Podcast | Michael Levine from LinkedIn: 5 Post-COVID B2B Trends

| | Time to Read: 16 minutes

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Episode topic: 5 Post-COVID B2B Trends

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Michael Levine, Head of Enterprise Sales for LinkedIn’s marketing solutions, about the five key trends shaping B2B marketing in Australia.

During the conversation, Michael shares some interesting insights and statistics on how the composition of the buying committee has evolved, pointing out that almost 70% of all purchase decisions are influenced by non-IT stakeholders. He shares similar information on other trends such as the importance of brand during the customer’s buying journey, buyer motivations and primary sources that companies use to research a technology vendor or product. 

This episode’s guest

Michael Levine, Head of Enterprise Sales at LinkedIn

Michael Levine is currently the Enterprise Sales Lead for LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions in Australia. Over his 9+ year tenure at LinkedIn, Michael has worked in several roles building meaningful partnerships with B2B & B2C brands across APAC and North America. Michael has been based in New York for the last four years, leading LinkedIn’s Higher Education business. 

Before LinkedIn, Michael worked in sales roles for NineMSN (Australia) and The Guardian (UK). Michael holds a Bachelor of Media and Communication from The University of Melbourne. His passion for a world with open access to education recently saw him serve on the Board of Directors for ExpandED Schools in NYC.

Connect with him on LinkedIn

Conversation segments on this episode:

  • [02:25] COVID 19 - The Great Accelerator!
  • [02:48] 1 in 5 buyers wanted to speak to vendors virtually back in 2017
  • [04:15] B2B trends seen by LinkedIn at a high-level 
  • [07:06] Non-IT functions now influence 70% of all buying decisions 
  • [07:51] Importance of Brand- Awareness and memorability are most important
  • [08:46] 1 in 3 buyers will have conducted an independent assessment before reaching out to a technology vendor 
  • [12:55] Advertising is the second-largest driver that influences buyers’ trust in a product
  • [13:12] Importance of professional peer validation 
  • [17:02] What motivates the B2B buyers in Australia?
  • [18:47] 2 in 3 buyers in APAC remain hesitant to try out a new vendor or product
  • [20:11] Outcome versus the Product: Australian Buyers invest in an outcome and not a product.
  • [24:42] Advice for B2B Marketers: Don’t try to measure the ROI on marketing from a  short term perspective

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast

On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Produced by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

Get in touch!

We would love to get your questions, ideas and feedback about Growth Colony, email alexander@growthcolony.org

 


Episode Full Transcript:

[00:36] Shahin Hoda  Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth. And today I'm talking to Michael Levine, Head of Enterprise Sales for Australia at LinkedIn, about the trends that Michael is seeing emerging from 2020. And also we're going to talk about a report that the LinkedIn team has recently published called the Age of Agility, which looks at the five main trends for technology marketers. The exciting thing is this report is one of the first ones that is not a global report, but it's specifically for the Australian market. And I love when I come across Australian specific content. So I'm super excited to talk about this. Michael, let's dive in. Thanks for joining us. 

[01:20] Michael Levine  Hi, there. Thanks for having me. 

[01:22] Shahin Hoda  As I said, I'm really excited. And I feel like you and the team at LinkedIn have a, you have a unique view into the B2B world, right? And what is happening in that space. Either it's both unique, and you probably see things earlier than other people. So super excited to talk about this right. The first thing that I want to, let's start with is, let's touch on some of the high level of trends that you're seeing coming out of the market in the B2B space from 2020. 

[01:55] Michael Levine  Yeah, absolutely. I think it goes without saying that 2020 was a watershed year for the world of work. And so many of us experienced significant change in both our personal and professional lives. And I think businesses in particular, were under enormous pressure to adapt and pivot at the drop of a hat. And analysts have already characterised COVID-19 as the great accelerator period that brought so much transformation that we're unlikely to ever experience again in our lifetime. So that I certainly hope we never experience it again, in our lifetimes. 

