B2B Marketers Must Tackle Expanding Roles

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As customer communication channels have evolved, so have marketers' job descriptions.

A recent study by Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association revealed that a majority of business-to-business marketing leaders now have duties they never thought they'd have. Of the 117 business-to-business marketers surveyed, 97 percent say they've assumed unexpected responsibilities, such as managing social media, on a constant basis.

Additionally, more than 70 percent are concerned about brand integrity and execution in social media, and 60 percent admit they are looking to hire young talent to help them navigate through new and ever-changing technology.

The problem that marketers face, however, is that the needed talent is hard to find: About 47 percent say they can't find people with the right skill sets, and 28 percent say it's nearly impossible to fill important positions with the current pool of applicants.

The marketers' role has changed in other ways. According to the study, 87 percent of marketers have found that colleagues in other departments seek out their input and data much more, 78 percent claim the marketing department's influence on corporate strategy is much greater, 77 percent believe the stature of marketing's seat at the executive table has increased, and 56 percent say they spend more time in front of company boards of directors.

Though the new responsibilities are wide-ranging, Laura Ramos, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, suggests that they typically fall into five major categories: strategic technology planning; sales alignment; serving the digitally empowered buyer; forming partnerships; and delivering operational excellence.

Strategic technology planning is crucial as marketing automation, customer data management, social/digital/mobile technologies, self-service, and communities are all technology-based initiatives, meaning that the chief marketing officer must work much more closely with the chief information officer, and marketing teams must do the same with their internal IT counterparts, Ramos says. "Looking at the issues surrounding decisions about cloud, big data, business architectures, and customer experience all require chief marketers to take a more strategic view of technology and develop their familiarity with the issues," she adds.

Marketing has also taken on a more important role in pipeline development, from awareness through lead qualification and even during the persuasion and negotiation phases, so sales alignment comes into play. "Sales wants more specific information about target accounts—key players, company-specific business issues, history, alliances, as well as hot issues—and they want marketing to help them communicate to and engage with those accounts in a more consistent, leveraged manner," Ramos points out.

The change is not just affecting the marketing department, though. As buyers become more digitally empowered, companies have to transform their frontline operations too. Every employee who can potentially touch a prospect or customer needs to be more digitally savvy, social media–capable, and well-equipped with background information, according to Ramos. "As the steward of the voice of the customer, marketing leadership must work across product development [what products and services to offer], delivery [how to best make customers successful], and even HR [what's the right profile to hire in employees so they are adept at dealing with customers] to increase customer knowledge across the organization," she adds.

Forming partnerships has also become an expanding responsibility for marketers. For the most part, B2B companies pull in a large share of revenue from channel partners of various types. These partners also require digital enablement so they can serve the ultimate buyer better, Ramos suggests. "This may be one of the greatest underserved opportunities CMOs face: how to deepen relationships at a business level with partners both large and small," she says.

Finally, maintaining an unparalleled level of operational excellence has become an integral part of a marketer's job description too. This involves working with the chief financial officer, controller, and financial teams to figure out new ways to transform the business, not just take cost out. "Trading off technology against labor, outsourcing, or new acquisitions place new demands on CMOs who need to figure out how to keep the brand experience strong and consistent in the face of this continuously increasing pace of change," Ramos explains.

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