One of the most practical business books I’ve read recently is Driving Demand: Transforming B2B Marketing to Meet the Needs of the Modern Buyer, by Carlos Hidalgo. I invited Carlos, who is CEO and Principal at ANNUITAS, to sit down for a chat about what he’s seeing on the demand generation landscape, and in B2B marketing more broadly.
Patrick Spenner: What trends or curiosities in regards to demand generation have caught your eye recently?
Carlos Hidalgo: One of the more exciting things, for me at least, is seeing more and more organizations talk about content in relation to their buyer. And by that I mean producing content that aligns specifically to buyers and how they buy – not the supplier’s products or solutions. As you know, in the age of consensus buying this is more important than ever, but it’s hard for many teams to rally around because it requires a different way of thinking about your content. It’s about focusing on how buyers think, what their pain points and challenges are, and getting them to view their business differently. In essence, it’s going from being content producers to actual content marketers. The lights are really starting to turn on for many teams regarding this now.
But, the common hang-up we see many marketing teams struggle with is how to get that information from their buyers. Getting this level of understanding on the buyer takes time and we see many teams fall victim to pressures from executives to get campaigns out and running quickly. But, we’ve seen some of the more successful teams juggle this by educating executives on what we call “buyer 2.0” – today’s buyer is more sophisticated and complex, and are fundamentally buying differently than they have in the past. This disruption is changing the way we need to market and sell. It requires more time, energy and investment to get right. We can no longer just create content, put it out there and expect buyers to come to us.
Spenner: Your recent book Driving Demand is a great blueprint for building demand generation capability. I’m eager to get your thoughts in particular on the top challenges Marketing and Sales teams will encounter as they move forward on this journey – what are they not paying enough attention to?
Hidalgo: People need to prepare for resistance to change. What we are facing today in Sales and Marketing is fundamentally change management. Both of these functions need to change in order to innovate and be productive in today’s marketplace. Marketers have shifted from just being sales enablers (producing talking points, score cards, brochures, etc.) to really playing a key role in demand generation. In fact, 96% of CMOs are being asked to do things that they’ve never been asked to do before. Couple that with how Sales is now selling to a committee, rather than just one individual, and is no longer the gatekeeper to information about their product, service or company. Sales reps are required now to be subject matter experts about their customers’ business and to figure out how they can be part of the dialogue with customers, before they are even ready to buy.
Frankly, from what we’ve seen, many marketing and sales functions are not ready for this shift. They are too focused on interrupting the buyer’s journey, rather than becoming a part of it. And, my response to that is, “You have a better chance of getting into the Pentagon, than you do successfully interrupting your buyer’s journey.” Plus, that’s not selling, it’s assault!
The sooner executives understand that it’s a change management and cultural issue, the sooner their teams will be successful.
Spenner: Successful demand generation requires Marketing and Sales alignment, at least, if not deep collaboration. What’s your guidance to Marketing leaders who are looking to re-boot that relationship?
Hidalgo: I was fortunate enough to have that kind of collaboration at McAfee, before I started ANNUITAS. When I started in my marketing leadership role there, I did my research and then sat down with my two regional vice presidents and started the conversation off with an apology. And, I’ve had marketers that I’ve told this story to say, “Are you crazy? You just gave away all your power.” I responded by saying, no – what I did was acknowledge that as a functional partner, we weren’t giving them what they actually needed, just what we thought they needed. But I told them, in order to fix things, they needed to be honest and open to helping me right the ship. And, that’s what I mean by a cultural shift. It requires a level of honesty, but also an acknowledgement that BOTH sides are responsible and equal parts of the equation. That kind of shared responsibility and honesty needs to feed through into accountability, metrics and incentives across marketing and sales.
Spenner: Where do you see demand generation headed in the next three years and how should commercial teams prepare for what’s ahead?
Hidalgo: I hope history doesn’t repeat itself! I went back about 10 years in my research for the book to look at the top challenges for marketers, and the top three pain points seemed to be constant over the years, they just switched order, which would indicate that we really haven’t made that much progress.
The one thing I think we need to prepare for, without any doubt, is that our buyers are going to continue to get more complex and more sophisticated. The number of stakeholders involved in the buying decision will continue to go up, their buying cycles will keep getting longer, and it will become ever-more critical of suppliers to know their space and their challenges. But this should all be expected.
One thing that organizations can do to prepare for this is to better align and structure themselves departmentally. We usually see marketing organizations structured two ways: top-of-funnel teams, mid-funnel teams and sales teams often enabled by field sales, and then functional teams (email teams, events teams, field teams, social teams, etc.). The first structure makes it really hard to have continuity of conversation with a buyer across the entirety of the buyer journey. In the latter structure, everyone is focused solely on their tactic or channel, but it keeps things very siloed. And, buyers don’t buy this way – they are very multichannel oriented. Instead, we need to be developing an organizational structure that allows us to engage, nurture and convert buyers along their buying path.
Spenner: What marketing team’s work have you admired lately and why?
Hidalgo: PR Newswire is a team that I really admire. Their leadership recognizes that just because they are in an “old” industry, it doesn’t mean they can’t innovate and do things differently. In fact, they get that they must do things differently in order to stay relevant for buyers. They have changed the way they go to market and how they sell from a buyer’s perspective – essentially changing themselves from a cost center to a profit center because of this.
Another great example is LENOX Tools (now part of Newell Rubbermaid Inc.). They realized that they really needed to buy into the change management vision and start with a cultural change in order to keep up with the market and their ever-evolving buyers. They recognized that it was going to be hard and uncomfortable, but that it would give them the competitive advantage they needed to not only stay relevant, but also beat benchmarks within their industry (and even outside their industry!).
Spenner: What moves you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Hidalgo: Spiritually, when you hit 45, it’s not necessarily a mid-life crisis, but what I’ll call “a second half mindset.” I have a renewed view on life, which now centers on a relationship with Jesus Christ that has helped guide me, personally and even professionally. I wrote a post on LinkedIn about this earlier this year that you can check out for more details on what this has meant for me, but in simple words, it has given me balance.
Emotionally, my family is what moves me. They are my focus and everything else I do is second to that. Again, this is a renewed focus for me, because as an entrepreneur it’s sometimes easy to lose that focus and convince yourself that everything you’re doing professionally is ultimately for your family. But, in reality, the most important thing is to be present and there for those you love and who love you.
And then, creatively, I would say the market, my clients and my team at ANNUITAS move and motivate me. Organizations that are out there shaking things up like CEB, and influencers like Michael Brenner, Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Carla Johnson and Ardath Albee. We constantly challenge each other and make each other think differently about things. That’s what this is all about – evolving and growing based on how things are changing.
Spenner: My deep thanks, Carlos, for sharing your experiences and observations with me, and for your honesty and humility.
This article was written by Patrick Spenner from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.