Blog | October 18, 2021

Building The Bridge While Crossing The River — B2B Marketing And Sales Professional Development

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By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer

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"Change is the dominant fact of life in every business today. And the ability to master and exploit change has become one of the most sought-after management skills. This is particularly true in marketing, where the very tempo of change is constantly quickening.” This was how John D. Louth, a principal at McKinsey, opened his presentation to a group of executives in 1964.1 It was true then, and it is true today.

Despite Louth’s clairvoyance, how many of us are intentional about helping our marketing and sales teams adapt to change? When I speak to research scientists, engineers, financial advisors, biophysicists, and realtors, all participate in professional development, but few B2B marketing and sales professionals tell me they do.

By professional development, I am not referring to onboarding or training on new technology. Rather, it is continuing professional education to advance their careers, improve themselves, contribute more to their organizations, and keep pace with change.

The continuous, fast-paced nature of B2B marketing and sales is like a swiftly running river that is preventing us from growing professionally to keep up with change. And because the change is being driven by our buyers, it is vital that we get to the other side of the river. In desperation, we often jump in the water and try to swim across the current, only to turn around and return to the safety of the riverbank we already know. Instead, we should be building a bridge but have convinced ourselves we don’t have the time.

Building the Bridge While Crossing the River

Building a bridge may not be the fastest way to cross a river, but if built well, it can be a more permanent way to overcome river obstacles. Professional development, when done well, has a lasting positive impact on our businesses as it creates employees who are more engaged in their work, and it retains them longer.2

I know, building a bridge at the same time you are crossing a river sounds impossible. It’s difficult, but armies have been doing it for thousands of years, and we can do it, too. However, we must plan for it, set expectations for the pace we can and must achieve, celebrate when we get to the other side, and immediately begin looking for the next river.

Plan for Professional Development Opportunities

We often envision professional development as a big, multiday off-site or nothing at all, but there are other options without compromising results. As marketing and sales leaders, we know our people, their motivations, strengths, and the things they need to work on to be more. Armed with this body of information, we can begin planning and can anticipate the who, what, where, and why of the planning equation. Then, we simply remain on the lookout for the when, the opportunity for professional development.

Our planning should also focus on those development opportunities that will most impact our business in a positive way. This doesn’t mean we ignore helping our teams with their personal goals, but we weight our planning efforts to professional development goals tied to moving the business forward with the pace of change.

You’ve likely heard the adage: one’s reach should exceed their grasp. Don’t be afraid to plan for members of your team to try something that is reasonably beyond their capabilities, let them know it is a developmental opportunity, and be available to help.

Establish a Pace

Professional development that has a lasting positive impact on our B2B sales and marketing teams takes more time than chasing those tactical goals that fill our daily to-do lists. I’m not suggesting we ignore those daily and common tasks, but there is always enough air in any system for development time. A significant part of establishing a pace is setting goals and establishing a reasonable amount of time to reach them.

Sales and marketing leaders must look to fill the air with productive professional development activities and track the long-term progress of their teams to keep pace with change. When done right, this feels like we have a foot on the gas and the brake at the same time, moving through the routine activities quickly and then slowing down for the deeper thinking required during meaningful professional development.

Celebrate

It’s easy to celebrate the tactical wins, or what we perceive to be wins when we think short-term. How often do we find ourselves crowing about our top account manager renewing 70% of his accounts on schedule as projected because it is easy to measure?

However, consider the impact of celebrating professional development progress that is well-planned, thoughtfully executed, and tied to outcomes that help our business remain relevant.

For instance, an account manager doubled her annual sales revenue by employing a new content marketing campaign that mirrors the modern buyer’s journey and was developed in collaboration with the marketing team. That is real bridge building!

Find the Next River

When the celebration is over, it’s time to search for the next river to be crossed. What is the next obstacle preventing you from keeping pace with change? What will it mean to your business when the team can overcome it? How does each member of your team fit into the solution? Once these questions are answered, you can build your plan.

According to Louth in a statement he made over 50 years ago, change is the dominant component of our landscape that B2B sales and marketing leaders must master to remain relevant. And yet, few B2B sales and marketing organizations are intentional about professional development.

Think of it like building a bridge while crossing the river: plan for it, set expectations for the pace that can and must be achieved, celebrate when you get to the other side, and immediately begin looking for the next river.

Good bridge building!

  1. The Changing Face of Marketing, by John D. Louth, McKinsey Quarterly, Sep 1, 1966. The changing face of marketing | McKinsey
  2. A Better Way to Train and Retain Top Talent by Margaret Rogers, Harvard Business Review, Jan 20, 2020. A Better Way to Develop and Retain Top Talent (hbr.org)