What are the two rules of B2B marketing?

Rule #1 B2B Marketing: Communicate with distinction. 

Far too often, in B2B marketing, the message becomes a diluted soup of industry acronyms and groupthink.  In time, it becomes quite hard to distinguish one company’s message from another’s.  To clients, this simply turns into a wall of white noise.  To break through this, effective B2B marketers must speak with distinction – and that means having the courage to make choices on their offers, their choice of language, and their values.

Rule #2 B2B Marketing: Solve the customer’s problem, not yours. 

Quite often, it’s easy to recognize a B2B marketing department which has lost its way, for (in their materials, presentations, websites, etc.) it is clear they are reacting to the demands of internal constituents more than they are addressing the needs of clients.  Remember, the market is always right.  And it’s the role of marketing to determine that and then align the company’s resources to address them in a unique and compelling fashion.

How do you think the role of marketing and marketers has changed over the years in B2B Marketing?

Before widespread adoption of the Internet and Social Media – most B2B marketers would just talk…and talk…and talk.  They felt their job was to broadcast the message.  Today, that’s half right. Now listening is the other half – and more important half – of the job.  Are you truly listening to the market?  To clients, prospects, analysts, investors, employees, recruits and competitors?  Or is the sound of your mouth so loud you cannot hear anything at all?  In many cases it’s an important question to ask.

When it comes to customer engagement, what is your view on the way players are exploring it today? Also suggest ways by which customer engagement can be made more meaningful?

Customer engagement first begins with a philosophy: Does your organization celebrate the first day of a customer engagement (in winning the contract), or do you celebrate day 365 or day 730 of the engagement (when you’ve actually delivered something).  You can see firms that fall into both buckets, and upon recognizing their philosophies on this dimension their approach to customer engagement follows.  My view is that the world is moving towards the latter model of customer engagement; that it’s long-term oriented, and one needs to earn their stripes each day of the relationship.  With social media, clients have transparency on many dimensions of your firm, your capabilities, and their competitive alternatives.  Thus, with customer engagement one needs to surpass those expectations on an ongoing basis to continue to grow a healthy business.

What is your view on the way B2B can explore social media/ digital media and where can it be used?

Social and digital media can be used across the entire marketing value chain, from thought leadership, to lead generation, sales support and client management.  The market relies now on conversation, and much of that conversation occurs through virtual, technology-driven channels.  Thus, across all industries (and not just our own) mastery of these technology platforms – and fully integrating them into the marketing process – is becoming part of the core curriculum for marketing leaders.

How can research be used effectively to understand its customers and better the offering, suggest two ways?

First, research is vitally important but you must always remember this important point: Any competitor worth their weight is conducting very similar research, whether secondary research (e.g., through the leading analyst houses, academic institutions, etc.) or through their own primary research.  This leads to the second point, that to deliver unique insight from this common data set, one must view it through the right set of lenses.  Do you have the right theory of the business, or of the market opportunity?  What attributes are you emphasizing?  How is your company able to react quickly and uniquely?  Those are the key elements for bringing research to life and driving market advantage from it.

About Malcolm Frank

Malcolm Frank is President, Cognizant Digital Business. In this role, Malcolm oversees Cognizant’s broad digital services portfolio. This includes Digital Strategy, Artificial Intelligence & Analytics, Interactive, Digital Engineering, IoT, Digital Content Platform, and Cognizant’s Accelerator Program, which incubates new industry-specific digital ventures. Prior to this role, Malcolm was Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Marketing Officer.

Malcolm’s influence is wide ranging and evident across media. He has co-authored two best-selling books, “What to Do When Machines Do Everything” (2017) and “Code Halos” (2014), both of which received multiple international book awards. He has also authored numerous white papers focusing on the Future of Work and created the term “SMAC Stack,” now an industry standard. A highly sought-after speaker, Malcolm has presented at various conclaves, including the World Economic Forum and the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festivals. He is frequently quoted, is the subject of a Harvard Business School case study and was named “one of the most influential people in finance” by Risk Management magazine.

Beyond his practical vision on artificial intelligence (AI) and experience as a founder of three business ventures—and having served as the CEO of two of them—Malcolm works closely with Cognizant clients to gain business advantage from large-scale digital transformation programs. He serves on the Board of Directors of FactSet Research Systems Inc. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). Malcolm holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Yale University.

Lesser known tools of B2B marketing

Interview conducted in 2014, profile updated in 2020

11 COMMENTS

  1. “Fifteen years ago – before widespread adoption of the Internet and Social Media – most B2B marketers would just talk…and talk…and talk. They felt their job was to broadcast the message.”

    That’s a sweeping generalization that obscures a real problem with B2B marketing. 15 years ago, we all knew that we need to emphasize benefits and not features. In fact, I’d argue that in the rush to fill content into every gaping social media channel, the danger of B2B marketers talking inanely has now increased manyfold.

    The point is — and, always has been — that while we all know what great content is, we can’t always create it.

    B2B marketers have enormous constraints. They often can’t name the client, can’t describe the specifics of the solution in play, find it really hard to quantify metrics over a long and diffused engagement cycle, and rarely ever get named customer endorsements. Contrast this with a soap or car manufacturer who can do all of the above most of the time.

    So while I do agree that many B2B campaigns lack the precision and punch of a good B2C campaigns, I’d suggest that it is not always because the B2B marketer didn’t know any better — it was her or she operates with more constraints.

    • Vijay – Every industry has its peculiar constraints. But these are not equal across organizations – Accenture and IBM have always been successful in their client endorsements, and of late TCS and Infosys. Ditto with quality of content. So it is a chicken and egg situation.

  2. One major change B2B marketers are facing today is the ‘control or lack of control’ they have on the content being created on their brands/products. With the widespread use of Social Media marketers have to now live with the fact that there could be much more content(good or bad) than he creates.
    Also there is now little difference between B2C and B2B. In B2B also, you need to understand who you are marketing to( the person) than the faceless organization.

  3. Great views Malcolm

    As Jack Welch, the former long-time chairman and CEO of General Electric once said, ‘When the rate of change outside your organisation outpaces the rate of change inside your organisation, the end is near’.

    Companies have to transform the way they think from ‘ Marketing communications’ to ‘Marketing Conversations’ – focus on Value from the customers point of view, and not mainly from the companies point of view, its easier said than done, reason being what we need is a skill-set transformation. Many B2B marketers are comfortable with the marketing levers and can polish the messages but not equally comfortable in front of a client, analyst, advisor.

    Marketers who understand the full potential of Social media don’t look at it as a channel, its not some sort of lever that few members can push the content through. Marketers need to build an enterprise wide program by identifying key influencers within the enterprise and build a collaborative strategy that’s social, else one would struggle on social media. Here is my blog on ‘Why You Need A Strategy That Is Social, Not A Social Media Strategy’ https://blogs.sap.com/innovation/sales-marketing/why-you-need-a-strategy-that-is-social-not-a-social-media-strategy-036685
    – Ramesh (Twitter @Ramesh_Ramki)

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