The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

B2B Marketing That Takes Care of Profits and People

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As part of our The Thought Leader’s Voice podcast series, we are thrilled to be in conversation with Archana Venkat on B2B marketing that takes care of profits and people.

One of India’s leading B2B marketers, Archana Venkat is the Chief Marketing Officer at Trilegal, with a reputation for creating competitive advantages and driving sustainable growth through strategic initiatives.

Archana has led marketing teams for prominent financial services, legal, and technology companies to drive innovation and maximize profitability and growth.

Archana is passionate about empowering women and enabling them to advance in their careers. She is the author of Seize Your Career, a book that documents the experiences of women in white-collar positions. She has also created an assessment-based framework for career management called the Happy Hexagon and has founded a support group for women professionals in Bangalore.

Tune in to the podcast to listen as Archana shares new perspectives and insights on B2B marketing, how teams can be more effective, and how leaders can be change agents.

Key Takeaways

  • What are the secrets of running a successful B2B marketing department, and how can teams achieve a better return on investment?
  • What role do partnerships play in the marketing process? What is the most significant value that partnerships can bring to a marketing team?
  • How has the Covid-19 pandemic driven companies to pivot their go-to-market strategy?
  • What are some important factors of consideration for effective content marketing and brand building? How can content be delivered strategically in different stages of the customer journey?
  • What does it mean to follow ethical principles in marketing? What benefits does this bring to a company both internally and externally?
  • What are the biggest barriers women face in advancing their careers, and how can they overcome them? Can marketing leaders better integrate women into their teams? How can women be supported to progress into leadership roles?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Archana Venkat

Shabnam Gangar: Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening, wherever you are today. Welcome to The Thought Leader’s Voice. I’m Shabnam Gangar, Vice President of Marketing at iResearch Services, and your host today. We are delighted to be joined for today’s episode: B2B Marketing That Take Cares of Profits and People, by Archana Venkat. Archana Venkat, Chief Marketing Officer at Trilegal, is one of India’s leading B2B marketers, with a reputation for creating competitive advantage and sustainable growth. She has led marketing teams for leading technology, financial services, and legal companies to drive strategic initiatives and maximize profitability and growth. Archana is also passionate about empowering women and encouraging them to seize their careers. She has written a book, created a career management framework, and founded a support group for women professionals in Bangalore. We are delighted to welcome Archana to this thought leadership podcast as we consider B2B Marketing That Take Cares of Profits and People. Welcome Archana, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here with us today.

Archana Venkat: Thank you so much, Shabnam, thank you for that very generous introduction. I feel like you’re talking about another person, but I’m very happy that this is all me. So, thank you so much once again, and lovely to be a part of this podcast with you.

Shabnam Gangar: Fantastic. No, it’s a pleasure absolute pleasure, so I’ll kickstart. So, I’m really super excited about this, I’ll dive straight into the questions. So, during your career, you have led, and been part of marketing teams for top technology, financial services, and legal companies in India, what are the secrets of success in running a B2B marketing department? Your teams have generated a 20-times return on investment. Please can you provide some key takeaways on how this can be achieved?

Archana Venkat: Sure, I’ll start with your first question. What are the secrets of running a successful B2B marketing department? I think the first thing is about having clarity on the objectives that the team has to meet. The second would be knowing the strengths, the personal and professional strengths of your colleagues in the marketing team. Successful marketing teams also need a strong leader who is invested in their success and will be their voice in places of power such as the boardroom.

To address your second question, great return on investment comes when you’re trying to accomplish a very challenging vision, and let’s say you do that by offering a product or a service that’s a game changer in the market. A good example of that is LinkedIn, and how it chose to remain a platform for professionals, and for a long time didn’t really have direct competitors. I’m sure if you were to speak to the Marketing Head of LinkedIn, they will tell you that they experienced superlative growth in the initial decade of their existence. So, achieving high returns that are sustainable takes time, and one needs to keep the big picture in mind. Often, I’ve seen marketers, including myself, we tend to get involved in the smaller details. So, sometimes it’s good to step back and ask everyone in the team. Why are we doing this? How do we intend to do this, and what’s really the value this is going to add to the larger business vision? Right? Beyond that, a lot of success is due to luck and having a supportive business team that really shares that vision and is willing to stand by your experimentation and validate your approach.

