6 Ways to Expand Your Perspective: The B2B Marketer as CEO

Artificial IntelligenceB2B Demand Generation

10 Min Read

J. David Green

We all know that an expanded mind comes from exploring different perspectives. When you think about a B2B marketer as a CEO, you open up avenues of thought that will transform the way you work and the way you understand your value as a marketer.

Working with a CEO mindset came up recently when I interviewed an old friend for a podcast, which you can listen to here and here.

I’ve known Ryan Phelan a long time. First through conferences when I worked with MarketingSherpa, which hosted the largest, vendor-neutral Email Summit in the World, and then through our work with the Direct Marketing Association where he served on the Email Experience Council.

Ryan is an expert digital marketing and especially email marketing with 20 years of experience in B2B demand gen. He shares his knowledge on in this blog post, our podcast, the stage and through articles at Marketing Land and Click Z.

Ryan has discovered over the years that developing your attitudes, thought processes, and approach give you a good base in B2B demand gen marketing. He shares his discoveries on how thinking like a CEO helps you become an outstanding B2B marketer.

CEOs ask the right questions

CEOs ask why before they ask how.

Ryan spends a lot of time on stage at conferences urging marketers to look at the why – the reason for what you’re doing and its impact on the consumer, the prospect, and the subscriber.

Ryan says, “What I encourage people to look at is look at the why. Not the how. We’re all great at how. You get a bunch of marketers into a room and you say, ‘Hey, we need to get this done,’ they’re like, ‘Ooh, do this and this and this and this.’ Those are tactics. What we really need to think of is why in the heck would we do it in the first place?”

He recommends a methodical look at how to best spend your efforts. “We’ve only got a finite amount of time and we have to spend that time making sure that our efforts are effective and not just buckshot marketing where we’re throwing an idea out there just for the sake of getting something done.”

Ryan wants marketers to think beyond tactical execution.  “People think that just because email is cheap, fast, and easy that I can just throw something out there, and if I do it wrong, I can do it again some other time. But people rely on their inbox, they look at their inbox on a minute by minute basis. You don’t have a lot of time to screw up or do it wrong because the expectations are higher.”

Don’t settle for mediocrity when all it takes to have a better campaign is a shift in focus and an answer to one simple question.

Instead of trying to do many things just to check a box on a list, adopt a “why” mentality. The “why” question produces attractive marketing assets that will drive prospects deeper into the B2B funnel.

A CEO is ready for what’s coming

Be aware and act like a CEO: don’t just stay up to date – move a step ahead.

Marketers have a LOT of information to keep up with. Data, trends, forecasts, etc. There is so much going on – even inside your own company.

Ryan gave an example relating to developments in data privacy. The EU recently passed General Data Protection Regulation and California is preparing to enact similar protections. “Every marketer needs to perk up, because whether you live in California or not doesn’t matter. All of these changes – like Gmail putting in new tabs to divide primary mail from social media and promotions or AOL and Yahoo merging to create OAuth (a secure identification authorizer) – not only change how we think about email. They change how the consumer consumes it, the end user consumes it, and the B2B marketer -how they consume it.”

GDPR might not be legislated where you are right now, but it has reach that will affect your marketing going forward.

That’s why you need to be aware and a step ahead. External forces will push to you pay more attention to factors that will affect your B2B content strategy. Will your email design have to change? What about how you collect data?

Ryan expounds on that point: “The marketer has to be more holistic in their approach. They have to look at the wide field, and they have to pay attention. It’s not just about pushing the button anymore. It’s about knowing privacy legislation, and it isn’t about knowing about deliverability, authentication, and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance for email verification and spoof prevention). It’s about knowing about the changes in design that impact Gmail.”

The most effective marketers use metrics to run their part of the business

Ryan tells an amusing story around one of the biggest a-ha moments of his career:

“I was at a public company, big retail box store. My boss calls me into a meeting.  He’s going over some of the stuff. I didn’t have my laptop. It was one of these ad hoc things,” Ryan remembers. “He asked me a bunch of questions about metrics. I didn’t know the answers. He looks at me, shakes his head, and he says, ‘Who knows those numbers?’ I said, ‘Well, X, Y, and Z, or I have them back at my desk.’ He’s like, ‘Get me the person that knows the numbers, clearly you don’t. You should.’ So he razzed me about it.” Ryan said.

Ryan found value in the experience: “It was one of those pivotal moments that I look back on, and there wasn’t a time after that I didn’t know the numbers up one side and down the other.”

Ryan emphasizes that marketers need to think strategically.  They need to know what their numbers and performance levels are. Marketers need to know more than just what yesterday’s sales numbers and conversion and open rates were.

Ryan now keeps his business stats on instant recall, using what he calls his “monster dashboard.” The dashboard gives him different cuts of various facts and figures so that he always knows his own metrics.

The dashboard is extensive but Ryan commits himself to it. He says, “I felt that I was the CEO of whatever I was in charge of, and any good CEO knows his metrics, knows his numbers off the top of his head. He lives and breathes those numbers. He tries to grow and increase or optimize them.”

Data is rapidly pouring into the marketing sphere. You have to know that data to be smarter and to make others around you smarter, especially in this B2B demand gen space.

