B2B Marketers Must Be Multilingual

Today’s B2B marketers must be, in a word, “multilingual” — according to numerous speakers at last month’s ITSMA Marketing Vision Conference.

To be clear, they were not speaking of literal globalist ideals involving actual languages. Instead, they espoused the need for marketers to know how to communicate with the business side of the organization to improve their results. In the words of Chris Williams, CMO of Cognizant Consulting and conference panelist, this multilingualism involves speaking both the “language of the customer” and the “language of the CEO.”

“How do we take an organization that is very comfortable speaking to IT and speak to business?” continued Williams when asked about the evolution of marketing and the CMO’s role. “We were a company that was very well-established selling IT services… [We were forced] to move beyond IT.” To wit, a product-sales strategy is a hammer in search of a nail. Marketers have to be able to speak not just in terms of their product, but also in terms of how what they are selling will solve the user’s specific problem. This may seem obvious, as Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and personalization inch their way to standard practice. However, buyers — and influencers on the buying decision — will increasingly require more targeted outreach that they can understand and relate to.

“B2B buyers are pampered,” said Julie Schwartz, Senior Vice President of Research and Thought Leadership at ITSMA, as she described how expectations of if-you-like-this-then-you-might-like-that consumer targeting have permeated organizational-buyer thinking. “They expect every experience to be like their best experience.”

Mike Keating, CGI’s Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and IP Strategy, told conference attendees in a session on integrating business-solutions strategies into marketing that this focus on solutions “gets back to business value” — which necessarily means going beyond the traditional buyer of those products. For companies that sell IT solutions and other enterprise technology, that traditional buyer has typically been the CIO.

In this case, Keating’s observation holds especially true of B2B technology companies that sell tailored, vertical-specific solutions — particularly because CIOs have been generally reputed to prefer buying “general-purpose” solutions. In 2016, for instance, Intel’s life-sciences division had failed to meet expectations in selling and marketing its dedicated turnkey appliances because the company had been targeting CIOs and other IT decision-makers instead of scientific researchers — the actual “business” users. This was particularly important because the turnkey devices in question were specifically designed to make researchers’ lives easier and not have to worry about the IT side of things as much. “We went after the IT,” Ketan Paranjape, then Intel’s life-sciences general manager, told me at the time. “[But] if you’re a researcher, your job [means] that you don’t want to deal with IT.”

Schwartz herself observed the differences in buying behavior between CIOs and those working in operations among the rank and file who just want something that works. “IT executives…are more likely to go to the industry analysts,” Schwartz pointed out. “The business buyers don’t go to the industry analysts.”

Meanwhile, enterprise IT’s reliance on analysts is in flux — perhaps as a manifestation of the increased influence that business users have in buying decisions. According to its Business Analyst Staffing Ratios report last month, Computer Economics found that business analysts as a percentage of IT staff is down from 2017. The advisory firm insists that this dip has not disrupted the overall growth trend of in-house IT business-analyst staffing of the past few years because current in-house analyst staffing levels in IT departments is still higher than it was in years 2014 through 2016.

Nonetheless, as ABM champions continue to stand out among the crowd of marketing noisemakers, and as marketers and sales teams increasingly don the solution-selling “consultant” hat and roll up their sleeves to work with actual users, reliance upon these business analysts may well continue to diminish. And, either way, the onus will continue to be on marketers to feel out and understand the operational dynamics of their targets.

“I think lifting your head up a little bit more and getting out of the office [will help],” said conference panelist Lauren Sallata, CMO of Panasonic North America. “I highly encourage marketers to be client-facing. You need to be able to speak their language.”        

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