function, you should understand these aspects in great detail and impart that knowledge to the relevant members of the team.

Talk Talk Business is a great example, they completely reorganised their marketing function in the wake of the rebrand from Opal Telecom, under the leadership of Paul Higgins. Central to this was an ethos of learning and mentoring, which was permeated from the top of the organisation downwards, throughout the whole team. The basis of the transformation was a migration to customer-centric thinking, with channel managers comprehensively examining and reviewing their respective market segments. As a result, propositions were better targeted, messaging refined and buyer personas created, to enable team members to better understand needs.

This is an excellent example of how a marketing team understands its own business as well as the ever-changing dimensions in their customer markets. They applied this knowledge seamlessly to their content creation strategy and produced a framework for creating and delivering specific types of collateral based on the level of engagement and the stage the prospect was at in the buying cycle.

The Right Content

Catherine Green, Marketing and Communications Director at Mace displayed a similar strategy and developed a strategic marketing planning framework to track buyers’ journeys designed to support the business in winning work. Green lead the creation and launch of a content archive, aimed at assisting marketing and facilitating better pitches closer aligned with client’s briefs. None of this possible of course without a detailed understanding of the business and customer segments.

Section 2 – Innovation

Business is getting more and more competitive and carving out a niche becomes increasingly difficult. The B2B Marketing team is often responsible for the first touch point a prospect has with an organisation. Innovation in terms developing leading edge, unique product offerings is great, but how do businesses influence the markets they sell to? Take a look at Apple, a company that prides itself on product innovation. They are also a company that uses ingenious marketing campaigns and strategies to affect the buying behaviours of consumers across the world. They have shifted from being a product led organisation, to an agile, innovative, marketing led business. They create desire so strong that cost becomes secondary or tertiary in the buying cycle. It’s at the front of their business that they differentiate and this is absolutely key.

(Also read: The brand is dead – long live the brand!)

So how do we lead B2B marketing teams to become more innovative? To help them differentiate their businesses from the competition? To become a marketing led business instead of one that leads with products and services?

This can be achieved by promoting an openness within the team. Personally, I task my team with producing and detailing innovative ideas as part of their bi-weekly reporting process, I also encourage an innovation session at the end of each monthly meeting whereby they can pitch ideas of how we can push the boundaries of conventional marketing and more importantly how we can differentiate our business.

Innovation doesn’t have to be game changing, subtle changes in marketing strategy can have dramatic effects. For example, Dell focused on demonstrating that a rapid response had an impact on lead conversion rates and also believed that putting customers first and in charge would increase revenue. Through its new strategy, it demonstrated that Sales Acceptance was 300 per cent higher, conversion to qualified sales opportunity is 300 per cent higher and conversion to revenue was 1200 per cent higher. This subtle change in marketing’s behaviours had a dramatic impact.

Dell also embarked on a massive business marketing reorganisation, merging four business units into one global organisation, within two quarters, at the same time improving processes and reducing costs. A year after this process was completed, the combined team is processing 69 per cent more leads than a year before; processing this increased volume 63 per cent faster than before, and at the same time reducing operating expenses by 61 per cent. Innovation in this example was about not being scared to change. The greatest innovators in the history of the world are typically fearless. Those that are willing to take a risk, for great reward. Dell took a strategic risk and by explicitly understanding the scope within the global marketing team and the skills they had within it, they were able to maximise efficiencies and reduce cost by driving a significant structural change program.

Innovation means different things to different businesses. Where some organisations think they are driving innovative strategies, others will see these changes as obvious improvements to business processes. A good example of how O2 Enterprise, in 2012 with a mission to ensure its 150 sales personnel and 20 marketers worked together as a single integrated team. Marketing’s role was the supply 240 sales leads for enterprise level ICT implementations. O2 was eager to demonstrate the benefits of its offering first hand – flexible working in particular. So the team closed the Slough offices for a day, resulting in 2500 people working remotely. This initiative directly generated 46 sales qualified leads and 285 longer-term prospects.

Mace took innovation to CSR and promoted its focus on corporate responsibility with the launch of the Mace Foundation, focused around three distinct campaigns: Volunteer Week (which saw 600 employees working across biodiversity projects); Burns Night Supper and Time to Shine (sponsorship of a disability initiative for young people).