Shabnam Gangar: Now I love that, it’s a great point that you make on the success within a marketing team or within any business. You know, it really comes down to a strong leader who you not only you believe in, but they also believe in you and are invested in you and your teams. I really think that support is extremely important. Thanks for that. What part do business partnerships play in the process? How does a company go about forming strategic alliances? Did your tactics change during COVID-19 lockdowns when face-to-face meetings were restricted?

Archana Venkat: Sure, I think business partnerships are integral to any business, essentially to remain competitive and deliver outcomes. In the case of marketing, it’s even more important to build an ecosystem of partners who can help you in areas that are either not your team’s core competencies, or where you have a gap in competencies that you currently aren’t able to address, right? But the biggest value that partners bring is to tell people like us on the business side, what is the market doing? Help us understand trends so that we can respond appropriately. Most marketing teams today you will see are relatively lean and in the absence of a strong ecosystem of partners, it’s very challenging to deliver a competitive advantage.

Now, for your second question, did your tactics change during COVID? I think COVID changed every company’s go-to market strategy. It was no different with my previous employer. I was with another organization during COVID. We understood that COVID was an opportunity to improve our relationship with clients beyond transactional matters. Clients were looking for advice for their own operations in short-term survival, and they were very open to any kind of content, particularly long format content, they wanted closed-door discussions with us, right? So, from a marketing standpoint, we had the opportunity to identify and focus on those needs and channels that were really working for us, right? So let me give you an example, we were one of the earliest in the professional services ecosystem in India to start with webinars, and we were able to secure 100 plus attendees for each session organically, and we were holding sessions every fortnight. Six months later, we started sending out white papers and insights-based reports when we realized that interest levels for webinars would drop very soon because several other companies had also started organizing webinars, and thereafter, we switched to short videos that we sent via WhatsApp, interactive content that went through WhatsApp.

And on a lighter note, I would say the pandemic was the only time that our business teams understood the full potential of marketing. Right from demand generation, lead qualification, lead nurturing to conversation, and eventually to sales conversion, we were the only team that was overworked during the pandemic. So, that I would say was an interesting observation for our business teams during the pandemic.

Shabnam Gangar: Now really, really interesting and I really think this resonates with a lot of people out there that have had to, I guess, pivot. You make an interesting point here about being ahead of the game and pivoting. You know, knowing your competitors will start doing the same, I believe, you know it’s still very valid in today’s ecosystem. Businesses are constantly trying to stay ahead, but actually speaking with your partnerships and building that rapport can help you understand trends early on, which you sort of mentioned. I also love the fact that you’re using methods that are convenient to your consumers, such as WhatsApp Messenger. You know, it’s something that I would say we’ve not considered, or I’ve not considered in previous places, so I think that that’s fantastic.

You know that you’ve pivoted considering with the pandemic, and how you sort of really understood the needs. I really like the fact that you mentioned about, I think on the lighter term, with the pandemic that businesses have really understood the potential of marketing. I think in the past we’ve done marketing, but we’ve had to really pivot because of what’s happening. So really, valid points there, and I think it’s really great for our listeners to deep dive in and consider those takeaways. This sort of moves me quite nicely into the next question. How do you ensure business partnerships are lasting ones?

