A would-be fatal conceit

Since the publication of “Is b2b marketing really obsolete?” (Jan. 17, page 1), exploring the response to my declaration last year in Berlin that “b2b marketing is dead,” I’ve been called many names by industry friends and peers: guru, game-changer, gadfly and goat. The most neutral refrain being, “You’ve really stirred things up.”

As I was properly quoted in January, the pronouncement of the death of b2b is a comment, “I do not make [it] with the purpose of being an agent provocateur. I really, very sincerely believe that a paradigm has shifted … .” B2b has ceased to be.

Many a b2b agency are still in denial about this fact; but truly, it’s over. I’ve been as close to b2b as anyone for 30 years, arguably one of the category’s most ardent and conspicuous champions. Of all the times I’ve been quoted, the conference addresses I have made and articles I have authored, none has ever evidenced more resonation than the declaration of the demise of my life’s work.

Death was inevitable when people began carrying their telecommunications and computing power with them. From that point, “The Firm” lost its place as the organizing principle of business marketing.

If we really want to influence business decisions, from now on we have to reach and persuade the real seat of power: the individual. The customer is not a corporate entity; it’s an independently minded, highly connected, always-emotional human being. This individual is not only ascendant but empowered and amplified. Technology isn’t the only new thing that’s on them; so is unprecedented personal autonomy. Ninety percent of business decision-making is emotional, and yet most b2b marketers remain mostly focused on organizational psychology.

The new arena for business communications is now far bigger than the workplace. This is because work is no longer a place but a state of mind. The connectedness of modern life sees no boundaries between work and home. It’s all part of the work-life continuum. People can be as leaned-forward and as actively engaged in their decision-making as they need to be—wherever they happen to be. The very act of considered purchase has changed profoundly and permanently.

See me only as pot-stirrer if you will, and stay your present course, “not doing anything fundamentally different than what we and our predecessors have been doing for decades,” as one interlocutor in the BtoB cover story opined—but do so at your peril.

I suggest that the clear and present evidence of lackluster ROI, brand irrelevance, new barriers to consideration, insufficient advocacy in the decision-making process and increased customer flight, alone or in aggregate, make my conceit worthy of serious reflection.

By Rick Segal, President Worldwide and Chief Practice Officer at b2b agency, gyro