By Stefano Hatfield | Branded Content Editor

February 2, 2022 | 6 min read

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After a slow start in which it held on to traditional analog methods, B2B marketing got really good at digital over the last decade. Ahead of a year which may be the most dynamic in B2B marketing history, Anamika Gupta, head of customer marketing at Fujitsu Americas, and Simon McAvoy, head of strategy at Omobono, outlined new methods that B2B marketers can embrace to drive growth.

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Think about building the plan to connect with another human being

Speaking at The Drum Predictions 2022 Festival, both agreed that the biggest difference post-pandemic was that customer expectations have soared, and the workplace is transformed.

“It's no more ‘I'm going to go to the office, or I'm going to have a personal experience. And then we'll have a professional experience. Things are mixed up now,” Gupta said, outlining her biggest changes: “Even in the B2B world, customers are saying, treat me like a human, not a number. It's not about B2B or B2C. They are asking us to respond quickly,” she said. “I'm going to tweet and you respond to me, right? Wherever you are.

“Consumers are asking: who are you? What do you stand for? Tell me your purpose? And, do I align with that or not? It's upon us to define that purpose. Privacy is not a religious discussion anymore. It's about economic value: what are you going to give me back if I give my privacy to you? Customers are also asking: in return for my loyalty, what are you going to give me back? In B2C you can give a tangible reward, but in B2B, it is about value, the experience. That’s the biggest shift.”

McEvoy added that there was a new imperative for businesses to really deliver: “Covid-19 has taken a go-to-market model that was working pretty well, with lots of face-to-face selling and events and suddenly taken them all away. This is where challenges are coming, mistakes are being made, but also where innovation is coming from. People are experimenting, because they're being forced to.”

McEvoy cited research suggesting 10 years of e-commerce development in B2B has occurred in just two years. Businesses that would never have considered selling online, pre-Covid, suddenly were. He stressed: “That's not something we're going to roll back from. People prefer to buy this way. There's an interesting model that's emerging of 30% in person, 30% remote selling and 30% digital self-serve. This is where the innovation is. But it's not easy.”

Both speakers proposed a need for a greater level of personalization, arguing that it’s now a ‘must have’ not a ‘nice to have’. Gupta commented: “Customers are saying I'm not a segment, I'm a human. So we need that personalization.” New technology would help enable this. McEvoy added that marketers need really good data at an account level to make B2B personalization work.

Gupta continued: “The other thing we have learned from B2C is content. These days, my team doesn't produce eight-page white papers. It's about small bite-sized content that our customers are consuming on the go. Even if you're selling that long-term contract.”

She added that emotion in storytelling, a hallmark of B2C advertising, is now crucial to B2B messaging: “I always go back to ‘no one got fired for buying IBM’. That's an emotional, not a rational sell. Every organization needs to think about their story and how they can connect more emotionally with customers.”

Pre-pandemic, account-based marketing (ABM) was the biggest B2B buzzword. Both Gupta and McEvoy agreed that although not dead, it had its limitations. Mostly, McEvoy explained, because it usually “sits within a silo”. Borrowing from B2C, ABM now needs to consider every customer touchpoint: what’s it like to deal with marketing, sales, procurement, legal… Gupta agreed: “it’s not about a division, it’s about dealing with Fujitsu.” Both cited customer experience as now being more crucial to B2B’s future.

As for short-term predictions, McEvoy suggested the pandemic reset would lead to organizational restructure. “The invisible lines on the org chart are where the biggest barriers are (to change),” he said. B2B also needed to get better at its practical use of data. A key question would be: how do you exchange value in return for someone's time and attention?

“The starting point for that is a fantastic customer insight program,” he argued. Meanwhile, Gupta cited the growth of both artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in enabling more empathetic connections with customers. She also agreed with McEvoy about storytelling: B2B needs to be not only empathetic, but compassionate.

Concluding with actionable B2B marketing predictions, McEvoy cited the need to supplement organic social media with marketing spend and start viewing campaigns as experiments: “see your strategies as hypotheses to be tested and get real world data about what works.”

Gupta returned to the “customer as human”: think about building the plan to connect with another human being. Bring purpose to the front and then, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. “If it works, just scale it. You don’t have to be 100% perfect,” she concluded.

Watch the full conversation between Gupta and McEvoy at The Drum Predictions 2022 here.

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