Why I am returning to B2B marketing

It is often said that the magic happens when you step outside of your comfort zone. And indeed, sometimes it does. But the truth is: sometimes it doesn’t.

I was outside of my professional comfort zone for most of the last fifteen months. Quite frankly, it didn’t work out as I had hoped it would.

That’s why I am very happy to be taking on a different role within Philips – a role that has a more natural fit with my editorial skills and background.

On July 1, I’m joining the Philips Communications Center of Excellence (based in Amsterdam and Eindhoven) as a senior content editor for business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) relationship marketing.

In this new global role, I’m going to work on driving thought leadership for Philips in the health domain. If we drop the jargon for a minute, that means I’ll be supporting our sales and business teams around the world in strengthening relationships with healthcare and government organizations. I will do this by helping them create relevant and compelling stories.

Why this internal transfer? Here’s my honest story.

Let’s start at the beginning

Having worked in B2B marketing for most of my professional life, I knew I was venturing into unfamiliar territory when I joined Philips in a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing position early 2016.

I was a little hesitant at first when I was approached for this position, because I knew there would be a huge difference between marketing B2B services (which I knew all about) and marketing consumer products (which was a new world to me). After careful consideration I decided to take the opportunity to broaden my experience, eager as I was to explore how I could put my strengths to use in a different context.

Indeed, it has been a valuable experience. Over the past fifteen months, I have met a lot of exceptionally smart people, and I have learned a lot of new aspects of the marketing profession. I also had the luck of having a manager who put a lot of effort into making the transition as easy as possible for me.

The truth is, however, that I was never able to shake the feeling of being a B2B marketer in a B2C marketer’s world. A stranger in an unfamiliar land. A chameleon taking on a color that didn’t quite feel like his own.

I felt welcome in my new environment. But I didn’t feel at home.

Of course, I did my job to the best of my abilities. For the first time in my career, however, one essential ingredient to lasting success was missing: I lacked an intrinsically motivated direction and a clear vision on what I was trying to achieve.

I was never able to shake the feeling of being a B2B marketer in a B2C marketer’s world. A stranger in an unfamiliar land.

Much has been made about the importance of having a ‘why’ in the way you communicate as a company. You can debate its usefulness as a marketing concept, but there is no doubt that as a professional, you need an outspoken ‘why’ in what you do. A purpose that you feel burning inside. The professional oxygen that fuels everything you do. The signature you leave behind.

As anybody who knows me will attest to, I have always gone the extra mile for my work. Quality is everything to me. But this time, despite receiving tremendous support from my manager and my colleagues, I often didn’t know where to put my signature.

Too often, I would sit in meetings without having a clear sense of how I could add value. If you’ve been in a similar position yourself, you know it’s a feeling that’s hard to shake. You don’t just leave it at the office. You carry it with you. I would take the train home and cry inside.

This was not me.

There are two options in a situation like that: you can waste your life, turning into a zombie who drags himself from meeting to meeting, fooling yourself that things will get better (they won’t). Or you can face the uncomfortable truth and take action.

You can waste your life turning into a zombie who drags himself from meeting to meeting. Or you can face the uncomfortable truth and take action.

I chose the latter option. I looked inside. I rearticulated my ‘why’, which is to help people share stories that are relevant to others. And after careful assessment, I concluded that I could have far more impact in a B2B-oriented position. I am glad to be given the opportunity to pursue that path within Philips. It’s great to work for a company that encourages you to put your strengths to use, instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole.

B2B and B2C marketing: two worlds apart

How could I have felt so out of place, you may wonder. Are B2B marketing and B2C marketing that different?

Yes and no.

B2B and B2C marketing are similar, in that both require you to study customer needs, identify target markets, and develop marketing strategies that are anchored in solid research.

So yes, I believe there is overlap in the basic, underlying skills. Actually, I know quite a few marketers who have thrived in both worlds. So please don’t let me hold you back from switching to “the other side” if you are considering a career move. Try it, and find out how it works for you.

At the same time, don’t listen to anyone who proclaims that B2B marketing and B2C marketing are converging to the point where they are essentially the same. This is nonsense.

A good B2B marketer doesn’t necessarily make a good B2C marketer, or vice versa. These two worlds play to different strengths and mindsets.

The differences between B2B marketing and B2C marketing are profound, and this is not about to change. (Mind you, “B2B” and “B2C” are massive generalizations, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to the dichotomy here.)

B2B purchase decisions usually take months or even years, and require multiple people to weigh in on decisions. This requires B2B marketers to focus on building the right relationships over time, together with their sales and business colleagues. (Potential) customers usually have a high need for information, which makes “content marketing” (the field I work in) a natural extension of consultative selling. Your knowledge and your relational skills matter, and they matter a lot.

The tactics and day-to-day dynamics in B2C marketing can be quite different. Product launch campaigns, programmatic advertising, and price promotions often play a far more important role in B2C marketing. I believe there can be a role for content marketing to play, but it’s definitely different from the B2B type – and to be honest, I find the term “content marketing” to be increasingly fuzzy. (More on that some other time.)

These two worlds play to different strengths and mindsets. A good B2B marketer doesn’t necessarily make a good B2C marketer, or vice versa.

The product matters, too. As the great David Ogilvy once wrote, you need a deep interest in the products you sell. Your passion needs to shine through in everything you create. I’ve had the opportunity to explore multiple areas within Philips, and healthcare is where my strongest interest lies. My new role will be fully focused on it.

A place called home

As rational and well thought out as this may sound, deciding on this internal move was not easy. In fact, it was the most difficult decision in my career. A profound sense of loyalty made it hard for me to inform my manager about my decision to seek a different position within Philips. But you need to stay loyal to yourself too. Ultimately, you need to say ‘no’ to anything that is not fully aligned with who you are and what you stand for. You owe it to your employer. And you owe it to yourself.

Ultimately, you need to say ‘no’ to anything that is not fully aligned with who you are and what you stand for.

It was Peter Drucker who said that strategy is as much about defining who you are not, as it is about defining who you are.

I have a far better understanding now of who I am not. My professional strategy has become all the stronger for it.

Maybe, developing yourself is more about finding your comfort zone, and embracing it in every possible way, rather than pushing yourself to become someone you’re not.

Sure, you don’t want to get stuck in a rut, and it’s good to try new things throughout your career.

But at the end of the day, we all need a place where we can feel comfortable being ourselves. We need to be in a position that plays to our strengths, and that is fully aligned with our beliefs and interests. A place we can call our professional “home”.

Maybe, developing yourself is more about finding your comfort zone, and embracing it in every possible way, rather than pushing yourself to become someone you’re not.

I have no regret for the choices I have made, and I feel that returning to B2B marketing is the best choice I can make right now.

B2B marketing is my comfort zone. It’s where I can make the biggest impact. It’s where I can be me.

I’m going home.
 
 
Header photo: © Tristan Lavender Photography – “Business reflections”, Singapore Marina Bay