I know where I want to be May 5th, 2024, how about you? For me, it will be Austin again for the Forrester B2B Summit. I found this year’s to be remarkably valuable on multiple dimensions including insights, inspiration, and introductions to both new and old friends. I had forgotten how exhilarating it can be just to get out of one’s bubble and think about big ideas.
The big idea of this year’s summit was customer centricity and how getting better at it will drive growth faster in 2023 and beyond. Breaking down my notes while they were still fresh, I couldn’t help but apply the CATS framework for building unbeatable B2B brands. Perhaps its confirmation bias at work or just a remarkable convergence of marketing wisdom! Either way, here are 12 takeaways from the Forrester B2B Summit:
- Focus is Your Friend: IBM’s case study blew me away. In 2022, they reduced 24 go-to-market campaigns to 5, and guess what happened? Sales grew by 12% and their pipeline-to-close ratio improved. Focus is indeed Big Blue’s friend.
- Embrace Generative AI: Forrester CEO George Colony kicked off the Summit with rousing call for companies to embrace generative AI as “the most significant tech in our lifetime.” Offering an easy-to-understand definition, Colony encouraged attendees to take their large piles of data and allow it to be transformed into something new and useful to customers. (P.S. BECCA, our B2B CMO bot is a modest example of this thinking.)
- Cut Through: One analyst reminded attendees of the need for meaningful differentiation in order to cut through the common stories told in most categories. She cited a recent college tour and how one school stood out by actually listening to her son’s questions and providing a personalized response. The moral of the story was clear – differentiation begins and ends with a customer-centric experience.
- Nomenclature Matters: Over the last few years, CMOs have chosen names like “performance marketing” for the team and budget assigned to demand generation. Dara Treseder, CMO of Autodesk, decried this approach noting that if you have a performance marketing group/budget, then you are defining the rest of marketing as non-performing. [Note: Dara chose “growth marketing” which in my mind has the same issue but we can debate this later.]
- Storytelling Helps: Several of the keynotes included relevant personal stories that framed the overall presentation and made their messages more compelling and memorable. One touching example involved F1’s journey to becoming more customer-centric and featured the story of Sam, a young boy with a degenerative blood disease whose wish came true via F1. It turned out that Sam was the son of Forrester analyst Nick Buck, making the story all the more meaningful.
- Trust is Human-Led: Despite all the talk of tech-led marketing, several presentations reinforced the fact that trust is primarily built through human interactions and that trust is THE deciding factor when products/services are purchased. No trust, no sale. Building trust needs to be an organizational commitment and when done sufficiently, takes the risk out of buying decisions. And risk aversion is what keeps buyers from buying especially at the enterprise level.
- Engage Employees First: One of the more remarkable outcomes of IBM’s effort to reduce its global marketing campaigns from 24 to 5 was a 5 point increase in employee satisfaction. IBMers expressed a renewed sense of purpose thanks to having a clear focus – a potent reminder that customer-centricity begins with your employees.
- Rethink Customer Value: While recessionary concerns have heightened attention on ROI, Forrester’s analyst reminded attendees that there are actually four dimensions of customer value. Economic (ROI and speed of ROI), Functional (what you serve), Symbolic (community value), and Experiential (remove friction, add flavor). The importance of each varies by purchase stage but none can be ignored.
- Know Your Prospects: Buyers have lots of needs during any purchase decision. Your ability to anticipate these needs and provide personalized content/tools at the right time will be a big determinant of success. This is not news to most of you. Just a reminder to making buying easier.
- Kill the MQL: Forrester analysts reminded attendees that MQLs are problematic. In fact, one equated MQLs with “CMO job insecurity” and encouraged CMOs “To stop passing leads and start passing intelligence.” Noting that MQLs are not leading indicators, they suggested focusing on Win Rate, Deal Size, and Speed to Close for pipeline metrics. They also noted that with 75% of revenue growth for enterprise orgs coming from current customers, MQLs are even more of a waste of time.
- Tighten up Your Tech: Without being completely prescriptive, Forrester analysts encouraged a thorough reexamination of the rev ops tech stack. The goal here is to root out redundancies, reduce spend to under 15% of total budget and reorient tech towards improvement in customer satisfaction. If current customers are your growth engine, why is your tech budget disproportionally spent on new customer acquisition?
- Increase Experimentation: One of the big positives of Gen AI is that it increases the ability to test all sorts of programs at far greater speed and lower cost. Attendees were encouraged to experiment more—to set aside 15% of their budget to make some little bets that could have big returns. Think of these as a “portfolio of ideas” from which will come breakthrough programs down the road.
If you’d like to hear more detail on these takeaways, be sure to listen to Episode 350 of Renegade Thinkers Unite.