B2B marketing recruitment continues to be the fastest growing segment of my practice.
McKinsey reported earlier this year that two-thirds of businesses surveyed said digital engagement of customers was among their top strategic priorities for 2019. No question, I’m seeing that first hand in my B2B marketing recruitment practice. Five years ago, calls and emails from B2B’ers accounted for maybe one quarter of my searches. Today, fully one-half of my practice is B2B, and there have been brief periods this year when it reached as much as three-quarters or more.
B2B Customer Engagement Remains Sub-Par
According to Gallup, only 29% of B2B customers are engaged with the companies they do business with. As we all know, the B2B buying process has been turned upside down. What was once a relatively simple linear practice is now a complex buyer “journey,” and it takes a different kind of expert to convert these leads into sales.
My number one search right now is with a food manufacturer that has come to a stark realization: Either we get better at making it easier for our customers to do e-business with us, or our competitors will do it for us. What was also significant was a comment made by the global head of marketing, who stated that many of their buyers are Millennials. “They consume personal products and services online,” he went on, “and they’re telling us that this is how they prefer to conduct business.”
What’s interesting is that this push didn’t come from just the CIO to whom this position reports. It came out of a series of meetings at the highest levels of the company’s executive branch, spearheaded by the CEO himself who declared that delivering a subpar customer experience was no longer an option. They’ve already been transacting online for many years so we’re not talking about a seismic cultural shift here, but this particular manufacturer takes product to market through thousands of distributors, dealers and wholesalers, not to mention their own sales force and also some direct to end-user. In this environment, managing customer engagement is truly multi-dimensional.
Account based B2B marketing deserves special mention because it requires it’s own special set of skills, as this video explains:
Making Customer Centricity Prosper
I’ve heard many B2B hiring managers give example after example of how online customer experience is cumbersome and inefficient. Lack of speed and visibility is huge. Post-sale customer service is sub-par. No fault of anyone’s really because more often than not, in large B2B marketing enterprises that responsibility often falls under IT. Customer engagement, of course, is an art and science all of its own.
Using the example of the search I am working on currently- Director of Ecommerce and Digital Transformation as we’re titling it- this will report directly to the CIO, putting this position on par with his other IT department heads. By extracting this function from software developers and systems integrators, and putting it in the hands of an expert who’s done it before in a similar business environment and who knows how to lead internal change, customer centricity can truly prosper.
B2B Marketing Recruitment and Transformation is About to Enter a New Phase
As many of my blog readers know, I’ve written about B2B digital transformation for many years. The shift by many old-line industries into digital has been a slow move. For the vast majority of my clients who have made that transition, the pay-off has been well worth the investment, both in terms of budgets and the cultural shift that is often required for an organization to “think” digital.
For those companies that have been looking at digital transformation, the COVID-19 crisis will serve as a serious wakeup call. Buyers are struggling to make decisions, sellers are stressed. Manufacturers and suppliers are watching functions like customer service and sales come under extraordinary demand, causing backlogs of inquiries, orders and inventory. Buyers are trying to make sense of it all making both personal as well as business decisions to protect their colleagues, communities, end-customers and families.
As a veteran B2B marketing recruitment specialist, it’s my job to ask the question: What does this mean for the future of B2B marketing recruitment and ecommerce hiring once this crisis is behind us? Will certain skills be more sought after, and if so, what industries will need them the most?
There is no question that it will impact some industries more than others. Personal protection equipment (PPE) and safety products, health & hygiene, ventilators and generators are going to remain in VERY strong demand for many, many months to come. This will inform the way these organizations craft their marketing communications.
Needs will become more important than wants.
B2B’ers must ensure that buyers receive the guidance and assistance they require when searching for mission critical products. This might require new technologies to help translate complex product specifications.
Buyers will want to feel confident that the products recommended will be tailored to meet their own unique challenges and needs. And more of this will be done on a remote basis as B2B’ers become more comfortable with idea of certain job functions being performed on a remote basis,
In short, effective and efficient communication both externally as well as internal will be key, and therefore organizations will be putting even more emphasis on those attributes in the marketers they hire.