Of course, innovation can be achieved and promoted in many different ways. As a marketing leader I am always looking the leading edge tools and ideas that can make my campaigns stand out. I remember using QR codes before I’d even seen them in the UK having read an article about their exponential growth in the Asian markets. I adopted the use of personalised digital print and executed multiple B2B campaigns having only ever seen them used in the B2C space previously and ran a number of successful campaigns using PURLS, again, having never seen them in the B2B market previously. I guess this makes me an earlier adopter when it comes to innovative tools. And early adopters often stand out from the crowd. The danger of using these tactics in isolation is that you are relying on your audience to be early adopters too. That’s why innovation in this sense needs to be taken in small steps. Build it into your campaigns rather that leading with it as a campaign itself. As an example, all DM campaigns I execute contain a QR code to the landing page. Only 6-8% of respondees use them but they represent the highest conversion rate of all campaign responses. Likewise, PURLS return a greater number of website hits than traditional URLs and Personalised digital print increases open rates.

To build innovation into your marketing team you need to allow your team to express themselves whilst keeping your figure on the pulse in terms of the latest technological developments.

Section 3 – Specialisation

I mentioned earlier that I would come back to this later and here we are. The marketing mix has existing for many years, as blend of specific disciplines that enable an integrated marketing strategy. But I see so many senior marketing leaders not grasping the specialisms when it comes to recruiting members for their team. Time and time again I encounter marketing teams, headed up by someone with a broad set of marketing skills and experience (which is necessary as I alluded to earlier) who recruit junior versions of themselves to support them. The result? A team of marketers that don’t explicitly understand any part of the mix in detail, that lack technical capability and one that will continue to rely on expensive agency support.

So, what’s the answer?

Well, if you’re the person heading up the B2B Marketing team then the first thing you need to do is look at your marketing strategy and build a team around the demands on your team, minimising the need for external support and making your team more efficient and effective by in-sourcing more of your run-rate marketing activity. My current marketing team consists of 38 people, spread across the world geographically, but each focused on specific marketing discipline or a specific customer market. The ‘Generalists’ in the team consist of marketing managers and marketing executives. The fact is, they are not generalists at all. Whilst I have hired them for their broad knowledge of the marketing mix and therefore, ability to effectively manage their plans, they are in fact, domain specialists, with an in-depth understanding of the vertical market(s) and product and service lines they support.

Take a look at O2 Enterprise, they recognised the need for vertically aligned marketing teams, Local Government particular, with head of vertical sector marketing Mark McCluskey achieving significant traction with a series of targeted initiatives – including a promotion to win £250,000 worth of consultancy services. Sound proof that vertical focus is fundamental.

The ‘Specialists’ within my team all fall into the following categories; Social Media, Digital Marketing, Internal Comms, External Comms and PR, E-mail and Automation, Brand and finally, Content. The marketing managers and execs have access to these specialists and can effectively utilise them as if they were an internal agency. This means that when we need to produce a piece of content, or integrate a social media element into a campaign, the person responsible is native to that discipline and not just doing it as part of a much wider remit. This provides focus, speed and efficiency.

Mace integrated its B2B marketing team in 2012, with the combined department delivering across five disciplines: marketing, communications, public relations, bid management and customer satisfaction. Each discipline has a strategy owner managing a team of skilled individuals and a part of the recruitment strategy is to challenge what added value each individual contributes to ensure a dynamic mix of thinking. Team communications are transparent and regular, with weekly department updates on email, weekly strategy owner meetings, functional and quarterly meetings, brainstorms, training clinics, and ‘lunch and learn’ sessions. A great example of how large, multi-discipline teams can collaboratively work as one.

Dell is another great example, they actively encouraged individual members of the marketing team to become thought leaders in particular areas or disciplines, and to reinforce that status by conducting what it called Town Hall lectures for other stakeholders in the business. Topics for these lectures included: ‘the importance of fast lead turnaround’; ‘reporting enhancements to marketing campaigns’ and ‘best practices in lead management’. This is a great example of how sharing internal knowledge across different teams can enhance customer facing staff’s ability to talk about their product and service offerings competently.

Talk Talk Business bought in specialists and upskilled their existing marketing team to make them more customer centric, in the aftermath of its rebrand from Opal Telecom. This has resulted in greater focus of individual specialists of all members of the team, including the marketing communications manager to be more focused on creative work and media planning, and the content manager to produce content better focused on different elements of the buyer journey. This refocusing, together with the implementation of marketing automation, resulted in a 25 per cent increase in sales qualified leads and a 25 per cent reduction in marketing costs.

So in summary, building a dynamic and effective B2B marketing team is simple. It requires a leader with a broad, yet detailed understanding of all aspects of marketing. An, open working environment that embraces innovation and creativity and supports a marketing strategy that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. And finally, a team skilled up to cope with the most demanding requirements across the full marketing mix.

Published with permission from author.
Image courtesy casebook.

You may also find this Interview with Shaun Mitra of UST Global interesting.


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