The new challenges of B2B

As pressure to diversify grows, marketers must pay more attention to specialist technology and business skills in if their organisations are to continue growing.

Marketers need to develop more specialist skills and be more open to new technology and business developments in order to help their organisations grow in the 21st century, according to research by specialist City recruitment consultancy LFI.

Whilst few marketers doubt the importance of e-business, client relationship management (CRM), knowledge management (KM) and branding, many find implementing them very difficult. This is because all four go beyond the marketing department, depending on the effectiveness of organisation-wide structures, systems and cultures.

Using data collected from more than 2,000 organisations, as well as in-depth interviews, LFI’s marketing division looks at how professional services and business-to-business (B2B) financial services are responding to the challenges of the new century.

The report identifies two main barriers to implementation: a lack of skills and lack of top-level support and commitment. Whilst marketers will only be able to influence the latter if they can promote the benefits of change internally, they also need to be active in developing skills necessary to embrace new developments.

Most marketers will not be able to control all the changes required to implement e-business, CRM, KM and branding effectively, but they can make an impact. To do so, they need to acquire wider skills.These are: understanding what drives their own and their clients’ businesses and processes;technological understanding; project management skills; change management techniques; creative thinking; and influencing skills and diplomacy.

Traditional marketing skills are central but specialist skills are increasingly required. CRM and KM professionals require specific capabilities, such as data mining, research and analysis and project management and facilitation skills.

LFI’s research, however, shows that only 25 per cent of respondents are seeking staff with specific qualifications, while 96 per cent are seeking general marketing skills and/or industry experience.

Professional and financial services organisations undoubtedly appreciate the opportunities offered by e-business, CRM and KM – in fact, the professional services were among the original knowledge and client relationship managers because both are so critical to their business. Although almost 70 per cent of respondents’ organisations have an e-business strategy, more than 40 per cent still see their website as an “online brochure”.

Furthermore, LFI’s data reveals the majority of B2B marketers are focusing on elements largely within their control: improving their websites, taking advantage of electronic communications,making use of digital formats and running CRM programmes.

The difficulty for most organisations is the extent of change required, in terms of relationships, systems and processes and organisational cultures. LFI found, for example, that organisations which commit to a full-blown KM programme, expect it to take five to ten years to change the business culture.

At the leading-edge, marketers are ensuring that long-term aims are incorporated into development of e-business sites. Branding decisions that are taken include: whether the site is part of the existing business or has a specific e-business brand; that there are mechanisms to measure success/ collect visitor information; and that technical design ensures the site is kept up to date in technology as well as content.

Marketers need to guarantee their CRM and KM systems can deliver the information to make informed marketing decisions and that the systems are focused on meeting clients’ needs.

Differentiation has become a particularly tough challenge. Chart 4 shows that fewer than 30 per cent of respondents believe their organisation is “very well” differentiated through its branding. LFI claim that even marketers’ own views of their brand statements do not, in fact, differentiate their organisations. Though perceived to be a purely marketing issue, an organisation’s brand must be “lived” by every employee if it is to create the desired perceptions in the minds of the target audience.

Marketers must influence key decision-makers, especially where differentiation comes through a wide distribution of offices, highly effective IT systems or speed of service delivery.

Those demonstrating the ability to make a real difference to their organisation’s growth will command the highest salaries as they face the challenges of the 21st century.

Factfile is edited by Ã…sa Hedberg. Robyn Cox, marketing manager at LFI, contributed

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