Archana Venkat: Okay, so I have always felt partnerships are very contextual, so in that sense, not all business partnerships can be lasting ones or even need to be lasting ones, right? So let me give you an example. You could have someone who works on designing standees and backdrops for you as part of events that you drive, right? But if that vendor, that person doesn’t innovate and keeps repeating themselves, you would eventually end that partnership and find a replacement, right? And similarly, let’s say you have a database management agency, right? And if any of your listeners are career marketers with over 20 years of experience, they would recognize an era where data and marketing wasn’t big, right? And we relied on Database Management Agencies to keep data up to date, refreshed, weed out duplicates, and all of that, right? So today if you have a database management agency and you’re transitioning to a CRM model, a client relationship platform, right, which has built-in artificial intelligence for data enrichment. Then the utility of that agency will be questioned, the value that they will bring in this context will be questioned, right?

In my career, many times I’ve started with one-time requirements that turned into multi-year relationships. A good example, in fact, is with your own salesperson, Akash Gaurav, who I first interacted with in 2016 for a survey. So, what started with when one survey went on to become two surveys, and now I’m talking to him again six years later for a very different kind of a requirement. The bottom line is the kind of partnerships that can become long-lasting are those where both parties have a commitment to innovate and stay relevant, whether that is process improvement, offering a new product or a service or any other kind of an improvement. So, I guess that’s the only way one can ensure that a business partnership is lasting that you don’t take each other for granted, and both of you stay committed to the big picture.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, I really agree with that. There’s been businesses that I still speak to and keep in touch with as you never know when you may end up requiring services. I also believe it’s very important to raise that even if you have competitors you deal with in your industry. You kind of need to manage those relationships delicately, as you just never know who they might know in the industry as well and whether you cross paths in the future. So I really think it’s really important to have that relationship, build on that relationship but, that commitment, and knowing that there might be some elements where you might end up doing work together or collaborating in the future as you mentioned with Akash, I think it validates where that can go; six years on and you’re still working together, which is fantastic.

So great point there and moving on to the next question, you have extensive experience in content marketing and have been named among India’s top 100 content marketeers. Your current role at Trilegal includes brand building. What are the most important tips you can pass on about effective content marketing and brand building?

Archana Venkat: Sure, let me start with brand building. Effective brand building starts when you can identify non-negotiables associated with your brand, right? These are, say, the values or the spirit of your people. Once that is clear, it’s important to keep revisiting, going back to these every time you develop a campaign just to see if you are highlighting these values or you’re actually deviating from them, in which case you would need to course-correct. For instance, I have worked in two competing firms with very different cultures, and we were able to translate those cultures distinctly for clients. So, one of the firms I worked in was a market leader, and the other one was a relative maverick. So, the non-negotiables for both these brands were very different and our communication therefore was different. We did very few events at the former organization which was a market leader, and we did tons of events for the relative maverick firm because that focused on the experience rather than just the content, right? So once the brand values are very clear, how you want to see the brand also becomes very clear, and thereafter what kind of content to use, what channels to use is just a derivative of that.

Now, coming to content marketing, I think the most important thing is to discover what your clients want and give it to them straight, right? So, for example, in the initial stages of the customer journey, we would create content that was very clear on what is the expected action, right? So, let’s take the example of filing taxes. So, if you’re filing taxes, how should you go about picking an accountant? So that’s the content that we know we would typically put out. What aspects should you consider when you’re trying to hire an accountant for your business? Once that’s very clear and the client or the prospect is say looking for the next stage of information, right? Now, we don’t know at this point in time if they want to even hire an accountant from outside or they want their in-house team to itself go ahead and do this work. So typically, the next content would talk about, say, three things to remember if you were filing taxes yourself, and in the last stage we would actually introduce something like a self-assessment tool to show that individual, whether he or she, had the confidence to sort of make it through the tax season, right?

So here you’d see we’re not really selling anything, but we’re just trying to tell them that we’ve done this, we have experience, and we are OK if you don’t want to work with us, but you might want to use some of our frameworks, you know, our benchmarking tools and so on, and so forth. So that kind of content marketing is helpful because you’ve put the clients’ interests before yours.

