It was just a year ago that B2B marketers had a clean slate, the whole year in front of them.

Now it's over. 2014's gone. No second chances.

We caught up this time last year with industry insiders about some absolute must-dos for 2014. Starting today, we catch up with some of them again to see, well, if B2B marketers DID the must-dos.

We begin with Carla Johnson, president of Type A Communications out of Parker, Colo. Johnson's message last year to B2B marketers was to become agile.

"Why, how and what marketers need to perform in our roles has never changed so much or at such a significant rate as it is now," Johnson told CMSWire last year.

Catching Up 

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CMSWire: Your quote last year: "Marketers have to be willing to respond. Too many are paralyzed by fear and waiting for things to normalize. Change is the new normal and the only way to thrive is to understand the need for agility." Did B2B marketers do a better job with this in 2014?

Johnson: Agility is a state of mind, and it’s different from how marketers have traditionally thought. The only way we’ll be successful is to have liquid processes in place that let us respond to the demands of a fast-changing digital world in which customers change even faster. Marketing is the only group that has the skills, capabilities and type of resources needed to remove the barriers across the enterprise. To be agile, we have to be able to work across all departments and create experiences in the critical moments that matter most to audiences. Marketers have done a better job of seeing this blind spot, but still have a long way to go.

CMSWire: Your quote: "They’re able to use data to adjust so they can engage people and create relevant experiences on the fly." Did B2B marketers capture this real-time capability effectively in 2014? 

Johnson: Not fully, and we won’t until we understand that our role is to create experiences that delight audiences. There’s a great book by Geoffrey Moore called “Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT.” In it, Moore talks about the large backbone IT systems that we rely on as “systems of record” are being supplemented and extended by “systems of engagement” that are being built to facilitate communication and collaboration. Once we get that marketers need to drive the creation of those systems of engagement, then it will be easier to see why the only way to get there is by leveraging the role of the marketing technologist.

CMSWire: Nothing, you said last year, compares to sincere people-to-people conversations to understand what matters to your customers. "It’s not about corralling them and then marketing them to death," she said. "It’s about genuinely listening to what they have to say and then being willing to do something about it in the near term." Did you see B2B marketers doing a better job with this in 2014

Johnson: Yes, much better, and this came out in work that you’re seeing from top B2B companies like Emerson and their expansion of the role of marketing into many other areas of the business. Kathy Button Bell, their CMO, is very smart in that she understands that one of marketing’s newest roles is that of Chief Inspiration Officer -- what can we do to make doing business with customers easier?

Emerson has backed up marketing’s role to what they call Stage Gate Zero, back into research and development to understand if what it takes to solve customer problems is about a product, or rather a way to do business.

GE has implemented the Lean Startup approach, which they call FastWorks, so they can hear from customers first-hand what problems they have and how to solve them.Answers to customer problems are coming more in the form of business models rather than products. “Listening” to your customers comes in many forms and formats; in 2014 I saw marketers get much better at this.

CMSWire: Focusing on your company and not the customer -- "With all the focus on content marketing I wish that this was dead by now, but, unfortunately, it’s not," you said. "The adage of having two ears and one mouth and using them in this proportion is ever more important now." How in 2014 did B2B marketers handle this?

Learning Opportunities

Johnson: Despite the fact that I said that I saw companies get better at listening to customers, marketers still don’t understand how to talk about the customer and their problems, instead of themselves. These are engrained ways of thinking, acting and speaking that everyone in the company -- not just marketing -- is having a hard time letting go of.This is a definite skills and talent gap that companies have. If they truly want to change this behavior, they need to invest in training their teams in how to make the shift. Yes, it will cost them some dollars. But not nearly as much as it will cost them by wasting the time and attention of their customers and prospects.

CMSWire: Your quote: "I am speechless when I hear marketers say they don’t measure. Granted, not everything can or should be measured, but there’s a whole lot that should be and isn’t." Did you still hear this in 2014?

Johnson: I still hear too many marketers say that they don’t measure what they do. I think some of it comes from the success or failure mentality, that if charts aren’t going up and to the right, then you’ve failed. I wish marketers would look at metrics as feedback that inform their decisions, rather than a judgment of them being “good” or “bad” at what they do.

Marketers tell me that they’re struggling to figure out how to build credibility and have more authority both as marketers within their companies and as companies within their markets. My first question is always to find out what’s working or not working now. They may have a general idea but when I ask them specifics, they can’t tell me because they aren’t measuring. It’s like having a goal to get healthier every January 1. “Are you getting healthier?” “Well, my pants still fit, so I think so.” That doesn’t tell you if you’re getting healthier. That just tells you that your pants still fit.

CMSWire: Another message you had was "strengthen the marriage with sales." Did you see more of this in 2014?

Johnson: Definitely, and not only between marketing and sales, but between marketing, sales and IT. If these groups can work as a triad it really helps break down silos. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of work still to do, but if IT can understand what happens when sales puts an order in the system -- if it makes the process of buying easier or harder -- then they all can work together do to what’s right for engaging the customer and bringing them in the door.

Technology aside, I’m seeing much more frequent and meaningful conversations going on between sales and marketing about how they can better work together, from the basics of clear, consistent, purpose-driven messages to demand generation. They not only realize that they need each other, they’re also valuing each other more.

CMSWire: "Give up being defensive and trying to defend your territory and point of view so much," you said. "Instead, listen with an open mind, and be willing to learn and collaborate with others within your organization."How did marketers do with this one in 2014?

Johnson: I see marketers wanting to do this, which is the first step to moving in the right direction. I think the conversation became louder in 2014 about the opportunity that marketing has to drive growth within an organization. It helps people see potential. And if there’s potential, people are more willing to listen and learn more about it. Hey, it’s momentum and every great success started with movement of some kind.

Title image by Courtney Dirks (Flickr) via CC BY 2.0 license.