August 09 2018
The 4 Values of an Effective B2B Marketer
There has been a lot of chatter on the topic of purpose-driven brands lately. Rightfully so. Every brand should endeavor to document their purpose – and revisit it regularly. A clear purpose can galvanize disparate teams—and customers—around a common cause. But in a service-based business, success is contingent on practical, everyday behaviors that are often guided by a set of shared values. Day-to-day company culture is heavily reliant on purpose. As John O'Brien wrote in The Power of Purpose, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast, but culture gets it's appetite from purpose."
You’ve probably seen this Venn diagram of the qualities that many people value from co-workers. These are undoubtedly all great qualities. But while I love its simplicity, this diagram misses a few critical qualities of a rock star B2B marketer.
A couple of years ago, our leadership team spent some time defining the qualities that we cared most about; the attributes we hire by and look for in great clients. We feel strongly that these four qualities make the best B2B marketers:
Spoiler alert: You don’t have all the answers. You’re not the smartest person in the room on every topic. B2B is changing too fast for anyone to know everything. The marketing technology landscape continues to explode while data and privacy regulations are rewritten. Meanwhile, buyer habits have changed more in the last 10-15 years than at any point in history; affecting group buying decisions in B2B as well. Great B2B marketers are well aware of this—and constantly ask great questions.
You can’t be truly passionate about a topic without wanting to learn more. During meetings, I tend to assess the contribution of those in the room on the questions they ask—even more than the ideas they offer up. In the end, solutions only require one good idea. But it takes many, many good questions to uncover a great idea. Every question leads to more answers—and isn’t that what we’re all after?
My favorite questions come after we’ve identified the boundaries of the challenge (business, audience, etc.) I love the “what if” questions. They often sound like this: “Hey, I know this is going to sound a little crazy. I don’t think anyone has ever done this… but… what if _____? This audience would love that.”
But all too often, people have lots of questions—but they don’t ask them. There are two basic causes for this: Either the person didn’t care enough to bother asking (i.e., they're intellectually lazy) or they were afraid.
Intellectual laziness is hard to fix in the workplace. After all, inspiring people to want to learn is the difficult job of every parent and teacher.
But true leaders can help with fear. To ensure that important questions don't go unasked, teams need to be (more) comfortable being vulnerable.
Which takes us to the next “C”…
Courage isn’t an absence of fear. It’s the willingness to lead or act despite your fear, uncertainty or doubt.
We also know that innovation thrives in environments where teams can try new things without the constant fear of failure. Brands and agencies that work hard to foster these environments have a powerful cultural advantage.
But the reality is, most of our clients work in high pressure environments where change is hard work. In you’ve ever read The Challenger Sale or The Challenger Customer, you’re familiar with the power of change agents—the people that are willing to challenge the status quo and steer complex, risk-averse decision-making groups to make a specific change. Change agents are the face of courage. Even though they know it would be easier to ride along with the status quo, they undertake the risk of leading change. They’ll also tend to hire internal teams and external partners that can support them in leading those changes.
Courageous actions are only possible if you can have courageous conversations. The power of candor can’t be underestimated. If members of a cross-disciplinary marketing team can’t have honest conversations with each other—or if brands and agencies can’t be 100% honest and direct with each other, the most important discussions will never be had. If you’re a B2B marketer and trying to do meaningful work, honest (yet respectful) dialogue is where it all starts.
“Senior men and women have no monopoly on great ideas. Nor do creative people. Some of the best ideas come from account executives, researchers, and others. Encourage this; you need all the ideas you can get” — David Ogilvy
Collaboration levels the playing field. It democratizes the opportunity to contribute ideas—big or small. Experiencing different perspectives takes us out of our comfort zones, and great marketers have to spend a lot of time there. After all, designing better buying experiences requires us to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Still, marketers consistently miss huge opportunities to collaborate when it matters most. Take briefs for example. Whether you work with an agency or not, a brief is a great way to document the goals, objectives, requirements, and accountability of a new marketing initiative. Given all the critical decisions that happen when building a brief, it’s the perfect time to get business, brand, strategy, creative, media, technology and data stakeholder on the same, literal page.
And while it’s more efficient when everyone can spend a little time in the same room, any form of collaboration will set the execution up for increased success. Too often, the first-time key stakeholders are aware of a marketing initiative is around key executional milestones—or at the finish line, where everyone devolves into a backseat critic (instead of a strategic partner in crime).
Many people—and agencies at large—complain about not being treated as a strategic, collaborative partner. They feel entitled to this role due to a job description, or perhaps a contract for work. Great marketers build trust and credibility by showing up with informed ideas every day. Collaboration is an active behavior that requires everyone to lean in. That trust is hard to build and easy to destroy.
It requires commitment.
“Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” — Ron Swanson
The thing is, B2B marketers don’t have the luxury of focusing on just one thing. The founder of our agency often jokes, “you’re only as good as the thing you suck at the most”—a humorous reminder that when you’re executing a complex marketing program for an enterprise B2B company, many disciplines must work in unison—and the weakest link will likely govern your success.
Have you ever heard someone say, “don’t take this personally” when discussing and critiquing a nascent idea or plan? Yes, thick skin is recommended to thrive in marketing. But the best marketing is absolutely personal. The people that pour themselves into doing amazing work… they’re taking risks and inviting criticism. The best marketers are ushering in higher standards, leading by example, and know that self-improvement is never complete.
They also know that a personal commitment to success can’t come at the expense of others. The best marketers will improve themselves while growing the people and teams around them.
Commitment looks like a series of repeated acts of courage. Great marketers don’t give up on doing meaningful work because of a setback. They remove the obstacle or find a way through, over or around. They know that we don’t live in a perfect world with perfect data—and that decisions must be made with imperfect intel to create something remarkable. They act when others stall.
We’re an agency that’s committed to making awesome business impact—like sales pipeline and revenue, to name just two key metrics. But even we realize that commitment isn’t inspired solely by the pursuit of revenue. Great marketers commit to creating communications that engage and convert. Impacting revenue is a lagging indicator of being a great B2B marketer.
Not to get all Seth Godin on you, but the best marketers are committed to doing meaningful work; educating, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring others to live a better life.
The Four C’s
These qualities aren’t mutually exclusive. They all work together.
- If a marketer is curious and courageous, they’re probably collaborative too. Being unafraid to ask questions is a prerequisite for healthy collaboration.
- Collaboration requires a commitment to both your peers and a higher standard of excellence—and a genuine curiosity about what others know, think or feel.
- Commitment to a higher standard requires courageously asking “how could this be better?” and incorporating the strengths of those around you to make improvements.
Advice to Job-Seeking Marketers: Do your homework. Bring a list of smart, fearless questions about your prospective new employer and their business or clients. At Bulldog, we’ll never stop hiring people with a genuine hunger to learn about B2B—who are unapologetically committed to trying new things. Our clients need that kind of passion, guts & grit.
Advice to B2B Marketers Who Rely on Agencies: Does your agency share your values? Are they as curious and courageous as you are? If you’re not sure, here’s a complimentary scorecard to grade them.