Annual BMA conference kicks off with ‘Unlearn’ theme

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Chicago—The annual Business Marketing Association conference, with the theme of “Unlearn,” kicked off Wednesday with a focus on rethinking how to conduct b-to-b marketing in a challenging business environment.

The sold-out conference attracted more than 400 b-to-b marketers from 238 companies around the country.

“Business marketing is rapidly changing, and business marketers need to learn about the full spectrum of change that is taking place in our field,” said Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer at Slack Barshinger, Chicago, and chairman of the BMA.

In a year when many marketing and media industry conferences have been canceled or have suffered from diminished attendance, this year’s BMA conference attendance is the highest it’s been in 15 to 20 years, Slack said. Attendees theorized that the severe disruption taking place in b-to-b marketing has left marketing executives thirsty for information and ideas.

Capping the first-day events, Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, CMO of Eastman Kodak Co. and 2008 chairman of the BMA, received the 2009 G. D. Crain Award. The annual honor, which recognizes a BMA member for career achievement in b-to-b marketing communications and exceptional service to the association, was announced by Crain Communications Inc. President Rance Crain. The award is named for the founder of Crain Communications, which publishes BtoB.

Also announced were Sliver Sledgehammer awards for agency of the year and corporate marketer of the year. Gyro/HSR was named for agency; Accenture for corporate marketer.

In the opening keynote presentation, Ralph Oliva, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, addressed seven areas of marketing that need “unlearning”—customers, analytics, STP (segmentation, targeting and positioning), voice of the customer, shareholder value, b-to-b roles, and responsibilities and Web 2.0.

“Now more than ever, working with the right customers is critically important,” Oliva said. Companies need to be diligent in identifying their best customers because, he said, quoting Das Narayandas of Harvard University, “In b-to-b, the customers you select are the company you become.”

Improving the analytics process is one way to do this, Oliva said. “We’ve got to be more analytic in our approach, and we have to learn—and relearn—how to use analytics to determine who are the great customers we want to stick with,” he said.

One of the biggest problems in b-to-b marketing, he said, has been focusing on the wrong metrics, including shareholder value.

“We have been too worried about shareholders and not focused enough on customers,” Oliva said. “When did the shareholder become No. 1? We need to unlearn going along with this ride and begin constantly teaching people how business markets work. In the wonderful place between the supplier and customers, when we do our job well, we work together to create new value. This is what will drive the growth of our domestic product.”

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