If companies are to thrive in this digital age — where buyers, empowered by technology, are in control — what should B2B marketing leadership do to evolve and survive the current pace of change?

Evolution is one of those great marketing clichés. The progression of man from ape to Homo sapien in five simple steps is one of those popular images most of us are guilty of using at one point to illustrate progressive change. But cliché also implies recognizable. Ask anyone to describe Charles Darwin's theory in one short sentence, and you will hear, "Well, it's about the survival of the fittest."

It's interesting to note, on the 154th anniversary month of the first publication of On the Origin of Species, that this description doesn't quite go far enough. What Darwin said was, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." (Image source: Wikipedia shows the only image in the original publication of On the Origin of Species — Darwin's handwritten diagram showing how characteristics diverge over time.)

Listen up, B2B marketing leadership, this means you.

Recently I had the opportunity to explore how B2B marketing leadership has experienced change during the past few years. While the pace of change feels extreme, most marketing leaders are energized by what they see as new opportunity for marketing to take a more strategic leading role. To keep up, I recommend marketing leadership adopt four key leadership habits:

  1. Become more ADAPT-ive. Fast-paced market moves require marketing teams to respond quickly when aligning company and buyer goals and while working to ensure a positive brand experience. To transform the marketing into a more agile organization, CMOs must adopt five key practices: 1) Accept change; 2) dare the status quo; 3) act continuously; 4) participate personally; and 5) tear down boundaries. If you look at the first letters of each practice, they spell out the word "adapt."
  2. Inspire your firm to get more customer-obsessed. To put customer-obsessed analysis, answers, and action into practice, marketers should invest in four key areas: 1) data-backed insight that familiarizes employees with customers before each encounter; 2) digital customer experiences and service that enhance the human touch; 3) sales and partner channels enabled to deliver account-specific experiences and return rich intelligence; and 4) relevant, inspired content delivered through interactive, information-rich experiences.
  3. Invest in digitally relevant content. Empowered buyers snack on your offering's content a little at a time. They may look at your content on desktops or smartphones and bring in other members of the team before taking it to management for further consideration. Top marketers develop content that attracts a crowd and feeds the need for bit-sized consumption.
  4. Measure and analyze what you find to grow your understanding. Developing a customer intelligence command center lets marketing serve up actionable information that drives multichannel customer communications, product development, strategic planning, and loyalty. Start by cleaning up your messy customer data, and then reach out socially and to third parties from there.

To explore this evolution further, check out this blog post from our friends at Vocus who engaged me to share our findings on the B2B CMO evolution last week. And let me know, "What do you plan to do to evolve your marketing in 2014?"