Forrester Analyst Says Relationships Are the 'Key Thing' in B-to-B

Laura Ramos' Top B-to-B Trends: Digital, Data and Customer Experience

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Laura Ramos is VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. In this role, she conducts research on b-to-b marketing topics and consults Forrester's CMO clients on planning and developing b-to-b marketing programs across traditional and online media.

Laura Ramos
Laura Ramos

Ms. Ramos worked as an analyst at Forrester from 2001 to 2010, then left for a two-year stint at Xerox Corp., where she served as VP-industry marketing.

Ad Age caught up with Ms. Ramos at BMA15, the annual conference of the Business Marketing Association in Chicago last week, to get her views on the top takeaways from the conference and the leading trends in b-to-b marketing.

Advertising Age: What are some of your top takeaways from the BMA show?

Ms. Ramos: The theme is 'Be more,' but it's more like 'Be more to your customers.' There is a lot of talk about data and analytics from the standpoint of knowing your customer, like with GE Transportation. They are transforming their business so it meets customer needs. They are selling transportation services and data, not just trains.

There is a lot here about how customers buy and the emotional side of that process. There is also a lot of conversation about content and being more engaging about what customers and buyers care about -- not what you think you have to say about your brand. Also, not being so reliant on technology as a way of creating relationships -- relationships are still the key thing.

Ad Age: Which trends are you noticing in b-to-b marketing in general?

Ms. Ramos: First is digital. Digital really means two things -- what does my online customer experience look like, and what does my marketing mix look like between digital and traditional? In b-to-b, the top thing companies still spend money on is physical, in-person events, and the next three -- with very little difference in percentages -- are website, content marketing and digital marketing.

The second trend is big data -- the whole area of how do I use my data to create insight so that I can make better decisions about how not only to run marketing but how to treat our customers, because we know them better.

Third is customer experience. From a b-to-b perspective, I think the focus is starting to -- and needs to -- shift further to what happens to customers after the deal closes. Marketing is becoming more responsible for and more of a steward for the customer's entire lifetime.

Next is brand -- not just traditional brand, but brand as viewed by the customer, where customer expectations and brand promise come together. There is this movement of understanding that customers are in control, so I need to figure out new ways of engaging with them that are consistent with who I am as a brand.

And finally, organization. Is marketing organized the right way for the future? Do I have the right skills in place? How much work should be done by our agency partners and how much should be done in-house? These are not easy things to answer. You need to be thinking strategically about your marketing organization as if it were a marketing operating system.

Ad Age: What are some of the top challenges facing CMOs today?

Ms. Ramos: There are challenges with technology. There is so much out there, and they are wondering, 'What kind of strategy should I have? Should I just wait and see who emerges as the top platform, or two or three platform choices? How long will I have to live in a world where I'm constantly piecing things together? Who is going to be the first to make it simpler for me? Who will be the winner?'

Ad Age: Who will be the winner?

Ms. Ramos: The usual suspects in sales and marketing automation -- Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce. The companies that are really investing in this area.

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