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As I prepare for this year’s State of the Marketing Profession briefing, on January 27 and 28, with Julie Schwartz, I can’t help but reflect on where we were this time last year. January, 2020 now seems like a decade ago. The onslaught of COVID changed almost all of our practices on a dime in March and the lessons learned over the next few months were hard won. Many of us peered over a chasm that didn’t look passable, but through resilience, ingenuity, and the help of team members and close partners, we not only made it to 2021, in many cases marketing is stronger, more agile, and more valuable to the business than ever before.
Let’s take a moment to review how we got to this point. Then we can look at what it will take to harness the dynamic components of this new normal in marketing going forward into 2021 and beyond.
Last January, we were looking forward to a year where B2B marketers would continue to enable strategic growth through data-driven and insight-led marketing. We anticipated that the shift to digital marketing would continue and that marketing leaders would put more emphasis on programs and experiences that strengthen executive-level relationships. We also knew our members would continue to embed Account-Based Marketing (ABM) in the business and do their best to attract, develop, and retain the next wave of marketing talent to accelerate marketing’s transformation.
What we did not know, nor could we have foreseen, was the COVID-19 pandemic and the profound disruption it would have on all aspects of life and business. But there were happy surprises along the way. For example, the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital marketing in a way that may not have happened without office closures and lock-down mandates that put a pause on face-to-face engagement. Sales organizations and client teams needed marketing’s help in orchestrating digital and virtual engagement with target executives. Client insight became critical to ensure engagement based on the issues particular to the executives that mattered. That client insight led to new thought leadership, content, offerings, and programs that focused on the greatest opportunities and challenges faced by customers and prospects. Companies’ actions also made big statements about their brand and the way they support their people, their customers, and their communities at large. B2B marketers doubled down on ABM in their efforts to reach more accounts in new and creative ways—and in some cases, they achieved astounding results.
Through two waves of research on How Executives Engage with providers and a series of ITSMA Member Roundtable discussions, we learned about real-world examples of how industry leaders enhanced their own infrastructures to support their team members, and then enabled their sales teams to engage virtually and collaboratively with their customers and prospects.
That research also highlighted how solutions providers have become highly trusted sources of information (and content)—higher on the list than management consultants, academics, and analysts! Executives were also looking for sales to take on a trusted advisor role, opening the door for marketing to enable sales with the insight, knowledge, and tools to be front line problem solvers and subject matter experts.
Marketing stepped up with more than just relevant content and interactive, business-focused events. They created fun and engaging ways to connect with the C-suite, often encouraging homebound family participation in activities, including cooking classes with celebrity chefs and virtual meet and greets with sports and entertainment icons. Anecdotal information suggests that wine tastings with Michelin Star Sommeliers were an especially winning way to engage with key customers and prospects.
One of my personal highlights was a virtual stand-up comedy show, featuring a former engineer turned comedian. This invitation came from a long-time CMO friend, who invited industry analysts for an end of the day happy hour. The show’s content was highly tailored for this niche audience and the comedian delivered!
It’s time to look forward, but I wanted first to salute the resilience, creativity, and productivity demonstrated by ITSMA members and industry colleagues during this historic time. Also, I want to recognize the increased value and importance of marketing as a critical enabler of business success.
What’s next? Virtual work and digital marketing give B2B leaders more opportunities to connect with customers in innovative ways. Some marketers are forging closer relationships with new and different C-suite colleagues, giving Marketing a stronger voice in collaborating on strategies for growth. With an ever-stronger focus and grasp on market insight, and by working more closely with sales, these marketers will be able to dive deeper into key accounts in the year ahead.
We have our B2B marketing trends study in the field right now to add additional insight to ITSMA’s 2021 State of the Profession briefing this month. Julie Schwartz and I will provide a critical look at the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on marketing and the trends and priorities going forward. We will examine the current environment, how prepared marketing organizations are to take on the challenges that lay ahead and the key focus areas to enable and exploit the advances that brought us here.
In particular, we will explore:
- 2021 top marketing priorities
- Marketing budget and staff growth and spending trends
- Marketing tactic changes
- Marketing’s greatest areas of impact
- The importance of executive engagement
- Thought leadership trends
- The status and utility of newer marketing tools and technologies
- The effectiveness of early efforts with AI and Machine Learning in B2B Marketing
- The current state of marketing and sales collaboration
We are excited to share more from our recent findings. We are living through extraordinary times and it’s inspiring and encouraging to witness the many accomplishments of marketing leaders and their teams during this unprecedented period across the globe.
The onslaught of COVID changed almost all of our practices on a dime in March and the lessons learned over the next few months were hard won...