Business-to-business (B2B) marketers tend to come from a variety of backgrounds -- sales, engineering, finance -- so they often don't have the formal training of business-to-consumer marketers.
They also tend to spend less money on professional development and marketing training, they aren't able to get out and visit with their peers as much as consumer marketers. And their whole budget is often based on generating leads for sales rather than brand building, which limits skills gained on the job, says Nancy Costopulos, head of marketing for the American Marketing Association.
"It's a difficult sector to work in and do well in marketing," Costopulos says. But a number of core competencies, consistent across top-notch B-to-B marketers, have been identified in a study by the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, she says. And marketers who cultivate them will do well in the B-to-B sector.
We talked with Costopulos about the eight core competencies B-to-B marketers need to focus on to grow their careers.
-> Core competency #1. Better understanding of the customer's needs
Because marketers have to justify their campaigns financially, they forget to focus on what their customers want.
"You need to approach your marketing from a customer perspective *and* a financial perspective," she says. "It's extremely important for marketers to have face time with customers rather than just having the sales people filter back the information."
When you fully understand the customers' needs, you can recognize what the value of your product or service is.
-> Core competency #2. Communicate the value proposition to the sales force
Once you've recognized the value proposition, you need to discover ways to integrate the messaging between sales and marketing so customers get the right message consistently.
"Customers need to know the value proposition, the features and benefits," Costopulos says. Unfortunately, when marketing creates collateral material for sales, "somewhere between 70% and 90% percent of the stuff ends up in the trash."
B2B marketers need to help every sales person talk in an educated way about the brand. How? "Spend a lot of time with the sales force to educate them," she suggests.
-> Core competency #3. Ability to turn research into action plans
Before embarking on a big research project, make sure you carefully identify what the objectives are, what you want to learn, and how you're going to implement that learning.
Then manage the research project to make sure it's on the right track.
Otherwise, you're throwing money away on research that isn't actionable. "Unless a marketer has clearly defined goals and objectives, the research firm can't get it right," says Costopulos.
-> Core competency #4. Ability to adapt
Key business people in the B-to-B sector feel that marketers need to adapt to changes in the business environment better, Costopulos says -- especially in light of recent economic issues.
The ability to adapt quickly is all about anticipating trends in the marketplace, which goes back to getting close to the customer.
"B2B tends to be more rote in terms of product launches," she says. "They need to be able to anticipate change."
-> Core competency #5. Build an offerings portfolio around customer needs and behaviors rather than technology
Marketers are constantly looking for the next silver bullet, Costopulos says. "It's easy for people to get wound up in technology. Figuring out customer needs demographically and psychographically goes by the wayside."
Instead of getting thrilled about whiz-bang gizmos, ask if it's truly a value-add for your customer. "Don't just sign it up because it's slick technology."
-> Core competency #6. Collaborate with other leaders in the organization
"Marketers generally speaking do not do a good job of this," Costopulos says. "Marketers' constant gripe is, 'I can't get my ideas sold or funded, and everybody blames marketing when things don't work.'"
As a marketer, you have to be proactive in order to counter these problems. Collaborate with other leaders, and when things go awry, revisit with them about why it didn't work.
"The communication and collaboration within an organization is where marketers gain more respect," she says. Remember, other department heads aren't going to come to you to ask what and how you're doing.
"You have to be in their face and say, 'Let me talk to your people about how this is going to work,'" Costopulos says.
-> Core competency #7. Collaborate with the CFO
"Your CFO must be your best friend. You must have an enriching relationship and you'll have a lot better chance of getting your ideas sold."
Show the CFO that you have competency in relation to ROI and financial terms. "Marketing budgets are being cut, and you have to get people to understand that when business is bad it's a better time to gain market share than when business is robust," Costopulos says.
-> Core competency #8. Justify your position in financial terms
You can't run a campaign because your gut tells you to. You need to justify every decision you make in financial terms.
"It's less expensive to gain market share now than in a more robust economy, but you can't just tell people that. You have to be able to show them."
Learn to sit in a board room with the CFO and discuss financial components with ease. Your career will reflect that confidence.
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