I’ve been asked this many times – especially from the younger generation who are recent leavers from mass comms school, who want to find out if they have what it takes to be a successful professional B2B communicator. Here are the three things that have been great guideposts for me. Some of the advice below will apply not only to B2B communications, but to building successful careers in general.
1. Learn to become really good at what you say you do
So your name card says you are a B2B copywriter? A client services executive? Or a PR professional? An enterprise tech industry expert? The main question you should always ask yourself is this: why should anyone believe you? Increasingly, we find that clients are trimming their communications teams down to the bare minimum, and are under pressure to do so much more with a lot less. They’ll have very little time and resource for educating their agency partners. You’ve got to prove to them that – from the very first meeting – you’re ready to play at their level. This means never going into client engagements asking basic questions like: “What is virtualization?”, or “How do I run a social media campaign for B2B?”. Some may argue that, because of their inexperience, it’s the responsibility of others to teach them how to do their jobs. My counter is this: if you really wanted to earn a starting spot on your client’s team, wouldn’t you drive yourself to train harder, do your own homework, absorb as much as you can from all the freely and easily available information out there in Lord Google’s pasture, and take the initiative to corner the older folks for an impromptu learning session? Because if you’re just waiting for knowledge to fall into your lap, don’t be surprised when you’re passed over for opportunities versus colleagues who are doing all of the above. And more.
2. Learn how to speak in public
Unless your job specifically requires you to be a hermit (and those are non-existent in B2B communications), you’re going to have sell ideas to a lot of people – all gathered in one place at the same time – many times. You’re going to have to motivate team members when things go wrong. You’ll have to convince colleagues to spend time on your project, instead of theirs. You’ll have to pitch to stony-faced clients sitting across from you in a cavernous conference room. You might even be doing a press briefing to prep reporters before the star of the show comes out. All of which requires the ability to put your ideas across in a clear, cogent and persuasive manner. For all of the major successes I’ve been privileged to experience, it’s always come down to how well I’ve presented ideas in a group setting. If you think the job is done after you’ve sent out a group broadcast via WhatsApp, or copied lots of people in your well-written email, you’ll hit your career ceiling much sooner than you think.
3. Learn to stay relevant
The best thing about B2B communications is that there’s ALWAYS something new to learn, something new to talk about, something new to pitch. There will always be new technologies, new industry developments, new communications channels, new colleagues, new tools, new markets, new partners, new customers, and new business models. One of my most-repeated pieces of advice to young joiners is this: don’t worry about not having 20 years of experience in the tech industry. There’s something new that’s happening today, right this very moment. The bearded guru who can wax eloquent about his days selling daisy-chained TPF terminals in the 1980s may have some great stories to tell at the pub, but it cuts little ice with clients who are looking for great social media campaign ideas to promote cloud-based mobile device management solutions. Learn it well, learn it quick, and you’re on par with the industry veteran.
So there you have it: my top three tips for those seeking a fulfilling and successful career in B2B communications. It’s no coincidence that the word “Learn” features in all three, because that’s the one thing that you never stop doing in this strange little industry of ours.
(And if you think a career in B2B communications is right for you, write in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)