There are numbers that come into play at nearly every meeting in B2B sales and marketing operations:

  • There are quantities over time and against goals (MQLs, SALs, SQLs, etc.)
  • There are conversion rates across stages and the trend lines over time
  • There are acquisition costs, lifetime value costs, and calculations for the return on investment
  • There are forecasts against actual.
  • Then there are benchmarks and baseline measures to put it all into context.

Knowing your numbers gives you a broader view of the industry and of your strategy. You have keener insight when you look beyond the usual metrics into metrics with a broader scope. You come up with questions that wouldn’t occur to you without that wider range of information.

Watching the numbers is particularly important in B2B. Ryan says, “It’s critical to know your numbers and be able to optimize as you go. Ten leads can be the difference between a good month and a bad month, or a good sale and a bad sale. The smallest of numbers make the biggest impact.”

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CEOs have a holistic view of the competition

CEOs don’t let emotion cloud critical thinking. If a CEO sees an advantage, everything is put aside to take that advantage to advance the company.

B2B marketers often have no interest in anything that is B2C. Who care what Amazon is doing?  They may not even care about the experience Google creates because, “Hey, we don’t compete with Google.”

Yes you do.  Amazon, too.

First of all, companies like Amazon can teach B2B marketers a lot about marketing.  Yes, it’s B2C.  Yes, it’s transactional.  Still, B2C has advanced in the digital marketplace at a much faster rate than B2B. The principles and insights gained are transferable to the B2B approach.  B2C has much higher transaction volumes and they have done multivariate and A/B testing to find out what works. Use the insights B2C giants have gained.

Second of all, your prospects are using sites like Amazon.com and Google.com every day.  Those sites create a digital expectation.

You might think it’s enough to have a faster website or better online marketing collateral than your direct competitor. Your real barometer should be the big players in the B2C world. B2B customers expect your site to be as fast as Google and as personalized as Amazon. It’s what they’re used to.

Ryan says, “You learn how to interact on the web by the rapid development of the B2C world. Think about the fact that more times during the day, your prospect is on Amazon, is on Target. So, you have to learn about how B2C markets before prospects come to your site.”

Look at your initiatives from a B2C angle.

According to Ryan, the best B2B marketer thinks like a B2C marketer. “I’ve done both in my career. I’ve developed strategies for huge B2C companies, and when I came on to B2B it was so much easier. I had the handle on data. I had the handle on what consumers expect, what flow is, how to look at drip campaigns and marketing automation and all that stuff.”

CEOs prioritize connection

Whether it’s a new market or a new venture, you need to get connected and immerse yourself in it to fully understand it.

Ryan’s experience moving a European company stateside gave him new insight. He had to join UK strategies and culture with US strategies and culture.

Ryan learned three vital things in the process:

Face to face connections

“Video calling, Skype for business, whatever it is, is essential to any remote worker. If you’ve got people over in another country, you need the ability to see the other team and wave. It can get pretty lonely when you’re five thousand miles away. And that was critical for me. Day One when I walked in, I said, ‘Alright, everybody needs to go buy a webcam and get on Skype and I’m going to force everybody to do cameras on every call.’ By the time I left they had cameras up in every room. We had these great systems so people could connect. So we weren’t disparate.”

Adapt the brand

“You just can’t take a European company and bring it to the US and do the same thing; it just doesn’t work. There are differences in how people buy in the US versus in the UK. There are differences in nomenclature and attitudinal things. In the US we can be more boastful but in the UK you have to be more humble and you’re not as confident. And so you really have to research your industry, the numbers, and strategies for brand adaptation so that you don’t lose brand identity but you cater to the people you’re trying to market to.”

Focus on the metrics

“You have to put focus on the metrics. That’s one of the reasons I created a monster dashboard, was that not a lot of stats existed that I needed to know what my success looked like. And so I had to create those. I created really complex models that they hadn’t had before, I got all this data from disparate systems and brought it all together to make sense of it, and that’s how I showed success. That handle on metrics was my shield to go out and do what I needed to do, because everything I did amounted to something. You were brand new, so if you stunk, really everybody saw it. And so you had to know what was working and what wasn’t.”

Ryan added another takeaway from this experience. In-person connections are vital. “I also went over there just to get face-time, because there’s a lot that’s lost, again, from being five thousand miles away. Whether or not you have a video camera, you’ve got to be there in person.”

CEOs are realistic optimists

Realistic optimists are positive within what they realistically know of the world or their situation in it.

When Ryan talks about what it takes to be a successful B2B marketer, he starts with “a fairly small ego.”

Ryan says “You’ve got to call BS and say, this is what my customer or prospect needs. I came into a company that had 20 unique selling propositions and I said, ‘You can’t have 20, you can have three.’ They argued ‘But this is a unique selling point, and that’s a unique selling point’, and I was like, ‘No, everyone else does that.’”

B2B works in smaller numbers, so you have to be honest with yourself about the choices you make and the direction you go. Ryan believe you need a filter of honesty and humility that gives you a lens to see clearly in a crowded field regardless of your vertical. “I think B2B marketers that have that and really own up to it, I think their job is a lot easier”, he says.

The best, or most attractive, advice Ryan gives is to have fun. “Have fun, my God. B2B is a blast – I love it. I think it’s absolutely hilarious and fun. We did some guerilla marketing and I was the first company in the space to have a bacon sponsorship at a conference. It’s stuff like that. B2B is fun. I love it.”

Hear more of Ryan’s amusing and insightful anecdotes by listening to our interview on the podcast: