B2B World Fest B2B Marketing Technology

Risky Business: what B2B marketers need to do right now to tackle the unknowns of 2023

By Michael Nutley, Writer for The Drum

December 15, 2022 | 8 min read

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Faced with war, economic stress and geopolitical tension, what are the best approaches for B2B marketing teams to take heading into 2023? This was the big question posed at the recent B2B World Fest session entitled “Risky Business.”

Tom Stein, chairman and chief growth officer of Stein IAS hosting the show with guests from Ferguson and Adobe

Tom Stein, chairman and chief growth officer of Stein IAS hosting the show with guests from Ferguson and Adobe

Faced with war, economic stress and geopolitical tension, what are the best approaches for B2B marketing teams to take heading into 2023? This was the big question posed at the recent B2B World Fest session entitled “Risky Business.”

Presented by The Drum in partnership with global B2B agency Stein IAS, B2B World Fest ’22 brought together top B2B marketers over two days to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the sector as we head into 2023.

“Risky Business is an extremely apt title for this session,” said Tom Stein, chairman and chief growth officer of Stein IAS. “During a period of known and unknown risks, what are the best approaches for marketing teams to take? As we saw during the pandemic, challenging times can be B2B marketers’ time to shine. So what have we learned from the past and how can we best prepare for the future?”

For starters, marketers should structure to be agile. This was the advice given by Victoria Morrissey, CMO of Ferguson, North America’s leading value-added distributor across residential, non-residential, new construction and repair, maintenance and improvement end markets

Morrissey and her co-panelist Alvaro Del Pozo, vice president of international marketing at Adobe, also pointed to strategies used during the pandemic as a model for marketing in uncertain times.

Adobe says learn to prioritize

Prioritizing is the key, according to Del Pozo. “First of all, during the pandemic, we prioritized our people. We ensured they were safe and that they had everything they needed to operate remotely, both physically and emotionally.

“Next, we prioritized our customers. It was a dramatic moment for them. Many had digital roadmaps that were a few years out, and they had to accelerate and bring those transformations into the immediate situation. So, years became weeks. And fortunately, we could be there for them.”

Finally, Del Pozo said, Adobe prioritized its business. That meant leaning into its purpose and heritage as a brand, which ensured that it remained authentic in this moment of crisis. Del Pozo described this as critical during Covid and just as relevant today.

“But the key learning was that the sequence was really important,” he explained. “You don’t move from one to the other until you’ve absolutely nailed each one of them. And then it becomes a virtuous cycle.”

Ferguson’s four principles for success

Morrissey, in turn, shared four principles that she developed in the first half of the pandemic at her previous company, construction equipment giant Caterpillar. She suggested they’re even more relevant now than they were then.

“First, it’s about thriving and not just surviving,” she said. “We had the chance to stop and ask; ‘What are we learning now that will actually help us thrive in the future?’

“The second key principle – which isn’t necessarily Covid-related – is that professionals are people. B2B has often been seen as the less human counterpart to B2C, and it’s hard to embed emotion when we pretend these businesses are not made up of thinking, feeling, challenged human beings.”

Morrissey’s third key principle is to ask yourself, “What new habits did we create that we want to hold on to during a time of challenge? How do we respond to changing dynamics, which will continue, to make sure that what’s coming is actually better than what we had before?

“The fourth principle is that H2H – heart-to-heart – matters more than face-to-face. So in those pandemic years, we had to push to find ways to connect, not just human-to-human, but heart-to-heart. I’m a firm believer that storytelling is the strongest, smartest, most potent, probably most underutilized tool for marketers. Storytelling is what allows people to connect with the brand at that heart level, which is the most important. It lets the data and the insights come to life, it helps shift perceptions, and it changes behavior.”

So how can B2B marketers prepare for the future?

Morrissey and Del Pozo agreed that the vital element a brand needs to secure its future is the trust of its customers. Del Pozo cited recent research by Adobe which found that 73% of respondents believing there is a lack of trust between customers and brands. Customers think the majority of brands aren’t using their customers’ data to deliver better service, but to benefit themselves.

“You need to understand that you begin from a position of deficit and a lack of trust when it comes to data,” he said. The same research showed, conversely, that 73% of respondents value personalization and want to be treated as individuals. As Stein pointed out, the only way to reconcile these two polar-opposite findings is by building trust.

Del Pozo agreed. “Trust is built and retained by keeping promises,” he said. “There are moments when you need to turn up and demonstrate that the data that you have is being utilized to uplift an experience, to demonstrate you know your end-customer.”

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Next Steps

For Del Pozo, “Getting the right balance between dealing with the short-term realities of a crisis and remaining true to your long-term vision is crucial. To make that more real, what’s waiting for me back at work right now is deciding where to optimize and accelerate, and where to put dollars and energy behind changing the game, so that when I exit FY23, I’m ready for FY24. At the same time, I’m looking to be really hard on how I drive efficiencies to free up those dollars to drive change.”

For Morrissey, “Marketers should listen to their customers. Fail fast, learn faster, and solve the fastest.”

Wrapping up, Stein highlighted both panelists’ confidence, optimism and forward-thinking, forward-looking perspective.

“That’s what sustains companies and helps them grow, even at times where uncertainty prevails,” he said.

Tune in to view the full session from B2B World Fest on-demand here.

B2B World Fest B2B Marketing Technology

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The B2B Originals, Stein IAS is the first and leading brand-to-demand agency for B2B enterprises worldwide. We originate growth for clients globally by fusing data,...

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