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In their words: How B2B tech CMOs are navigating Covid-19 and beyond

by James Withey

December 15, 2020

With the benefit of hindsight, 2020 has demonstrated the perils of making predictions. However, as we look to towards 2021, we can draw upon the experience of CMOs and brand leaders in navigating Covid-19 and looking beyond.

As schools went digital, employees worked remotely, and consumers shopped online, our response to the pandemic has considerably accelerated the pace of digital adoption and transformation. B2B technology has emerged as one of the key sectors enabling this shift, so for our follow-up study to the ‘In their words...’ study we published earlier in the year, this time around we focused on conversations with senior executives in this sector.

These leaders have tackled this year’s challenges with great resolution and ingenuity. With a mindset focused acutely on brand purpose, agility and empathy, they firstly set the foundations to protect customers, employees, revenue and brand, before beginning to focus on the future.

Here are five key themes we uncovered in the study.

The impact of Covid-19 on B2B tech. firms is hugely varied.
While the impact of Covid-19 has been almost entirely negative for most industries, some B2B tech. firms have experienced growth, and others significant challenges.

“A company like ours would work with an airline, with a bank, with a retailer. These businesses are under pressure and their IT budgets are under pressure. On the other hand, we will see evolution of more digital or technology-led business models as opposed to the way companies operate right now. That is a great opportunity for businesses like ours who are front and centre of this transformation.”
Rajashree Ramakrishnan, Tata Consultancy Services

Purpose matters more than ever.
Purpose has long been a guiding light for CMOs, but more recently it has become central to decision-making within a business. As B2B tech. firms support the transformation projects of their clients, purpose has become even more central in defining beliefs and shaping behaviours.

We believe that when things are connected the world becomes a better place, and that technology is making the world better. Part of our culture is to help people to get things done and to do it quickly. So at the start of the pandemic this year, when one of our engineers in Italy was asked for help by a local hospital, they felt empowered to put technology into the hospital to connect patients to families when families weren't allowed to visit. We could show how technology can help, just in that one situation of that one hospital at that point, because somebody in our team could make a decision over a weekend.”
Ruth Rowan, NTT

2020 has taken leaders to places they’ve never been before.
The unprecedented challenges have asked more of CMOs than ever before. As many honed some specific skills, many others were learning something completely new. Although often requiring a step into the unknown, these extraordinary times have also brought fresh perspectives.

“Everyone has a different journey through this pandemic, and so brands need to be co-creating alongside their customers. Creating and cultivating community around shared values and then working with that community on content means they guide us. For some marketers, that’s a little scary because not everything will be exactly as we would communicate it – but it will be authentic. We need to think outside our four walls and empower our community, and that for me is the future of marketing.”
Stephanie Buscemi, Salesforce

Leading with empathy deepens customer relationships and simplifies strategies.
Empathy allows business leaders to gain a deep understanding of the customer, as well as the organisational and emotional drivers of their needs. This sensitive approach coupled with agile responses allows organisations to react to unpredictable challenges and anticipate changing customer needs.

“We're restructuring to have vertical industry alignment rather than be practice-led. It's a real switch for our organisation. My initial priority is to make sure that we've got our marketing function set up, that we're really building that vertical industry customer-centric marketing team. I say customer-centric because I think, more than ever, especially given the current situation, everything that we do has to be personalized and tailored to those individuals within those customers and prospects that we work with.”
Catherine Dutton, Atos

Persevering in the present, with one eye on the future.
Having navigated an incredibly difficult 2020, CMOs are now looking to prepare for a successful future. Although disruption into 2021 seems almost inevitable, there is a determination to keep forging ahead and use everything that has been learned recently.

Globally the way we look at this is that companies, countries, industries and markets will come back at different speeds. We call it respond, recover, reimagine – those are the three phases. The travel industry, for example, is still figuring how to respond. Other industries are in the next stage of recover, where they’re trying to figure out how do we navigate the next three, six, 12, 18 months. Then there's others – e-tailers, online shopping, online grocers – and those companies are looking to reimagine and accelerate their transformation. To have a crystal ball is quite challenging, because there's so many different permutations across industry, country and company.”
Peter DeBenedictis, Microsoft

It is something of a truism that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. This is certainly the case as we head into 2021. However, leading with purpose, learning from experience and looking to the future will allow leaders everywhere to not just navigate the challenges ahead, but also to emerge even stronger.


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