In conversation with Peter Bell, Commercial Marketing Director, Adobe
Adobe’s Commercial Marketing Director EMEA on how the pandemic has accelerated marketing transformation
06 Minute Read
- Joined Adobe in February 2019 as part of the acquisition of Marketo
- Spent three years as Marketo’s Senior Director Product Marketing and Senior Director Marketing for EMEA
- Took on his first tech marketing role at Microsoft in 1996
- Loves working at the intersection of technology & marketing
At the time of this interview, Peter was Adobe’s Commercial Marketing Director – as of today (Sept 2021), he is now Senior Director UKI Enterprise Marketing & EMEA Commercial Marketing at Adobe.
Peter Bell has had a front-row view of the evolution of sales and marketing for over 30 years. He started out his career in technical roles, before moving into product marketing at Microsoft. Before Adobe’s acquisition of Marketo in 2019, he led EMEA marketing for the marketing automation brand. He’s now responsible for Adobe’s suite of customer experience digital marketing solutions in EMEA – helping to accelerate the transformation of marketing across different sectors. Despite a lifetime in B2B tech marketing, he believes the changes that have taken place in the past 12 months could prove to be the most profound of all.
“When you look into some B2B verticals, you can see that we’ve knocked decades off the process of digital transformation,” he says. “It’s amazing what people can do when they have no choice.”
In Peter’s view, this accelerated transformation is felt most in sales’ appreciation of the value of digital marketing, something that’s been driven by the sudden disappearance of in-person events.
“I’m a firm believer that people buy from people and so I understand why events are so high on salespeople’s agenda,” he says. “But now events have been off the table for a year, I think we’re seeing a far greater appreciation for digital execution which was historically out of sight, out of mind. We’ve fundamentally overcome objections about how effective digital can be and where it’s appropriate to use it. We’ve moved that conversation on.”
Why was digital marketing out of sight of sales departments? It’s a side-effect of the ability to target relevant prospects more precisely. “Of course, I would deliberately exclude and suppress advertising to Adobe employees because that’s wasted budget and I wouldn’t want to be retargeting our own staff,” says Peter. “Having said that, I’ve been tempted in the past to invest in targeting our sales teams, just so they see the campaigns.”
Setting high standards for the pivot to virtual
Prior to the pandemic, in-person events represented around 40% of Adobe’s marketing budget. However, the foundations for a rapid pivot to virtual events were in place as well. “We benefited hugely from the fact that we already had a marketing automation platform in the form of Marketo, and we had a webinar platform licensed, deployed and integrated within that,” says Peter. “That’s also a crucial part of our proposition to customers, particularly for sectors like Manufacturing that would have been spending 80% of their budgets on events in the past. We can help them to move fast and get to that same place of high digital maturity.”
For Adobe itself, the pivot to virtual events brought immediate benefits in the form of a 3x uplift in registrations and attendance. However, Peter’s clear that marketers can’t afford to be complacent about numbers like these.
“Everybody went digital and so we realised we had to stand out from the crowd,” he says. “We focused on bringing some of the sense of occasion that you see at a big trade show to virtual events – not just for big conferences but for webinars and field marketing events as well. It’s about production quality but it’s also about rethinking how you move from keynotes to sessions, how you recreate networking, how you get that sense of serendipity and how you signpost the journey. The risk of a drop-off in attendance and engagement is very real.”
“For us, the key was bringing in external support to help with production quality,” he continues. “The moments when video streams cut between talking heads and slides are a good example, giving more of the feel that you’re in a large hall at a keynote. Little things like making sure the sound quality is good, which is why I’ve got quite a selection of microphones at home these days. It’s details like how you address yourself to the camera. A lot of it is trial and error – but we’ve come a long way with our production quality in the last 12 months.”
Just as important as capturing better quality video content is the question of judging the right volume of content to put in front of an audience. “You’ve got a much bigger audience and you’ve got no limit on how much content you can create – but that’s why you have to ask the question of how much content is too much,” says Peter. “It’s about having enough depth to make it worthwhile and attractive but not overwhelming – and it’s also about knowing your audience. What’s the appropriate amount of content for the CMO versus the CIO, for example?”
The value of human connection
Peter focuses determinedly on maintaining a connection between speakers and their audiences because he’s very aware of the value that in-person contact brings to B2B – and how sales and marketing teams can struggle in its absence. “The rise of marketing automation and businesses like Marketo is down to a digital buyer journey,” he says. “But when you get to the later stages of the buyer journey, the in-person piece is still important. Our results show that we’ve been able to close sales digitally – but it’s harder without that human connection and that’s why sales teams will be looking forward to getting back into a room with contacts.”
They’re not the only ones. Peter admits that he’s had a mixed relationship with events – but absence makes the heart grow fonder. “Many events are too long, too hot and too expensive,” he says. “But I admit I’m missing them right now professionally as well as personally. I developed a long list of reasons for not doing events: because you did it last year or because a competitor’s there are not reasons alone to attend. But there are two very good reasons for holding or attending them: the first is if you’re looking to break into a new geography or vertical and you just need to meet people and acquire new contacts; the second is that they can be a great accelerator of open opportunities.”
Aligning sales and marketing around a clear route to revenue
How can marketers ensure they’re filling these gaps? For Peter, it depends on solid alignment with sales, operations and other functions around targeting. “It’s going to be hard going if you haven’t sat down with sales, finance and other departments and conducted that basic go-to market exercise of who your ideal customer is,” he says. It also relies on a clear, company-wide understanding of how opportunities progress.
“Technology can help, but it all comes down to your core lead to revenue process,” Peter explains. “And it’s important to realise that this isn’t a marketing process or a sales process – it’s a company process. It’s got clear stages and clear entry and exit criteria for those stages: what is a marketing qualified lead? What attributes do they consistently exhibit? Without that shared process and common set of measures, you get the age-old frictions around ‘all marketing leads are rubbish’ or ‘sales doesn’t follow up on them properly.’”
Focusing on the right metrics moves innovation forward
Having a clear focus around what qualifies a sales opportunity enables Peter and his team to focus on the cost of those opportunities – which in turn illuminates the value of brand marketing. “If you’re running a campaign in a market where you have good awareness, then that brand awareness is baked into the cost per opportunity,” he says. “If you’re running a campaign in a market where that awareness doesn’t exist, you see the cost per opportunity shoot up. So even as a revenue-generating marketer, you know that upfront investment in brand is really important. It’s much easier to be stood alongside a brand team and a PR team, who are creating that message and amplifying it out into the market, reaching that target audience through the right channels.”
From building brands to enabling sales and generating revenue, the fundamentals of marketing remain the same. However, the digital transformation that businesses have undergone over the last year mean that marketers need to continue to find new, innovative ways of applying them. “The world has moved on permanently,” says Peter. “And anybody who’s expecting business and marketing to revert to the way they were is likely to be disappointed.”
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