Archana Venkat: And I’d like to say that, interestingly, this I’ve seen over the years is a very different approach from what happens in B2C marketing, where you know creating anticipation for the product or the service is where the bulk of your energies and your budget is spent, and once that product is launched, then your sales and channel partners sort of get active. They would list it and then you know after the first month, if your sales have been poor then the next set of content marketing essentially would be on Ads, influencer content to keep pushing for the product or services visibility, especially online these days and let’s say in a quarter your content marketing will slowly start pivoting towards discounts. The tone of your emails would be look – we launched this, this has been a blockbuster success, now this is all you have so just pick it up before it all gets sold. Or some kind of discount communication. And they need to do this because your inventory needs to be cleaned out. It needs to be managed for the next season’s products and services to come by, which is I would say very different from B2B, where you launch a service, it stays around for at least a couple of years before you’re very, very certain that there’s really no market for this. So, from a content standpoint, I would say that would be a big difference from how B2C content marketing is done.

Shabnam Gangar: Great insights, Archana. I want to take it back to brand. I think it’s so important and living and breathing these values really helps scope plans, and work better with other stakeholders. We’re a Thought Leadership agency, and content is everything we do, we live and breathe it, so understanding what our clients and customers want – their need is essential not only just to help them, but also to help us to write more reports for whitepapers and deliver those insights that are key to our audience. So, I really love that concept to have to really hold those strong values. I think brands are constantly developing as well with the landscape and they have to keep changing because of the way that the consumers want to work with, or they require specific services. And I agree B2C industries are very different, and the life cycle is slightly different. So yeah, great points that you’ve raised there and really good takeaways for sure on the non-negotiables.

So moving on to the next question as well as maximizing business profitability, it is important to you that marketing teams follow ethical principles. What does this mean in practical terms? What benefits does this bring to a company, both internally and externally?

Archana Venkat: Great question, Shabnam. Ethics in any department are shaped by the culture and the ethics of the business and its leaders. So, if you have a leader or a promoter with a very strong ethical or moral quotient, then that will influence all decisions that the company takes and how it functions, including marketing. For instance, let’s say you would request for invoices for every spend, and expect that the line items are listed accurately for what they are. So, let’s say you purchased ad space in a company that was very ethical, you would not be allowed to list that as a PR expense. You will need to be transparent about your decision-making processes. Often, professional service businesses that I’ve spent over a decade of my career in, are held to the highest standards, and inherently certain activities are not permitted. There are also checks and balances to ensure transparency and ethical business practices across all departments, right? On the other hand, if you have a leader, a CEO or promoter who doesn’t have a very strong ethical compass and wants returns at all costs, right? Profit before purpose something like that. Then every department begins to function less ethically, and marketing isn’t going to be very different in that case right. I’ve realized ethics is also a very personal issue. I have seen many peers who’ve been unable to work effectively in new organizations because the organizations ethical compass and their own didn’t really match, right? So, for me I believe being ethical may sometimes result in short-term loss of opportunity, but in the long-term, clients will give you business, they will appreciate you for the position you’ve taken, which is to be ethical and fair.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, I think we could talk on days about this. I believe this is really vital for many marketers, but also these C-Suite audiences. Actually, in our recent report, “How Sustainable is the Technology Sector?” This isn’t officially out just yet, but 58% of respondents said that employees will work harder for a business they believe is operating sustainably. Businesses are realizing the importance of ethical and environmentally conscious business decisions, and how this may affect their ability to attract and retain new staff. We spoke to companies with belief that following sustainability practices can motivate their employees to work harder as the same value is being shared between the company and the employees. This value stands out the most in India where 78% of respondents selected this as a key value that sustainability can bring to their businesses, followed by 68% in China and 66% in the USA. So that statistic there, really deep-dives and there’s a lot there in that report, but that’s just something that I wanted to pull out with this because I do think that there’s different ways that ethics can really add value and hold value in businesses, but also with that individual, and I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head, looking at it from a business perspective and also a personal perspective. So yeah, great points raised in there.

