7 lessons in embracing modern B2B marketing
- 11 May, 2021 07:00
Brand reinvigoration has sat top of the agenda for Epicor’s global chief marketing officer, Paul Stoddart, since taking up the reins just over 12 months ago. But rather than fall into the trap of traditional B2B marketing, Stoddart has set up a distinct playbook for how he’s approaching the task.
Founded in 1972, Epicor Software is a global leader of ERP solutions with a focus on mid-market and operates across Australian manufacturing, distribution and aged care industries. Over the past five years, the vendor has reconfigured its products and services to shift from on-premise to cloud-based offerings, and is transforming its market approach to drive growth of a widening suite of mission-critical business tech solutions, including data integration management.
Stoddart joined the company with vast experience in marketing strategy across the technology category and with a remit for change. As chief marketing officer, his responsibilities stretch from industry, field and international marketing to PR, communications, market operations, business development and customer experience management.
As Stoddart put it to CMO, the initial focus was on assessing market perceptions of the brand and validating if the organisation was positioned for growth. From there, the emphasis has been on ensuring the vendor gives itself the best opportunity to meet the needs of modern business customers.
One burning brand challenge was a legacy understanding of the Epicor offering. In addition, a mixed proposition in the marketplace, tired visual identity, tendency to use overly technical and a need to better articulate how Epicor’s capabilities service customer needs made it clear it was time to reinvigorate the brand.
Six months on, and Epicor’s new-look brand is well advanced, with a fresh visual identity, English language website, language translations underway, hundreds of assets rationalised based on customer data, and marketing campaigns in train. Stoddart is now working his way through all interaction and transaction experiences to ensure the end-to-end view of the brand is seamless, consistent and in line with customer needs.
Here, Stoddart shares his learnings around the way B2B marketing needs to be addressed and how he’s applying these to Epicor’s approach.
1. Recognise you are not your customer
As Stoddart explained, even though ERP is well defined and understood, the reality is its application is quite different in retail versus manufacturing or automotive. While Epicor was doing a good job of explaining what ERP is, the organisation wasn’t doing a good job of explaining for each industry in a language they could understand.
“That was the inflection point: Are we talking to ourselves, or are we talking to customer?” he asked.
“We recognised we are not our audience. Our customers are our customers, and we do great stuff for them, but talking about yourself is not a great proposition. That is the dynamic you have to understand when you’re shifting to how people expect to be interacted with.”
Then there’s the capability dynamic. Stoddart pointed out data integration and ubiquity as well as real-time data analytics, both growing parts of the Epicor offering, are critical to modern organisations and the vendor’s existing and target customer base.
“Just look at retail: Kerbside pick-up would have been a nice innovation 18 months ago, but then became critical to operating the business during the pandemic,” he said. “The majority of businesses we serve are essential businesses, such as retail and manufacturing. It was a never more important time than last year for us to be communicating what we do and how it serves our customers.”
2. Embrace B2I marketing
At a macro level, another must for Stoddart is bringing B2C thinking to B2B marketing strategy.
“Nine out of 10 books on B2B marketing will traditionally say it’s very transactional, there are mechanisms to have in place and if you batter people over the head long enough with enough messages, something will stick,” Stoddart said. “We also introduce a new buzzword every six months – right now, it’s ABM [account-based marketing]; before that it was content syndication. They’re all tactics looking for a strategy.
“B2C is the complete opposite end of the spectrum: If you don’t have a great experience and hear about a relationship and you’re not driving an outcome, you will have no business.”
For Stoddart, it’s critical B2B marketers ask themselves: Is everything I’m doing either adding or taking away from this end-to-end experience?
“You also need to ask yourself: Am I treating this person like an imbecile, or with the due respect they deserve? What should I be communicating and sharing with them at what moment in time? Do I value their feedback and actually incorporate that into what I do and enact change as a result?” he asked.
This doesn’t mean the transactional mechanisms go away. “The joy is bringing those together, or what I call ‘B2I’ – having the experience and the mechanisms,” Stoddart said. “The reality is you do have to scale. But it shouldn’t be scale at the cost of relationship.”
According to Stoddart, transactional thinking has been exacerbated by B2B marketers rating at an account in terms of how much it costs to acquire.
