Intel’s CMO on why a B2B marketing career is now ‘really exciting’

The role of marketing in B2B is becoming “much bigger”, says Intel’s Karen Walker, making it a great opportunity for marketers looking for a challenge.

According to Intel CMO Karen Walker, B2B buyer behaviour has changed “drastically” over the past five years. The differences between a consumer’s and business buyer’s path to purchase used to be considerable – but with everything now moving online, that gap is beginning to shrink.

A recent study by Gartner found only 17% of a business buyer’s time is now spent meeting with suppliers. While over a quarter of their time (27%) is allocated to independent online research.

For Walker, this means B2B is becoming a “really exciting” place for marketers, as the role marketing can play in a firm’s go-to-market strategy becomes “much bigger”.

“Marketing has changed more in the last five years than it has in the last 25 years in the B2B space,” she tells Marketing Week.

“What we’re finding is that people are taking their Sunday night shopping experience and bringing it into their Monday work day, and doing the exact same things.”

Marketing therefore has a much broader role to play in using all elements of the marketing mix to reach business buyers online and guide them through their purchasing journey until they need to speak to a human, while also creating a great buying experience, Walker says.

In fact, she no longer thinks about “sales” and “marketing” in the path to purchase, but about “digital” and “humans”.

“In the consumer world, if they have to talk to a human that means something’s gone wrong. But in the business world, it means: ‘I’ve done all the research, I’ve done all the analysis, I’ve got A, B and C I need to choose from… I’m well informed and educated, but I need to sit down and have a really deep conversation with a human who’s an expert’,” she explains.

The fun in B2B

A chemistry graduate, Walker chose not to go into pharmaceuticals post-university, instead joining tech business HP when it still had only around 150 UK employees. In the more than 30 years since then she has held both B2B and B2C marketing roles, both at HP and in her 10 years at Cisco Systems.

At Intel, Walker gets to walk both lines. Although the semiconductor and computer tech business sells primarily to computer system manufacturers, and not to end-users, reaching and engaging consumers with its brand is still a big part of its strategy. How Intel is ‘reigniting’ its brand as it preps for ‘massive growth’

B2B marketing often gets side-lined next to its B2C counterpart, viewed as less glamorous, less relevant and less interesting. But Walker’s passion for B2B is evident, as she cites its variety, complexity and accountability as part of what she thinks makes B2B marketing “really fun”.

“There’s much more variety and you actually think about the whole marketing mix, [from] events to demand generation,” she explains.

Many B2B companies, particularly in tech, go to market as an “ecosystem” of partners rather than as a sole brand, she adds, which adds a uniqueness and complexity to marketing’s role.

“You’re actually playing a much bigger role. You’re igniting a whole ecosystem around you,” Walker says. “So [in B2B] you get to do the big brand play, the big product play, you get to do everything from partner and sales enablement to co-marketing with partners.”

Embrace the technology and the data. It’s really becoming a data driven function, which is a little different from the past.

Karen Walker, Intel

Most B2B marketers are also held “accountable” for the demand pipelines they create and how they convert to revenue with their own pipeline goals, Walker claims.

“There’s a much harder connection between the top of funnel brand and demand generation, in my experience,” she explains.

“I just think it’s more interesting. It’s a little more complex, but I think that makes it more of a challenge, and you are exercising more of your marketing muscles, frankly.”

Advice for junior marketers

In March, Intel announced plans to invest up to €80bn (£67.8bn) over the next 10 years to build up Europe’s supply chain for semiconductor chips. As part of this growth journey, the business expects to create more than 5,000 internal jobs.

As it heads towards this recruitment drive, the business is “reigniting” its brand to attract a younger demographic of employee. That includes younger marketers, something Walker says she is “really excited” about.

Asked what advice she would give marketers looking to kickstart a career in B2B, Walker says for the most part, the “fundamentals” remain the same as B2C: “Know thy customer more than anything else”.

The leaps made forward in data and tech over recent years have made it even more imperative that marketers act as the voice of the customer, she explains. Whereas in the “old days” a B2B company’s strategy might have been informed by a salesperson’s conversation with a major client, in which the client said ‘X’, now marketers can say: “We listened to 10 million visitors to our website in the last three months and they actually said ‘Y'”.Why B2B is the new marketing career destination of choice

“You are the customers’ advocate, because you get to listen to them and hear what they’re thinking and what they’re talking about and what they’re talking to each other about. That’s really powerful,” Walker says.

“Embrace the technology and the data. It’s really becoming a data driven function, which is a little different from the past.”

Plus, with the purchasing journey now digitalised, many traditional B2C techniques are now prevalent in B2B, Walker adds. Personas, for example, offer B2B marketers the “fun” of thinking from a human standpoint, while bringing it into a business context.

Ultimately, Walker advises marketers to “just jump in” to B2B. “It’s really challenging, it’s a little bit more complex… but it’s really fun. That’s what I want to get across,” she concludes.