6 essential values B2B leaders will need in a digital future

By:Heather Hurst

In today’s environment of constant digital transformation, B2B marketing work is growing increasingly complex. This is partly because of the exploding number of data, analytics, and automation tools now available, promising unprecedented insights into every aspect of the customer journey, but not necessarily helping us decide what to do with the insights we gain.

It’s partly because the people we’re trying to reach are drowning in data, too (lest we forget, we are not marketing to businesses but to individuals within those businesses). This data is coming at them from every conceivable digital device and app, and we’re stuck competing for ever-diminishing scraps of human attention.

It’s also partly because automation and remote working trends are changing not only the work we do but also when and where we do that work.

What’s a marketing leader to do? How can we help our teams succeed in the present and prepare for an uncertain – albeit exciting – future of nonstop digital disruption?

I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a series of interviews with business and marketing influencers about the leadership attributes that will be needed in this shifting world of work. Here are the six core values (or V-A-L-U-E-S) that grew out of those enlightening conversations.

V is for vulnerability

“I think leaders are going to have to get more comfortable being vulnerable because they’re going to know less and less about what’s going on,” says Patrick Lencioni, prolific author and in-demand speaker on leadership and organisational health. “They can’t be an expert on everything, and if a leader feels they have to be the smartest one in the room, or if they have to avoid making mistakes, they’re never going to gain credibility in the eyes of their people.”

It’s true. Leaders can no longer be an expert on every aspect of digital marketing. It’s too complex and it’s changing too fast. Google Analytics is only 13 years old, and Marketo is just one year younger. Brand pages on Facebook debuted in 2007, the same year the first iPhone was released. Infographics in their modern form didn’t really become ubiquitous until 2012. And mobile web browsing only overtook desktop browsing years ago.

“I think to be a leader going forward,” Patrick continues, “you’re going to have to get very comfortable acknowledging when you don’t know something because that’s the only way people are going to trust you in the world where knowledge is everywhere and you can’t possibly be on top of all of it.”

A is for authenticity

“The leader of the future is going to require attributes that match the workforce they’re leading,” says Alex Shootman, CEO of enterprise work management software firm Workfront. “The workforce is going to be a workforce of digital natives, and we know these people appreciate transparency and authenticity. We know that to be effective, you have to be able to appreciate individuals as individuals and you have to be able to create purpose within work.”

Media headlines have long touted ‘purpose over paychecks’ as being a key desire of the millennial generation, but is it really true? A survey by LinkedIn revealed that 74% of all candidates want a job where they feel like their work matters. And, interestingly, it also revealed that this desire actually deepens the further along you are in your career, with 48% of baby boomers prioritising purpose over pay and titles, compared with 38% of gen Xers, and 30% of millennials.

Marketing leaders must know how to connect everybody’s work to a greater purpose, regardless of age or generation. And this is something you can’t fake. Communicating an authentic sense of purpose that aligns with core company values will work wonders; trying to manufacture a purpose in order to motivate employees will fall flat.

L is for laziness

Author and academic Angela Duckworth, who is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, speaks about the importance of grit in today’s leaders. She also literally wrote the book on grit.

She explains: “On the grit scale, there is an item, ‘I am a hard worker,’ and the higher you score on that item, the grittier you are. In fact, gritty leaders are incredibly hard working. But they’re also lazy because they don’t want to work on everything. In fact, they typically only want to work on one thing; the one thing they love. And everything else becomes a second priority.”

If you are or desire to be a B2B marketing leader, what’s your speciality? Are you excellent at demand gen? At content marketing? At blending classic with modern marketing tactics? Specialise in one area, and rely on your team for the rest.

“In the future, leaders are increasingly going to need to brutally prioritise their one thing above all other things, about which they should be really, infinitely industrious,” Angela says. “But at the same time, they need to be lazy about everything else.”

U is for understanding

“Every marketing team needs to get better at really understanding what their customers need,” said author, business strategist, and Convince & Convert founder Jay Baer. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. And I can tell you that back in the day, before we had all the software and before we had all the technology, we actually knew our customers better. You know why? Because we actually talked to customers. We got out of our office and spent time with customers to really get a handle on what they wanted and what they needed.”

Getting to know real-life customers is essential in B2B especially. It helps us see the people behind the brands we’re trying to reach, and to understand their very human needs. In my role as a director of corporate marketing in the SaaS industry, where I do a lot of content marketing and other top-of-the-funnel work, I regularly attend software user groups around the country. It is hands down the best way to grasp our customers’ motivations, their pain points, and the messages they need and want to hear from us.

E is for empathy

I just spoke about gaining a first-hand understanding of customer motivations and pain points to help me in my role as a B2B marketer. What’s another way of saying that? Empathy.

Empathy is more essential than ever in this digitally disconnected world, according to branding consultant and TEDX speaker Terri Trespicio.

“I have to empathise with my customer, internal or external,” she says. “I need to understand their needs and realise what they have is something I can solve for them.” Not only does this help us connect with the people we’re trying to reach, it also adds an important layer to that sense of authentic purpose we need to find in our work – both for ourselves and for our teams.

“If I don’t think that what I do matters, that’s step one toward disengagement,” Terri continues. “That is the challenge, to make sure every person feels what they do counts. That’s on the leaders to make that apparent. It’s one of their most important jobs.”

S is for synergy

I know, I know. This is one of the most overused business buzz words of all time, but you find me another word that precisely fits the following definition (and also begins with “S”), and I promise I’ll use it instead:

“the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions.”

Until then, synergy it is.

“The great managers of knowledge workers are those who treat every single knowledge worker as a distinct individual and manages them differently, not all the same,” Jay Baer explains. “The second your team manager starts to think of the team as a collective and stops treating and managing each person as an individual with distinct needs and collaborative skills, that’s when you sort of lose the thread.”

Paradoxically, this type of individual attention is what will get your team to see their own and others’ unique strengths and use them together toward a greater good – as long as the other values we’ve discussed thus far are also present.

“Probably one of the most important things that leaders need to do as we go into a more automated world is they need to prepare their employees for behaving like a team,” Patrick says. “They need to learn how to trust one another and engage in good conflict and make decisions and hold each other accountable. Because as technology becomes more automated, more useful, more fluid, it’s really going to be those interpersonal skills that differentiate.”

What’s that spell?

In times of uncertainty and change, especially change as rapid and far-reaching as digital marketers have been experiencing in the last couple of decades, a return to basic and universal V-A-L-U-E-S is precisely what is needed.

B2B marketers who want to lead the rest of us into a volatile future must be willing to cultivate vulnerability and openness; an authentic sense of purpose; the right kind of laziness; understanding and empathy for team members as well as customers; and the ability to synergize a team of unique, purposeful individuals into a cohesive whole.

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