4th November 2018
What would you say to room full of young MBA students about a B2B marketing career?
Out of the blue this past summer I was contacted by a professor and executive director at the University of Southern California (USC). They were adopting my book – B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement – as a main text for their MBA B2B marketing module and invited me to come to Los Angeles as a guest lecturer.
I’m now in the midst of preparing for that lecture and I’ll be heading there this week. But beyond the main themes surrounding B2B marketing strategy that I usually address, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what this audience will find of most value.
Not all MBA students will choose a career in marketing of course. But one of my on-going worries about this profession that I love so much is that the bulk of marketing talent goes to agencies or FMCG. There continues to be an over-riding perception that B2B marketing is not interesting or cool. Or, as one cynical marketer I know recently wrote, that B2B is the black hole of marketing.
I also remember leaving university with my newly minted MBA, without a clue what to expect out there in the ‘real world’ of marketing. While I absolutely believe in the value of education, it doesn’t really prepare anyone for the working world, no matter the profession. We leave education all fired up to make our mark on the world, and the reality is very different from our expectations.
My own B2B marketing journey started in tech way back when the internet was called the ‘information superhighway’. I went on to join start-ups in telecoms, networks and security during the dot-com boom and bust, and eventually moved to professional services during a decade of austerity. I’ve created marketing programmes and campaigns across all sorts of industries such as healthcare, transport, manufacturing and energy, building and leading high-performing teams and functions, won prestigious marketing awards, and continued learning along the way.
There’s rarely been a dull moment and I’ve loved every minute of it. And, although there are many challenges, I want to encourage anyone who is considering marketing as a profession to seriously consider B2B marketing as a career choice.
1. B2B needs you! It’s unfortunate, but marketing is not fully understood in many B2B organisations. I’ve even worked with organisations where marketing is seen as the career path for secretaries! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for anyone who wants to enter the marketing profession. But the majority of B2B marketers I meet these days never went to business school and don’t have any classical marketing training. They’ve fallen into the profession mostly by chance and instead overly rely on their technology skills or what they learn ‘on the job’. And while one of the real joys of B2B marketing is what we do learn ‘on the job’, that learning tends to be tactical and not strategic, leaving a void in our marketing efforts. There are some B2B companies who are developing their own internal marketing academies in order to bring better marketing rigour to their highly talented but often mostly untrained marketing teams. Because in B2B, this lack of the fundamentals has too often led to marketing being reduced to the ‘colouring-in department’ or seen as the ‘party planners’. Things are changing (albeit slowly for many) but we desperately need you if we are ever to become an essential part of our businesses, instead of the prevailing ‘nice-to-have’.
2. You can make a real difference. You’re more likely to be a big fish in a smaller pond in B2B marketing. You may even be ‘the marketing team’ of one, at least at first. But this gives you the chance to become deeply involved in the business, get up close to how the business works and grows, and directly see the impact that you can and will make for the business.
3. There’s huge ‘white space’ in B2B marketing. You will likely have opportunities to create marketing from the ‘ground up’. There are many B2B markets and industries where there has either never been a focus on marketing or where marketing has not fundamentally changed in a very long time. There’s simply just so much that’s never been done before. And you’ll be the one to do it ‘first’!
4. Never a dull moment! B2B marketing is such a stimulating career choice because of the sheer variety of work you’ll be able to get your hands on. And because there are generally fewer human and financial resources for marketing in B2B, it’s much less likely you’ll be put in a specialist ‘box’. You’ll have the chance to work on campaigns from end-to-end and gain valuable expertise across the entire marketing mix.
5. Creative B2B. That might sound like an oxymoron and yet some of the most engaging and mesmerising marketing today is coming out of B2B. Even though many B2B organisations are very slow to change, especially the larger ones, driving or being a part of fundamental change is exciting and rewarding. In particular, it’s such a buzz when you’re able to make what appears boring or complicated more compelling or easier to understand. And there are so many more ways to be creative in B2B than ever before.
6. Closer to the customer. And a more human customer relationship. Yep, it’s true. On-going customer relationships are so much more important in B2B. You’ll have the chance to get to deeply know your customers not just during the buying ‘journey’. Long after that sale is over, you’ll continue to be involved with your customers as you build on and maintain those relationships over time.
How did you get into B2B marketing? What made B2B marketing the career choice for you? Or were you just lucky 😉? I’d love to hear what you think are the most compelling reasons to get into B2B marketing and what you’ve loved most about it! Drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to read more, check out my book B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement on my book page, and then buy it from Kogan Page publishers or Amazon everywhere.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.