Archana Venkat: That’s a very interesting statistic Shabnam. I don’t know, perhaps it would be nice to see if that’s the sentiment across all family-run businesses. The countries that have family-run businesses. I’ve observed in India we have several family-run businesses like tons and tons of them and sometimes employee productivity tends to be better because you know what values that family stands for, and you’re very clear when you join a workplace like that as to what to really expect. So, perhaps if you have any data on that, whether people feel the ethics and entire purpose factor is clearer and better in family run-businesses or vice versa, that would be interesting to look at.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, I do think that would be quite good because you know, I also feel, I’ve worked for a lot of family businesses in the past, and yeah, I have to say they’re very global as well. I think maintaining those ethics and principles is so important, but also not just when you’re onboarding, but when you meet your fellow team members or people that you actually don’t even collaborate much with. I think it’s really important and it goes back to the brand and the values of that business owner or that leader. As we mentioned earlier in the podcast, I think that holds really deep values, but I do think when you know someone on a personal level and say you are working with them at all in any shape or form, I think that would be really good for us to further explore. So yeah, definitely something we will absolutely look into, and this report will be available in the next month or so. To our listeners, keep your eyes peeled, we will definitely talk about it. But there’s a lot of good statistics in there and findings that I think a lot of businesses will take away, and really, hopefully try and implement and make change for a positive way.

So yeah, moving on to the next question and another key focus for you is empowering women in the workforce and you have written a book about it titled Seize Your Career, as well as created the career management framework: The Happy Hexagon. What are the biggest barriers women face in progressing in their careers and how can they overcome them? Can marketing leaders better integrate women into their teams?

Archana Venkat: Thank you for that question. I often get asked the first part of the question, which is, which are really the biggest barriers that women face in progressing in their careers? I feel three of the biggest barriers created by women for themselves include, a low-risk appetite, limited planning and not building a network of professionals who can help them in their careers. Women often fear additional responsibility that comes with career progression because they probably don’t know how to make it work and not having a network of people to reach out to means you don’t get to voice those concerns and find solutions and suggestions to help you manage the change. In many cases, I’ve seen women simply fail to plan for the obvious future. Right now, I’ve seen this happen in the case of childcare where most women, at least in India, will not use the maternity leave to get themselves and their families accustomed to say a babysitter or a creche, or basically a new routine The new routine would start when the women resume work and things are bound to go wrong because there was really no testing period prior tothat. So, suddenly you have stress at work induced by poor planning at home, and you’re unable to manage either of them effectively and where you don’t have a supportive family, there’s a lot of pressure to either extend your maternity leave or just quit.

So, I think there’s a lot that women can do to overcome some of these barriers of their own. Of course, there will remain the institutional barriers that women face at work, and those will be harder to get rid of because they are shaped by years and years of culture; culture at the workplace, culture in society and biases that people sort of get to work And these are challenging for one woman at an individual level to sort of tackle. So, what women I believe can do is start looking at some of these self-imposed barriers, barriers that they end up unwittingly creating for themselves. So, you get rid of that, you’re able to demonstrate to your colleagues and to your peers that you have things under control, you are willing and capable of taking on this additional responsibility, whether that’s a new role, whether that’s an extension of your existing role or a very different role in itself.

On your second question, I think Marketing and HR are two functions that in recent times have seen more women than men. An article in the Harvard Business Review called these functions “the pink ghetto” that over time, saw erosion in salaries simply because men were moving to other roles outside these departments. So, the money sort of followed the men. So, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing to have one function or one department dominated by one gender. I would say instead of saying how marketing leaders can enable more women to participate in the workforce, I would say all leaders have to prioritize a diverse workforce.

