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PHOTO: Matt Bero

2020 has changed the B2B buying landscape. Consequently, it’ll change the value we place on certain marketer characteristics.

Every B2B marketer understands a buying committee comprises six to 10 decision-makers, each with four-plus pieces of individually gathered, often conflicting content. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, this made the buying process complicated, at best. In fact, Gartner research shows “77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult.”

The Pandemic’s Effects on Buying Groups

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem.

Buyers are less centralized as they work from home, making collaboration more difficult. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019 report, “Collaborating and/or communication” is the third biggest struggle with working remotely. Each decision-maker on a buying committee is doing more independent research than usual, resulting in greater variance in opinions across the committee.

Adding to the difficulties, buyer needs and budgets are in constant flux. Markets are volatile, pinned to economies that ebb and flow inversely to the coronavirus’s spread. Making buying decisions now depends as much on accurately forecasting market vacillations as it does on the solutions and vendors being evaluated.

Simply put, B2B buying is more difficult than ever. To win business, B2B marketers must help their prospects navigate an increasingly complex buying process. Yet here too the pandemic is causing major issues.

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The Pandemic’s Effects on B2B Marketers and Their Efforts

The same issues affecting buying groups are hindering marketing efforts. As with their target buyers, collaboration for marketers is far more difficult than it was a few months ago. It’s harder to hand off parts of a project as if we’re working on a production line. This undermines the value of the specialization, because each hand-off today is more cumbersome — it takes more time, and it’s more prone to miscommunication and execution errors.

Economic uncertainly is also a concern here. Some weeks make a v-shaped rebound look imminent, causing marketing leaders to think about expanding programs to boost demand. Other weeks look more dismal, and next thing you know, talk of layoffs emerge.

None of this is likely to change soon. So, what are the implications for the evolution of marketing capabilities and marketer traits?

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4 Important B2B Marketing Skills and Characteristics for Today

Today’s circumstances demand different skills and personality strengths than those needed just six months ago. In my opinion, more value should be placed on individuals who have the following characteristics:

Cross-Channel, Multi-Role Abilities

Due to new collaboration difficulties, utility players will become more valuable to marketing organizations because they can develop and deliver cross-channel tactics that map to the complex buyer’s journey.

Moreover, market volatility requires greater marketing team agility. And marketers who have multi-role skills can pivot their efforts far more quickly and effectively. As Scott Vaughan, chief growth officer at Integrate, puts it: “If you can’t execute across buyer channels and marketing roles, you’re hosed. You have to connect the dots that feed your buyers’ journeys. B2B marketers who simply stick to their swim lanes are going to drown.”

An Aptitude for Learning, Quickly

Not every marketer is going to have the broad skillset these times require. The aptitude to learn new skills, however, is just as important.

Many marketing pros simply haven’t been incentivized to learn skills used in adjacent roles. This has become especially true over the last few years. B2B marketing has become more focused on technology, resulting in the marketing technology (martech) industry proliferating into more specialized point solutions, which end up being owned by specific power-users. Unfortunately, this has resulted in process silos and narrow expertise.

Those marketers who have the enthusiasm and aptitude to quickly expand their abilities will be highly valued. Of course, proving those abilities isn’t always easy, which leads us to the next characteristic .…

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Confident and Self-Motivated

Working remotely and the need to wear multiple hats means marketers who take the initiative will become more valuable to organizations. Initiative-takers will quickly prove their ability to address market vicissitudes by learning new skills.

Being a team player has always been important in marketing, as it should be. But some marketers take this too far. As Kate Athmer, senior director of growth marketing at Bombora, said: "Dispersed teams don’t have room for marketers who ask everyone they can possibly think of for input, iterate to death, and don't take meaningful action until there's consensus. With market conditions and budgets changing quickly, we need marketers who are comfortable making decisions based on data and their own qualifications, and moving forward."

Moreover, “loneliness” is the second biggest struggle with working remotely, according to the Buffer Remote Work report referenced above. I’m inclined to interpret this as an uneasiness with independent work. Self-starting marketers who can develop and execute plans independently when needed will become a hot commodity.

Writing Chops

This one is pretty much a subset of “Cross-channel, multi-role abilities.” Yet I believe it’s important enough to be listed separately.

Nothing slows down execution of a marketing campaign like separating the people who have ideas from those tasked with conveying those ideas in writing. And considering today’s focus on agility, hiring individuals who can do both will be ever more important.

The marketing capabilities and skills required will certainly vary from organization to organization. And startups will obviously be in greater need of those traits listed above than enterprises. Yet, economic and social uncertainty has put B2B buying and selling in constant flux, casting a spotlight on agility. And marketing organizations simply can’t be as agile or efficient without self-starting, multi-skilled marketers who can quickly learn to address changing buyer needs.

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