[02:39] Michael Levine  But you know, B2B has been moving digital for many years. Back in 2017, reports were finding that, you know, one in five buyers said they'd rather not meet in person and would prefer to speak to vendors virtually. So, you know, you jumped forward to the trends that we're seeing now and you have Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, writing to shareholders saying that it's those businesses who are fortified by technology that are the ones who are the most resilient and the most capable of transforming when faced with these sweeping changes. 

[03:20] Michael Levine  And that's agility, you know that the key word for us is agility. And I think Forrester Research agrees that embracing and emphasising the importance of agility is the number one strategy that B2B CMOs and not talking nearly enough about. So agility, powered by technology, is where we find ourselves at this moment in time.

[03:46] Shahin Hoda  Got it? Okay. Now, I know there are five areas that really the report focuses on, right? Let's, before we dive in some of the nuances of those five, you want to maybe give us a quick overview of what those fives look like. And then I want to get into the details.

[04:04] Michael Levine  Yeah, I think, oh the joys of B2B as a marketer, I mean, it's the complexities, right? The complexities of who. So the first trend is the who has evolved that the buying committee has evolved in its structure. The second is, you know, how you're able to influence in such a long journey means that there is an increasing role in early stage consideration and awareness through brand building, that buyers a fickle is a trend that there are multiple motivating factors in the decision around purchasing B2B technology. 

[04:50] Michael Levine  And you know that there are different sources of trust and reference points for buyers along that decision making journey. And then ultimately, when I decide to purchase a tech, I'm looking to drive an outcome beyond just driving, you know, a product decision. And the more that we as B2B marketers can ground ourselves in an understanding of what that outcome is for a buyer, the more successful we are in building that relationship and growing our business as a result.

[05:32] Shahin Hoda   I love it. I think those are very interesting topics. And just like you mentioned, I think they were always there and what happened is they just accelerated or or more were exposed to a degree that they were not exposed. So let's, let's talk about buying centers, right, let's talk about buying communities, buying committees, what are some of the, you know, research that you and team have done? What does that show in there? And what, what is, what is your take on the changes on that front?

[06:04] Michael Levine  Yeah, I mean, as I said, that the buying committee composition has evolved, which means that who you think your customer might be, and those who are influencing the purchasing decision may be actually really different technology buyers in Australia, we found more than much more than just it decision makers. And now a survey revealed a continued expansion of non-IT functions who are sitting at that table and influencing that purchase decision. 

[06:41] Michael Levine  And it's actually the revenue generating functions, who are influencing and have a voice in a much greater capacity than ever before. So it means that business development, finance, sales and marketing, you know, people who are ultimately using these technology enabled tools are sitting at the table and 70% of decisions made by those with functions outside of it. So it becomes more of this Sherpa or guide in the decision making process. And that has an implication for B2B marketers who are looking to influence that purchase decision. That's, 

[07:28] Shahin Hoda  Very interesting. And I think, you know, a lot of a lot of people in tech are like, we got to get the CIO, got to speak to the CIO. Right. And I think that's an interesting shift that they talked about. The other thing that that report touches on quite extensively is the importance and the extra importance of brand. What's that about?

[07:54] Michael Levine  Yeah, our research, it was quite clear. And what resonated was that, far more of decision-makers are spending time in these active early stages in the process. Meaning that awareness and memorability is what's most important. So we found that over 50% of Australian tech purchasing journeys extend well beyond one year. So it's a long decision. And it's therefore not surprising to me that marketers often struggle to measure the impact of a brand and of their efforts in all sectors. But what's interesting is that the research also showed that more buyers are becoming self directed. So one in three will have already conducted an independent assessment of you before they reach out. 

[08:54] Michael Levine  So if I'm only running a really aggressive, direct response strategy, then I'm probably missing the bigger opportunity to influence decision-making, to build recognition, to create credibility at that early stage. And what we find in b2b is that the campaigns that are designed to increase your share of mind in a marketplace are the ones that are the most effective. So the more famous that they make a company, the better the business results. And it's understandable, right? You think about your own day to day experience, you can only retain so much content, you are seeing content from numerous sources, at all points throughout the day. And marketers really need to understand that and aim for fame in order to maximize business growth. 

