Three Areas for B2B Communicators to Focus in 2013

Another year and another post to avoid making predictions for next year. Frankly, there are too many…some good, some not. Last year, I used this space to talk about what actions were on my calendar for 2012, and I’m confident to say we accomplished many of my objectives. This year, I want to take this space to talk about the things we should focus on for 2013.

And there are some interesting trends to watch this year. The idea that your B2B brand

Do you find time to focus?

Do you find time to focus?

needs to think like a media company is one that is changing our landscape as communicators. Even CIO magazine has provided thoughts on how social media is affecting the IT enterprise. And reading Armano’s thoughts on what to watch in the year ahead is always a must read.

And to look forward sometimes you have to look to the past. I’ve learned a lot from the past five years of managing social media, which has made me think about what I need to do next year. Doing this is no easy task as there have been a lot of moving pieces in the world of communications in 2012. We’ve seen the rise in how powerful photography and images and

  • We live in interesting economic times. As the economy continues to struggle, communicators are being asked to do more with less. Our landscapes are much more competitive as our customers are prioritizing where they invest. We’re seeing more opportunities to communicate as social media allows us to deliver our message across many many platforms. So, as we struggle with priorities and marketing investments, we are provided with an enormous amount of options. You have to get better at making choices. This means you really need to roll up your sleeves, collaborate across your company (e.g., HR, IT, legal, marketing, sales) and understand the key drivers of your business, the competition, opportunities and outside threats (a.k.a, SWOT analysis). Maybe now is a time to really dig through your company’s intranet and read what is happening (I make time every week to do this).
  • Learn good data management. I don’t mean organizing all of your data into columns of traffic trends, but I mean really learn to understand it. Are you tired of hearing about big data? Yeah, me too. But the reality is that we live in an era of expanding data and most of it is ambiguous. We need to fine tune our analytical skills to better understand what works, what doesn’t and who to reach. Google Analytics can help us better calculate ROI. I feel that we still need to get better at social listening and gaining better insights from our audiences. That means turning data into actionable items. I’ve found that focusing on a few things helps to provide better thoughts and knowledge.
  • Ask the right questions. Good business people, not just communicators, know that asking good questions can reveal a lot and open doors. I wrote before about the importance of asking questions, and I can’t emphasize it enough. You may accomplish a lot if you don’t, but if you don’t focus and come prepared to ask tough questions, push the boundaries and think differently you are just implementing everyone’s ideas. I like to think our role as communicators is part cultural detective where we piece together the stories, participants and stakeholders to find the solutions.

We have a lot to do and a lot of choices. Prioritizing what we do and how we do it will be critical to our success as communicators not just in 2013, but in the years to follow. What are you focused on in the coming year? Let us know in the comments.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

The Three I’s of Social Business Media

Five Lessons Learned from Five Years of Social Media

Is motivation the key to success?

The Trust Economy

Getting Your Degree in “Business Acumen”

How Well Do You Know Your Social Network? Probably Poorly

Biz Tech Is Back

It never really went anywhere, but information technology did seem to fall from the public interest for a few years. As a communicator, getting people interested in enterprise technology was tough and the community of industry journalists focusing on it withered. It got some playful attention now and then, like when Larry Ellison made proclamations about how ridiculous cloud computing is while announcing another consolidation acquisition.

Now Oracle is acquiring SaaS companies, business intelligence is for anyone on any device, data centers are booming, everything’s becoming connected, and we’re having fun again!

What happened? It’s more than one thing, but the consumerization of IT is the fascinating trend for me because it has huge implications for B2B technology marketers.

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Consumerization of IT refers to the general grassroots take-over of a lot of aspects of business technology by the masses of employees. Evidence: Gartner notes the role of business technology is rising, while formal IT budgets stay flat or fall. People are bringing their own devices to work (BYOD), finding their own business applications in the cloud for business intelligence or scheduling or business process management, and downloading mobile apps that give them virtual access to their desktops. They are developing new models for customer service and employee training using social media platforms like YouTube and creating shadow employee collaboration environments with enterprise social platforms like Yammer.

