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How the pandemic has transformed B2B marketing forever

How the pandemic forced business marketers to pivot forever

Business-to-business marketing is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from consumer marketing, a trend further accelerated by the pandemic. What new tactics are B2B marketers are employing? Have we finally reached the moment where B2B sales and marketing are working together? And what old tactics need to be reconsidered. There are lots of questions to be answered during this pivotal moment.

As part of its Creative Transformation Festival, The Drum, in partnership with Seismic, hosted an online panel of marketing professionals to discuss the latest developments in B2B and what contemporary business marketers need to do to stay competitive.

The Drum’s US editor Ken Hein moderated the discussion and was joined by Winnie Palmer, EMEA head of marketing at Seismic; Anamika Gupta, director and head of customer marketing at Fujitsu America, Inc; and Sam Poulter, head of corporate branding at AP Moller, Maersk.

Gupta opened up the discussion by offering her top three tips for B2B brands to remain competitive in the new post-pandemic landscape: “In the first place, you need to stay relevant. We do that by staying close to our customers – and our customers’ customers - through active listening and talking to them directly. Secondly, remember to stay human. At their hearts, both B2C and B2B marketing are about creating human-to-human connections.”

She continues: “In this new world, it’s important than ever for brands to be purposeful. You need to find your purpose, the positive contribution you can make to society and connect that to your goal. And it has to be more than lip-service. Customers demand authenticity.”

Poulter agreed that one unexpected side-effect of the pandemic has been the deepening of the human connection in B2B relationships: “Over the past year, there’s been a huge opportunity to move beyond the usual business conversations and transactional discussions. All of our customers have needed new thinking, new solutions, new levels of flexibility. They needed help and guidance to navigating the unprecedented situation.

“From a human perspective, we’ve all been in the same boat together for the last year, solving problems on the fly. I think we’re all emerging from the pandemic with a deeper understanding of our customers than we had 15 months ago. The question now is how do we continue to hold our customers’ trust and convert that into a long-term relationship?

Remember: the customer is the hero of the story

Seismic’s Palmer spoke of the importance of shared stories and consistency in maintaining customer trust. She says: “As B2B marketers, our role is to enable our businesses to deliver a really positive customer experience, implemented throughout the entire buyer journey. We need to remember that the customer experience doesn't happen at strategy meetings; it doesn't happen inside CRM systems. It is the experience delivered to your customers and prospects each-and-every time they come into contact with your brand.

“In years gone by, the B2B customer experience would usually have included face-to-face contact and live events. Now, due to the pandemic, the customer experience is almost entirely comprised of online content. If that trend continues in the future, it becomes vital to ensure that the brand story is both engaging and consistent throughout the entire buyer journey, across all touchpoints, including one-to-one conversations carried out by sales reps. We marketers need to enable our all of our customer-facing teams to be involved in telling the same coherent, consistent story.”

Picking up the storytelling thread, Gupta adds: “I’m a big movie fan and, in most movies, there is a hero with a problem, who then finds a mentor or guide to help them. The guide shows the hero how to develop their strength and go conquer the world. Sometimes in B2B marketing storytelling, we forget that our customer is the hero of the story and we are playing the part of the guide.”

Poulter spoke of how the virtualization of business conversations and customers’ increasing willingness to conduct business via video chats, for example, was helping to open up new possibilities and opportunities for B2B marketers. However, Palmer warned that the increasing virtualization of B2B also added new layers of complexity to the average transaction.

She says: “With all the sales and marketing communications migrating online, they space has become very noisy. It’s important to have a great story but there’s more emphasis than ever on how you then tell that story. How do you identify the right channels for each customer or prospect? How do you cut through the clutter and make sure that the story stays super crisp and consistent?”

Watch the full panel discussion here.

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