“What I care about is the lifetime value of that relationship, therefore how much should we spend to grow that relationship with that individual,” he said. “And it should be multiple individuals within an organisation in B2B.
“It is a paradigm shift – start by identifying who is my industry, my customer and what persona they reflect. Then get to channels, messages and tactics. But all of that should flow in under the strategy.”
3. Brand strategy follows business strategy
Also driving this approach is the conviction brand strategy has to follow your business strategy.
“If our CEO hadn’t said our mission is to be a cloud ERP vendor of choice, then ultimately the way we thought about our brand and the way we tell our narrative would be completely different to the way it is,” Stoddart said. “These things have to match.”
At Epicor, Stoddart noted gaps in the early part of the customer funnel and approach.
“Brands that have been really beloved and the ones that have exponential brand perceptions are focused on the post-sale – once you have that engagement,” he said. Yet in the case of Epicor, it was clear work was needed to ensure customers knew the brand and what it stood for.
“The reality is we have been too under the covers on the pre-sales side, and we’re not really out there as a top brand people recognise straight away. We have aided awareness, but you need that unaided awareness to drive through to engagement,” Stoddart said.
4. Get the narrative right
“As we went through the planning process, we knew a lot of this is making sure the market knows who we are and to make sure we are telling the right story,” Stoddart continued. “What you really want to do is focus on the narrative and crack that first. That requires research and understanding what we think about ourselves, what our customers think of us, and what the market thinks of us.
“From there, we needed to craft a narrative of who we really are and make sure we’ve done it truthfully. Then it’s about amplifying the bits that are really great.”
For example, Stoddart’s research showed customers found it really simple to work with Epicor. “That was interesting to me as if you’d looked at our website and seen our offerings, where everything was an acronym and none of them made sense, you would have thought we were the most complicated company in the world,” he said.
To combat this, the team overhauled its brand architecture. The Epicor SOS solution, for instance, has been rebranded to Epicor Aged Care.
“It’s telling you what it is on the tin, which means you can then dive into the meat of what it is,” Stoddart said.
“Then it’s about the look and feel. That comes down to your tone, your values and if that visual identity brings that to life. In our visual rebrand, we have strived to take a nod at our heritage while aiming for a more chic look.”
5. Know how you are measuring success
As he’s worked to demonstrate the ROI from the brand investment, Stoddart’s approach is to break things into short, middle and long-term measures. Short-term metrics include engagement and showing how the rebrand work has “helped pep up how people internally talk about the brand”. These measures also help to demonstrate how Epicor is increasingly living its brand values, such as simplification.
“What we were hearing internally was we were making it too hard to do the right things for our customers. We end up doing it but it’s almost in spite of ourselves. It was about fixing that and making it really easy to do the right things for our customers,” Stoddart said.
“So short-term measures include removing internal barriers, such as removing processes and using templated tools so things are pre-approved and teams can self-serve. The finance job has also done a great job of rethinking some of their processes to help improve what we do for the customer.”
Medium-term measures for Stoddart include business metrics, such as whether it’s seeing more people coming into the top of the funnel, or fewer questions as a result of more clarity through website content and communications, plus faster velocity through the funnel. Long-term is the perceived value of Epicor and the brand.
“As an organisation, we have spent decades homing in on focusing on the customer but not telling the story of the brand through customer terms, which means the perceived value of the brand is less than it should be,” Stoddart said. “For example, you don’t have to spend six months customising elements like you would with generic platforms, is where the light bulbs go off.
“For the first time internally, we all feel a passion and perceived value for the brand that maybe we haven’t felt for a while. The key now is translating that externally and bringing the market with us.”
6. Identify your allies
Through all of this, Stoddart stressed the importance of CMOs having key allies within the organisation.
“You have to have HR, finance and IT right by your side,” he said. “We have a kickass HR team that believes brand is externally focused but internally felt.
“I’ve done rebrands or introduced brands in organisations, and it’s been like pulling teeth to get assets updated and in the right place. Here things have been seamless, which is brilliant. It’s a great reinforcement that you have to work with people, you can’t just do it.”
7. Overcommunicate but don’t wait
As a final lesson, Stoddart said brand progression and transformation requires overcommunication. But that doesn’t mean waiting to enact change.
“It is a fine balance and recognising there should be a level of healthy uncomfortableness on pace. You do have to be resolute and not drag it out,” he said.