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B2B WorldFest: Why Covid-19 has transformed B2B marketing forever

As part of The Drum’s recent B2B WorldFest, developed in partnership with Stein IAS, an A-list panel of B2B marketers came together to discuss the massive changes forced upon the B2B sector by the Covid-19 pandemic and the incredible levels of business transformation seen in response.

The Drum’s US editor Kenneth Hein chaired the discussion – ‘The Great Acceleration: B2B’s Transformation Point’ - with James Canning, co-founder of MMT Digital, Debbie Vavangas, global head of IBM Garage and Mark Keating, chief innovation officer at Stein IAS.

Vavangas opened the conversation, observing how the early months of the pandemic outbreak led to “two years of transformation happening inside two months” for many organizations. She said: “Out of necessity, there was an exponential acceleration, a full shift towards digital transformation, embracing platforms, integrated data sets, collaborative tools, all the foundational pillars needed to make it happen. It’s been a huge leap for many.”

Canning added his own perspective on the early days of lockdown, saying: “The first two weeks, most businesses, my own included, were like rabbits in the headlights, wondering what on earth was going on. As a modern digital agency, we were in a good position to be able to adapt quickly when it came to working from home and things like that, but I was really impressed with how quickly our clients moved to get back up to speed and how quickly people were able to come together to make significant business decisions quickly.

“In many cases, those businesses had already invested in technology to provide agile capability from a technical point of view, but their organization hadn't been shaped around it; the necessary cultural changes hadn’t happened. A massive learning from the pandemic is that business changes that used to take months, years even, can actually be delivered in a matter of weeks – but only if you have lean, rapid decision-making frameworks in place.”

Data is the pulse of innovation

From a marketer’s perspective, Keating discussed how many more organizations have woken up to the value of data intelligence at the start of a marketing process: “Since the first lockdown, many more clients are using tools and technologies to understand the pulse of the market. What topics and themes are being talked about in real time? How do you align your whole go-to-market strategy behind that? How do you adjust your messaging and your creative tone-of-voice? How do you use your ad tech to then deliver the right message and the right content at the right time to the right customers?

“Answering those questions requires the leaders of a business to make ‘customer experience’ their key priority and break down the internal silos across marketing, sales, demand generation and brand.”

Vavangas added: “Data is definitely the key to all this. Companies and enterprises are getting much more comfortable with the idea of setting a measurement of success, defining what that is and making decisions swiftly and quickly on that basis, rather than needing an endless governance chain of 4,000 people to make a big decision.

“Another big shift is a new recognition of the ‘employee experience’ and how vital it is to engage employees in any digital transformation program. There is a clear and proven connection between employee experience and customer experience: happy employees deliver better products leading to better customer experiences. Change that involves and engages employees, in the end, is the only sort of change that really sticks.”

You can watch the full panel above.

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