[9:52] Shahin Hoda  Got it and it's so hard, you know, brand, direct marketing is a lot in many ways a lot easier. It's still hard to do it correctly. But the brand is just this beast that everybody talks about. Everybody's like it's important. And , you know, there's very few people who have figured it out and have cracked the code with how to approach it. And I think, you know, the whole culture of everything has to be measurable makes it really hard because brand in so many angles, so many aspects is not measurable, right? Your attribution tools are not going to work to say, you know, is this is what happened on this front.

[10:35] Michael Levine  Yeah, my sorry to interrupt, I was just gonna say my team spend a lot of time connecting, what can be really siloed marketing functions of, hey, I'm in a brand team, I have awareness goals, or I sit within the performance of business. So I'm tasked with lead generation activities. And my team's role is to bring those siloed functions together and understand the impact that brand is having on demand efforts. We can actually show, you know, how the increase in frequency and the touchpoints at which you're hitting a prospect across that journey, the different pieces of content that you might be serving, the brand awareness messaging, or the lead nurture efforts that you might have in market, how each time you touch someone more frequently, it increases the propensity of them to become a buyer. 

[11:37] Shahin Hoda  Yeah. Love it. Love it. Yeah, on that note of talking about attribution and understanding, you know, where customers are, are engaging with us and the number of touch points and so on, so forth. I think another area that the report touches on is the sources of information that customers, prospects, buyers are using to kind of make decisions. Those buying decisions of whether we're going forward with it with a prospect or not. And I think that's a really hard question. And I want to and I want to bring that up and ask you,if  like, what have you and the team seen in terms of the sources of information that buyers are using to kind of make a decision on a purchase?

[12:22] Michael Levine  Yeah, it's a great question. I think, ultimately, it comes back to trust. Our research suggests that while you might believe that you have a truly best in class offering, buyers aren't just going to take your word for it. Which means that your website is not the place that they're going to first and foremost, to make this decision. It's not the ultimate source of truth. So you would imagine then that advertising and our paid efforts, our big awareness driver, and how they find information about you and your products and services, and it is. Our research said, it's the second largest driver, but the number one driver is professional peer validation. 

[13:13] Michael Levine  One in two buyers said that peer validation is the primary vehicle for increasing trust in a product. So marketers need to harness, you know, the potential of social proof and community, whether it's in real life or online communities in order to drive that increased knowledge of their products. And the questions I would be sitting down and asking my marketing team would be, what are the ways that we can spark a virtual water cooler conversation about our brand? What are the fun, light moments that can help us build this community of fans that will evangelise for us? 

[14:00] Michael Levine  These sound like afterthought ideas, but actually, if you place peer professional peer validation as the number one influencer in building trust, and trusted information about you, then you really should be asking these questions. I worked in higher education, and marketing for many years. And I think there's lots of similarities here with the university's alumni. As a prospective student, I want to know what it will feel like to study. And if I invest a couple of years of my life in studying, what are the career outcomes that it might lead to? And so, you know, for universities' brand, their alumni are an incredibly important part of making that brand more compelling. And I think the same is very true in B2B tech marketing as well. 

[14:59] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, very true, very true. And I definitely feel that's an element that it's even stronger in Australia than other places, that element of peer validation. And I know, you know, some of our clients that we work with would look at an account of whether we're talking about targeting that account or not. And they're like, you know what, don't worry about that. That account, you can only get in through GSI through global service integrator, Deloitte, you know, KPMG, you know, one of those guys, they need to recommend you. And that's how you would be able to get into that account, and we don't want to waste that kind of marketing energy, at least not the heavyweight work on them, because it's very hard to get in without a peer recommendation. And I think it's just so strong in Australia. And you personally have the experience working with, you know, both in the US, in New York and in Australia, what are your thoughts in terms of comparison?