Perhaps most importantly, this new breed of B2B marketer will be more of a problem solver, and organizations are going to have no shortage of problems to solve. They will be hired for their ability to focus on the product categories that buyers struggle with most. They will be hired for their ability to eliminate kinks customer journey, and provide the absolute best guidance and experience they can for buyers who are looking for products online. They will be hired for their ability to learn and apply new technologies that will make that happen. They will be hired for their ability to utilize email and social media as conversational tools in their marketing campaigns.
No doubt about it: In the world of B2B, the days of “selling stuff” are totally gone.
What are the Qualities of a Strong B2B’er?
Most of the US economy is driven by consumer spending versus B2B or BtoG (government), so B2C commands the lion share of ecommerce and digital marketing spend. B2B companies are increasingly leveraging digital capabilities to empower sales and enhance their customer-centric mind-set. According to Forrester Research, B2B ecommerce companies generated nearly $800 billion in 2015, and they expect that exceed one trillion by 2020. The rapidly growing adoption of B2B digitization is generating huge benefits. One example: A client that I worked with this past year credits the hire of my VP of Marketing candidate for a nearly 20% increase in conversion rates. That metric alone will pay for my candidate’s salary ten times over, not to mention the search fee for utilizing a B2B digital marketing recruitment expert.
If you’re going to be embarking on a search for a digital marketing leader in 2017, here is your top three list, the three key “must-haves” from this B2B digital marketing recruiter to maximize successful performance in the candidate you hire:
1- Cultural transformation. If your business is what I call a “legacy” business and not necessarily driven by innovation, your digital strategy may be splintered. You’re going to need a leader who has the experience to consolidate functions, create new ones, knows where the digital investments should be prioritized, and how and where to hire the right talent, possibly even have to replace a longer-term employee who might impede your ability to compete as a digital business. This is the sort of stuff that goes far beyond the job description, or at least many of the ones I see that dwell way too much on specific skills and knowledge and less on outcomes (When I draft job descriptions for my clients, I actually call them “Performance Profiles” to emphasize outcomes.)
2- Use of data. Anyone who’s in B2C digital marketing and ecommerce is already data-centric, and it’s no less crucial for B2B’ers. In a recent search for a wholesale distribution client, I asked the President what they knew about their customers. I was somewhat amazed when the President looked at this me and asked, rhetorically, “What 360 degree view of the customer? We’re somewhere around 10 degrees, and we need to change that.” Roger that, and I told him he wasn’t alone. Most of the B2B companies I work are mostly on the side-lines when it comes to using advanced analytics to operationalize a customer-centric strategy. That’s exactly why this is on my top three list. Being data savvy is mission critical in generating new insight about customers, create more targeted marketing campaigns and helping commercial sales reps better qualify prospects.
3- Smooth cross-channel integration. Did you know that the average buyer uses a half dozen different channels of communication with B2B companies? Mobile is among them, yet many B2B clients I work with admit they lack a mobile strategy. Then there’s email, social, search, blogs and many others. You want a candidate who understands how your customers buy, and knows how to integrate CRM to manage relationships with prospective customers as well as new ones.
Are You Up to the Challenge?
We are living through one of the biggest peacetime economic upheavals ever known, and it is hard to argue against the notion that buyers will appreciate (and return) to vendors who make their lives easier during this crisis. Even prior to COVID-19, consumers expected more assistance and guidance when searching for products online. That need will grow. So will the need for B2B companies to finally prioritize digital transformation and meet that need head-on.
Bottom line: This will become a golden moment for companies to set themselves up to transform the customer journey forever, and equally as opportune for B2B marketing candidates to step up and make that happen.
Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation's preeminent and veteran digital marketing and ecommerce recruiters, and has been called the "voice" of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, "Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing," on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 29 years.