Wait a minute . . . this all looks very familiar . . . I think I've been here before . . .

After almost three years at Xerox, I returned to Forrester Research in January to resume my quest to remake business-to-business (B2B) marketers and advance their standing in the corporate world. It's great to be back, and while much has changed, still more remains the same.

What's changed are my experiences and views on enterprise marketing. Marketing in a big company can be messy and complicated, often with as many steps forward as backward. But opportunities and resources are abundant, and you get to go places you'll never go in a smaller firm — like into the world of television advertising, corporate sponsorships, and a vast matrixed sales organization specialized by region, industry, and offering. 

I learned important lessons at Xerox, with two that stand out:

  1. Change is a constant, and necessary, part of corporate life.
  2. Brand matters, especially in the ways customers experience it.

Later this month, Forrester will release Digital Disruption, a new book that shows how technology gives buyers remarkable purchasing leverage over sellers and how it enables new innovation to demolish traditional sources of competitive advantage faster and at less cost.  

To survive in this age of the customer (subscription required), businesses must get much closer to buyers since customer knowledge and engagement will be the path to sustained differentiation. On the services side of Xerox, where half of its revenues now originate, I've seen evidence of this prediction. 

Services, not products, are where business buying will evolve. Look no further than the cloud and all the as-a-service offerings for proof. Convincing an organization that you are qualified to run a part of its business takes marketing and sales skills that go beyond printing a brochure or talking about features and functions.

Instead, you must be adept at building relationships, solving real business problems, and making sure the customer's experience in everything you do is consistent with the promises you and your brand make. Many B2B firms will struggle with this transition. Others will try to ignore it, stick with what they know, repeat a lot of meaningless hyperbole, and leave their customers feeling that they've been here — and seen this — before. 

Child development author, Maria Robinson, once said, "Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Rather than going back to where I left off during my last tour at Forrester, I'm looking forward to starting today on my journey to a new ending — as a meaningful contributor to better, more business-relevant marketing.  

I hope you will join me and share your ideas and perspectives on what B2B CMOs need to do to make marketing a more strategic and essential part of the business.