[15:57] Michael Levine  Yeah, it's an interesting question. I think we talk a lot about, you know, market size and the ability to go after, you know, the very different scale there. But fundamentally, there are more similarities than there are differences. I think, you know, in any competitive marketplace, they're the same focuses on these short-term metrics that we chase down as marketers, versus the true north that we aspire to, which is driving business outcomes. And so yeah, you know, while there are more vendors and more players in the US marketplace, potentially, I think Australia has a really wonderful collaborative landscape of people who kind of want to help one another do well and succeed. So that's been a lovely thing to come home to.

[16:49] Shahin Hoda  Got it. Got it. Last thing I want to talk about is actually one before last, I want to touch on two things. One is around the motivating factors for B2B buyers. What are you seeing from that perspective?

[17:06] Michael Levine  Yeah, like I said before, that humans are fickle, and I think B2B buyers, particularly very paradoxical in their hierarchy of needs. And what our research said is that, often they have competing motivations and interests and priorities. So, you know, while B2B buyers said in the report that they want the innovation and flexibility that's offered by a challenger brand, so give me something new please, help me innovate through working better or smarter. They also ultimately seek the experience and reliability that comes from working with well-known vendors. So price is still a key factor, and there's no shock there. 

[17:57] Michael Levine  But also buyers ultimately want value. So how will you support me? And my needs post sale? How can you offer custom versatility? Or, you know, do you even really understand my needs, so you start to piece it together, and you have one, lots more people involved in a much longer decision process and three, this varied number of needs that's often mapping back to varied stakeholders. And I think that's where it starts to get really interesting as a B2B marketer, if you get any of this wrong, because when we ask buyers about a purchase that they've made, or that they intend to make, most fall back on familiar vendors. 

[18:47] Michael Levine  Two in three buyers in APAC remain hesitant to try a new product or an entrant for a software or hardware purchase. So there are still, you know, a middle section of folks who remained neutral, which is encouraging that there's opportunity there but fewer than one in three buyers overall are really ready to embrace and would follow through on awarding, you know, their business to a new entrant. And I think that's why demonstrating value and relevancy is really critical for a B2B brand.

[19:27] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, and I think it comes back to the brand as well, you know, right? Of building that brand and I mean, less than 1 out of 3 are willing to consider. So that doesn't mean that you're going to buy, right? So that number is probably going to be smaller. And it just shows how the main player in a space is going to eat up 70-80% of the market and how building a brand is crucial in differentiating, or distinguishing one's brands has become so crucial for different organisations. So that's a very interesting point. And it's really cool to put numbers on it. Let's talk about the last point. The last point is outcome versus products right? What is that about? And shed some light on that for us?

[20:17] Michael Levine  Absolutely. What really shone through in our finding was that Australian buyers are thinking beyond the initial outlay. They are ultimately investing in an outcome and not in a product. So understanding that outcome, that ultimate need is the critical purchase driver. 44% of buyers selected a vendor based on the understanding of their needs. That's pretty significant. Like it's not just price, but it's, do you get what I'm trying to achieve through this interaction, and this exchange?  And it's interesting, because getting to that outcome takes time. Tech implementation and renewals at enterprise companies can take nearly a year once new technology is onboarded. And that has a big impact on realising that time to value. Ultimately, decision-makers are prioritising, you know, post-sales support and weighing their past experiences with solutions when making these decisions. 

[21:28] Michael Levine  So for marketers, you have to message strong service, strong support, and demonstrate that commitment to ensuring their success at right at the heart of the conversation in your brand building in your sort of influencing and capturing at the early stages. I think just as a last thought on that, another good idea would be to leverage an ABM strategy to help with the upsell, cross-sell piece by building visibility of your solution to business impact. So the more that you can reinforce through case studies and that value impact creation that you've achieved, the more you do that within an existing customer base that will also help boost retention.

[22:20] Shahin Hoda  And those are most of the questions I want to ask Michael, but you know, I have a few rapid questions I want to ask you. And before we get there, is there anything else that you know, maybe I didn't ask or I didn't cover, we didn't cover that you think it's important from some of the trends that you're seeing to think about? 