Archana Venkat: And they can do that by first being human and understanding what their team really needs. What has really worked for me is allowing women flexibility to chart their own course and manage their deliverables. I stay away from micromanaging and making assumptions on what one can do and cannot do, and I’ve simply presented opportunities to my entire team. That way, I know those who are interested, who can step up will seize those opportunities. But I do acknowledge that women need more nurturing and display of support from their managers. I’ve had two wonderful bosses who were my voice in the boardroom and never made me feel that I was failing, or I was unimpressive. I’ve seen many leaders complain about the extra time that they had to spend with women, boosting their confidence and reviewing their work and all of that, but I think that’s the way trust is built. And women need a little more of that nurturing than perhaps what a man might need.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, I think that’s really good insights there, and I love the fact that you mentioned, ‘like from a cultural standpoint and the kind of breaking the bias out there, I think they’re really, important factors that can be contributing to the diversity within a workforce or within teams. I saw a quote of yours actually talking about your book, Seize Your Career, which was as women we need to seize our careers and shape them in a manner that satisfies our ambitions. I absolutely love this energy and a hundred percent agree. I think also that trust element is so important, and I think a lot of people can resonate with you. When you do have a wonderful boss, it really does make a huge impact to not just you as an individual, but also to the rest of the team, I think that’s something which doesn’t really require as much time. It’s just as you said, being human first and understanding what your staff actually need goes a long way. So, I think they’re fantastic points there that will resonate with a lot of our listeners.

Thank you for that. Going on to the next question, five years ago, you founded The Women Leaders of Sarjapur Road Group in Bangalore. What are its aims? Can you provide some examples of how it has helped female leaders progress in their careers?

Archana Venkat: Sure. So I started this group with the objective of creating a safe space for women wanting to grow into senior leadership positions, but just didn’t know how to or didn’t have the support system to enable them to grow into these roles essentially. We started with 100 women in the first year and we’ve collectively worked with over 300 women in the last five years, and what we essentially do is we help them boost their confidence, we help them reskill and upskill in some cases. We’ve held different types of sessions for them, so there are awareness sessions where we bring in external speakers from the industry. Say specialists like yourself, if someone wanted to know how they could grow, let’s say in market research as an industry. We’ve done smaller sessions called Huddle Sessions, where a member has actually posed a challenge and sought perspectives from others. So, I’ve had in the past women coming up and saying, how do I negotiate a salary better? Is there a way I can escape a salary benchmarking based on what I was earning in my previous job?

So, we’ve had very specific pointed discussions there, and we’ve also had Speed Networking Sessions, where new members who have come in and just wanted to know who else is part of the group, what do they do? How can we really leverage each other’s synergies, right? So, we’ve done some of that. Some of our members were very successfully able to find jobs through our member network itself. Some were able to return to work full-time, some have gone on to start their own businesses, and today many are in the C-Suite, like I am. I can’t claim complete credit for their career transitions, but I know that the group has played a very important part in boosting their confidence and improving their negotiation skills.

Shabnam Gangar: I love that. I think we need more of this in the world. I know there’s a lot of forums out there and there are loads of other groups, but I think, especially with women you know trying to progress into a leadership position, or at least at a point where you know it’s a managerial position. I think this is fantastic and I think the different type of sessions that you’ve held and do hold are fantastic. How can people actually join this if they were interested?

Archana Venkat: Oh great, so this group is now part of a Lean In city chapter, part of Lean In, Bangalore. So, they could just go on the Lean In, Bangalore page and sign up for it online. It’s fairly simple and there’s no membership fee or anything that’s involved.

Shabnam Gangar: Fantastic. No, we’ll definitely put this out there. I think a lot of people would benefit, and I think it’s a wonderful thing that you’ve started and you’re building on, which is amazing.

Thank you so much. You’ve been fantastic and extremely fascinating. We’d love to get you on again Archana and thank you so much for your time and insights. I really hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation.

Archana Venkat: I did, I absolutely did Shabnam. I think these were some great questions, you don’t hear too many people asking these questions, but I’m glad you did, and I hope my answers were satisfactory and will be valuable to some of your listeners. So, thank you once again for this wonderful opportunity.

Shabnam Gangar: No, absolutely. It’s been a pleasure and thank you so much again and to our listeners – it’s definitely been insightful for me, and we hope this has been really educational and useful also to our listeners. So, thanks once again and look forward to speaking with you soon.

Archana Venkat: Likewise, thank you so much.

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