It’s either absolute chaos in the makings or it’s some sort of wisdom of the crowds at work. We don’t know that yet.

Two issues then for the tech marketers: Our target audiences are different, and the roles of IT leaders are changing.

First, we must recognize that increasingly we need to reach thousands of people at each company, not just a “buying team.” The masses of employees – especially mobile knowledge workers – are, at a minimum, powerful influencers. They may be the customers themselves, depending on the IT offering. Suddenly, B2B starts to look a lot more like B2C, doesn’t it? The brand matters, video matters, try before you buy matters. Impressive spec sheets and TLAs? Not so much.

Second, there’s more of an interest in the CIO not just as guiding big infrastructure decisions but as a “Chief Innovation Officer “ or “Chief Intelligence Officer.”  Read Constellation Research CEO Ray Wang’s fascinating post on the Harvard Business Review blog from a year ago. There will always be highly technical IT decision-makers but more may be coming from line-of-business. They will use skills not to control but to create and enable – to make it easier for innovations to come from anywhere and for information to be used in new and unexpected ways.

I look forward to talking about this more in the year ahead!

Channeling Your Inner CIO

Ever since I was introduced to CIO magazine several years ago I was immediately drawn to the similarities faced by both CIOs and chief communicators. Perhaps it’s just me, but I read CIO magazine not necessarily for the IT information (which I also enjoy), but with every article I substitute CIO with CCO or CMO. Go ahead and try it. Here’s one that recently caught my eye:  From the CEO: 5 Questions CIOs Need to Answer.

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I’ve taken those five items and listed them here, but with viewpoint of someone in communications:

1. Do we understand what we broke, and what is our plan to fix it?

If you have the perfect communications team than you can skip this point. If not, keep reading. Most discussions with CEOs revolve around helping the business and with communications that’s no different. CEOs always challenge us to improve, to be better than the competition and to find solutions to win customers. This also can apply to your company’s reputation. How do your customers view you positively and where can you improve? These are issues CEOs look to us to fix.

2. How do we get full potential from discretionary spending?

How often do you review your budget and make changes? Are you maximizing that discretionary spending? And where can you improve your budget in order to help the organization achieve its business goals. In today’s economy in particular, CEOs want to ensure every department across the enterprise is getting the best return on investment. Are you?

3. How will we drive unnecessary complexity out of IT?

This point obviously speaks to complexities of software and hardware, but this still applies to communicators. Where is complexity in your department? Are  you sharing metrics? Are you maximizing events? Is social media a cross-department effort? We all have complexities that we can tear out of our marketing and communication systems, but finding them and fixing them takes time and effort.

4. How will we take better advantage of “good enough” solutions?

Yes, your news release is good enough — you saw the stories. Your web site too since people are visiting. And I’m sure your advertising is good enough as well. But you’re competitive, right? What will you do to take the risks to really make your brand stand out? We all have a lot of “standard” communication tools available to us, and no where is this more evident than with social media. We all have these “free” tools but where are you excelling?

5. How do we make outsourcing more strategic?

That new agency you hired — are you tapping into their best resources? Do you go with size and depth of the big agency or lean and nimble from the small agency? These are key decisions we all need to make as the playing field becomes more competitive for us. If your agency isn’t constantly challenging you to do the right/best thing, actively reviewing your activities and asking you tough questions than maybe it’s time you need a more strategic partner.

I am a huge supporter of working as close as possible with your IT team (my earlier post on working with InfoSec) and I encourage you to work more closely with them as well. I think you will be surprised at the number of similarities.  There’s an entire list of email newsletters available at CIO and I would encourage you to sign up and read CIO Leader and CIO Insider, but read them from a communicators perspective. I think you’ll find yourself thinking differently and developing some new ideas for implementing your strategy.

Let us know your thoughts. And if you happen to pass your CIO in the hall offer to take him/her to lunch. They can probably learn a lot from you as well.