On Monday, I attended the inaugural B3 (Better B-to-B) Marketing Conference in Toronto. I signed up for the event with an expectation of learning new ideas and hearing unique approaches to known concepts, and I was not disappointed. Guest speakers Ann Handley, Scott Brinker, Ally Motz and others shared B2B data and insights with over 170 attendees, and also offered several ideas to chew on. Here are a few that I found notable:

  1. Marketing Brings the Organization Together

Marketers are in the enviable yet challenging position of being a central hub for the organization. Ally Motz from Sirius Decisions discussed how there’s high correlation between successful growth companies and those that have achieved alignment among sales, marketing and product. Marketing’s role in this relationship comes with responsibilities that, if lived up to, can remove the stigma that marketing is a cost center.

Now that some of your campaigns and media buy have been in market for some time, it’s time to look at the dashboard to see how you’re performing. One important question to ask yourself is whether you have the right KPI’s (key performance indicators). If you’re not measuring the right things, you won’t know what to adjust.

The primary responsibility is taking the lead in educating the sales organization about their buyer, and equipping them to win. This is done by getting as close to the customer as you can to understand their world and know their needs. This will enable you and your sales team to influence the buyer experience.

Marketing’s second responsibility is to demonstrate the value of the marketing spend to pipeline ratio and to track it – start to finish. This requires technology, process, discipline and collaboration. Part of this collaboration is a shared Service-Level Agreement (SLA) that keeps marketing and sales accountable for their treatment of leads. A show of hands during Ally’s presentation revealed that many of the companies that attended the conference do not have a documented SLA. Thus, their marketing and sales teams are still very much operating in silos. Through forlorn head nods, many agreed with Ally that this is a barrier to their marketing-sales alignment and to their revenue growth.

2. If You Covered Up Your Logo in Your Content, Would YOU Recognize YOU?

Ann Handley, author of “Everybody Writes,” charmed the audience by weaving personal anecdotes into her insights. Citing a recent MarketingProfs/CMI B2B Marketing study that showed how creating engaging content is still the biggest challenge for marketers, she suggested that the biggest opportunity for content is to stop playing it safe. Figure out what your brand truly stands for and use that to be bigger, bolder and braver in your marketing as a way to stand out from your vanilla competition. “Friendly,” “honest” and “reliable” are no longer acceptable brand values because they’re table stakes.

She also offered the following formula to underscore the importance of embedding the essence of brand into your content:

Tone of Voice = Culture x Story x Empathy

Notice how if one of these factors is low, the output is lessened, engagement is reduced and brand recognition could be lost.

3. The Digital Skills Gap

During a panel session with CMO’s, the panelists lamented that the biggest skills gaps they’re seeing among marketers are digital literacy and comfort with statistics and metrics. As Eric Fletcher from RICOH pointed out, most B2B marketers aren’t formally trained, but are homegrown and have evolved as they’ve been given new responsibilities. With how rapidly B2B marketing has changed, marketers have had to adapt just as quickly and many are finding they have a skills gap. To shore it up, you can take advantage of many of the offline and online B2B training resources that are readily available. Look to your network of peers to learn how they’ve approached similar problems you encounter, and to bounce around ideas. Even when you have skill gaps, proving your curiosity and ability to learn can be a differentiator when looking for new opportunities. For example, when we hire at GET LIFT, we probe to see how candidates have invested in themselves to stay informed professionally.

4. Why Use Agencies? Because Speed-to-Market is Critical

The panel discussed the choice of doing things in-house vs. outsourcing to an agency. While they prefer to hire internally to develop and execute the core strategy, they noted that agencies can make a significant impact when specific skillsets are needed to accelerate the speed-to-market. This resonated with me as our agency is often called upon to help clients meet impossible-but-important deadlines, and the work requires the knowledge of specialists who can confidently question and solve for a better strategy and crisper execution.

5. The 4 Pillars of Content Marketing

Most of us are extremely familiar with 3 of them: Creation, Distribution and Measurement. However a 4th one that Yoav Schwartz from UberFlip suggested is Experience. Ultimately, the question to ask yourself is what experience does your content create for your buyer and what reaction are you eliciting.

Jon Kane from Medgate spoke about how he addressed all 4 pillars with his marketing technology stack (including UberFlip) and pointed out that their content success is predicated on telling the same story in multiple ways. They often repurpose their content across several channels and emphasize their authority on the subject of safety, as their buyer personas demand it from them.

6. The Agile Approach to Marketing

Scott Brinker is known for the Marketing Techology Landscape Supergraphic that strikes fear in the hearts of many B2B marketers, myself included. His most recent chart includes over 2,000 technology companies and every time I try to digest it, I’m left shaking my head in despair at the sheer volume of companies I feel I should know about.

His talk at B3, thankfully, was rather uplifting. He drew parallels between the marketing process and the agile method of software development. The agile method is essentially an iterative process that allows to you innovate, fail fast and proceed. Remember the days where marketing planning strategy would take more than a quarter, and then execution would happen over the next 9 months according to the strategy? While that may make sense for some of your core programs that require scale, it doesn’t provide the innovative edge that most organizations pride themselves on. An agile approach applied to testing hypotheses gleaned from the availability of data allows you to quickly create and validate several ideas and turn the winners into a meaningful experience for your buyers.

I’m glad I attended the B3 Conference and felt like the ideas I took away from it will be useful to our agency and our clients. I hope my summary gives you food for thought, too. Let me know if any of the topics I shared particularly resonate with you.