I was delighted and honoured to be asked by John Harris, President & CEO of Worldwide Partners to moderate a panel discussion at our bi-annual Partner Summit.

For those of you who don’t already know, Worldwide partners is our network of over 70 independent agencies operating in 40 countries. This year our Partner Summit was completely virtual – a challenge deftly handled by a talented tech team and delegates from our member agencies who love to collaborate, share and learn together.

We called out to our partners to name the topics that were pertinent to them right now, with what is going on in the world. We heard about elections, Brexit, COVID testing and the lack of international travel – but we also got some ideas for B2B marketing topics to discuss together too.

I thought it might make an interesting snapshot blog if I recount to you the topics on the minds of our member agencies across the globe.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation seems to have taken over as the buzz term of the day – year even. Second only to dreaded COVID-19 and in part, fuelled by it.

There’s transformation in the way we go to market, serve customers, engage prospects and I think every marketer feels they’re on that journey. Some have been for a while and some have been forced to digitally transform because their physical world just got a shake-up.

The other side for us in B2B and specifically at TMW Business is the way businesses operate. As an IT & Tech agency, we see almost all our tech clients aligning their corporate narratives to digital transformation because quite frankly it’s gone from a trend to imperative.

"One does not become transformed."

The discussion panel talked about the ‘fluffiness’ of the trend and how everything from WFH tech to app development, cloud migration, automation and live-chat has been heralded as digital transformation.

We talked about how digital transformation is not a destination “one does not become transformed.” Transformation is a process, a journey and potentially one that will be ongoing rather than ever finally complete.

Events: from physical to virtual

How could we avoid the follow-on topic of events: now there’s an industry that has been forced to digitally transform if ever I saw one!

When the world as we knew it shut down, events got cancelled and everyone flocked to create digital events. Marketers the world over punctuate their calendars with trade shows, seminars, conferences and show & tell events. But it seems like there’s a bit of digital event fatigue setting in. The hype and intrigue have faded and people are getting more and more virtual event invites. How do we keep it fresh and drive better engagement?

The conversation took us to the topic of personalisation. Core to the idea of event attendance is relevance. You’re only going to sign up if the content, speakers and engagement opportunity are highly relevant. And when delivering an “event” at scale, that calls for personalisation.

"It was fun to be nostalgic as we sat – looking at a screen full of faces looking at screens."

We also touched on the notion that some physical interactions are best not replicated in the digital world. Some experiences call for AR and VR to support that hands-on experience, a rich and immersive way to engage in products, demos, samples etc.

On the other hand, we talked about a yearning for a return to the analogue - how some of the more traditional engagements like good old-fashioned phone calls, socially-distanced sales meetings, site visits and face-to-face charm. It might be a while until that is possible again, but it was fun to be nostalgic as we sat – looking at a screen full of faces, looking at screens.

Account Based Marketing

A beautiful segue from the personalisation topic took us to the next: Account Based Marketing.

In the B2B world, we’ve been talking and talking about ABM for years now. The darling of B2B marketing, everyone’s talking about it and it is certainly the fashionable thing to be doing. But we joked about every marketing campaign now coming under the banner of ABM. The slightest sniff of targeting, personalisation or insight makes a campaign ABM it would seem!

"Adopting the principles of ABM – even at scale, is certainly better than the more traditional ‘spray-and-pray’ marketing campaigns that happen otherwise."

Laughable maybe, but adopting the principles of ABM – even at scale, is certainly better than the more traditional ‘spray-and-pray’ marketing campaigns that happen otherwise.

We acknowledged that few companies are willing to ‘put all their eggs in one basket’ and adopt strategic ABM where the focus would be on just one of few ‘big bets.’ Instead, more are opting to spread the risk in something more like ‘ABM-lite’ where clustering like-minded, like-challenged or just alike organisations together brings economies of scale. This means they can be targeted in a semi-personalised way for deeper relevance, smaller target audiences and better engagement.

The MarTech stack

Our final topic of the day was that of marketing automation, CRM and all things marketing technology.

Many brands have spent hundreds of thousands on their tech stack to get better at capturing attention, converting leads and driving customer engagement, but is it working? ‘Using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut’ comes to mind - in this case, is using a very sophisticated and expensive tool to do something simple and somewhat rudimentary.

“Using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut” comes to mind

We discussed the inhibitors to getting better ‘bang-for-buck’ when it comes to tech investment.

Data was the biggest barrier: the availability of it, the format and usability of it as well as the compliance of it. Data is one of the requirements for these marketing tech solutions to function. You can’t automate marketing that you don’t have. Some organisations have spent years capturing, holding and sorting data to enable them to get closer to their customers and prospects. They’re the ones that’ll be able to actually do the exciting things the martech vendors sold: propensity modelling, predictive lead scoring, behavioural actions, intent monitoring, proper attribution - and the rest!

AI was brought to the table as the next wave of martech investment. Lots of platforms are injecting AI capability into their tools: ways to make smart decisions, faster and at scale. From the successes we shared, it’s clear automation and AI are here right now. Hopefully they’re not eyeing up our human-occupied marketing roles just yet though!

All-in-all the panel discussion whipped past in the blink of an eye, each of the topics deserving of more time and focus.

It was interesting and cathartic to hear of similar experiences from our agency partners in countries as distant as Malaysia and Mexico and hear about their work, projects and successes.

It’s a small world after all.

If you want to talk more about any of these topics, don’t hesitate to get in touch.