[22:36] Michael Levine  No, I think just all I would say is, you know, the Age of Agility is a wonderful piece of research that we conduct every year and have done for a while into tech, B2B purchase decision-making. We have some great research and insights across all B2B that I would encourage anyone in marketing to visit our marketing solutions' blog to check it out. Because there's some really great insights there. And through our B2B Institute, as well.

[23:07] Shahin Hoda  Got it. So what's the best for, if anybody's interested to get the report and have a look at themselves? What's the best place for them to go?

[23:17] Michael Levine  Yeah, you can go to business Linkedin.com and navigate to our marketing solutions blog, or you are most welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn as well. And I can help point you in the right direction.

[23:32] Shahin Hoda  Super. Alright, we'll put both of those links, you'll leave your profile and the and the business.linkedin.com in the in the in the show notes as well. So if anyone is interested can definitely do that. Now before we wrap up. I have a couple of rapid questions for you. All right. The first thing I want to ask is, what is one resource, it could be a book, a blog, a podcast to talk about, whatever it is that has fundamentally changed the way you work and live.

[23:57] Michael Levine  It's probably a boring answer. But Calm, the Calm app has really changed the way that I live. Sleep. Sleep is so critical to how we function, you know, mentally and physically. And like many people, I have so much running through my head at the end of a really busy day. The calm sleep stories over the last 18 pretty crazy months have been a very, very welcome addition to the way that I live.

[24:29] Shahin Hoda  I love it. Yeah, you're right. I mean, you know, sleep is, I think it's one of the, it's the top three things one has to take care of, right? Okay, question number two. If you could give only one piece of advice to B2B marketers, what would it be?

[24:45] Michael Levine  I think we talked about it a little bit before but I think one of the biggest mistakes that I see B2B marketers making is that they try to measure their marketing investment in too short a term. And they have this really short term look back window that ultimately leads to short-term thinking. And it's driving this sort of mentality of cheap clicks, to get a website visit volume or cheap leads effectively.

[25:20] Michael Levine  And I want to achieve my scorecard of lead volume or website visits. And that's not really connected to driving business outcomes. And I think that's where marketers detach themselves from being a value creation of the business. So really coming back to the length of the buying cycle in B2B ultimately opens up a much more holistic conversation about the role of brand, the role of content to influence and, of course, those DR and lead nurture efforts. And I think that it also means that you challenge your team to measure with a much greater view of the big picture and that your attribution becomes much more sophisticated.

[26:06] Shahin Hoda  Okay, question number three, who are some of the influencers you follow in the marketing and sales space?

[26:12] Michael Levine  I would plug the B2B Institute from LinkedIn again. There's some great thought leadership there. We also work with a number of fellows. Some partners in the industry who are great. Mark Ritson, locally, is a good read. Rob Norman, Fran Cassidy, there's lots of great insights from those leaders as well. 

[26:38] Shahin Hoda  Awesome. Last question, what's something that excites you about B2B today.

[26:43] Michael Levine  Just bringing joy and bringing fun back to the B2B brand. He said before, like getting your head around how to do a brand well in B2B, I love that concept of aiming for fame as a key requirement for B2B marketers. We work really closely with Zero, the accounting software provider, both here in Australia and globally. And I think some of the work that Zero is doing to mobilise this army of Zero geek fans is really fun, and really impressive. 

[27:20] Michael Levine  And I think that your campaign that they have out recently, you know, is this idea of the emotional tax return. And it's born out of the insight that SMB owners are so robbed of a personal life because they're so heavily invested in their businesses. And so Zero is, you know, giving away money to small business owners, you know, emotional expense of tax return for that time that they invest in their business. I just think it's smart, it comes back to customer insight. It brings levity and fun to pretty dry B2B space. And ultimately, it differentiates them. And I think that's the joy of B2B marketing that we could all use a lot more of.

[28:14] Shahin Hoda  Got it. Michael, this has been awesome. I think there were a lot of golden nuggets inside the draft during the podcast. I think a lot of the audience are going to very much enjoy the conversation. So thank you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

[28:31] Michael Levine  Oh, it was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. 

[28:34] Shahin Hoda  Absolute pleasure. We'll see you around. Thanks.


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