The B2B marketing landscape is a complex and evolving space, with unique challenges and opportunities. Navigating it effectively requires thoughtful strategies and insightful tactics. With many digital channels available, what are the best ways to connect, engage, and convert potential business clients? As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Freeman.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and how you got started in your career?
I’ve been in the marketing field for over 20 years, spanning a range of industries from startups to Fortune 100 companies. I recently joined Airbase in February 2023. Before that, I held significant roles at Skilljar, Certent, Adaptive Insights, Disney, Maersk, and more. My educational background includes a BA in Communications Studies and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
One person that comes to mind is George Coughlin, VP of Marketing at Adaptive Insights. George emphasized the significance of “how” something is done in addition to “what” is being done. This had a lasting impact on me because it influenced not only the quality of the work but also the level of collaboration, trust, and enjoyment among team members.
What is your favorite life lesson quote, and how has it been relevant to you in your life?
“If something is worth doing, do it well.” This phrase, instilled in me by my mother, has been a guiding principle throughout my life and career. It reminds me to always take pride in my work and to commit fully to any task I undertake.
What are three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
- Continuous Improvement: Throughout my career, I’ve found that the most significant long-term value comes from continuous improvements rather than one-off campaigns. By continuously refining aspects like SEO, paid search, and conversion rate optimization, we've seen consistent success and growth.
- Harnessing Technology: I’ve always tried to push the boundaries of technology to enhance the customer experience. From transitioning from Eloqua and Marketo to HubSpot to being one of the first marketers to embrace YouTube as a video hosting service, my goal has always been to minimize friction and improve efficiency while delivering better value to our customers.
- Seeing the Bigger Picture: I view my teams and myself as more than marketers—we’re business people who understand what drives our companies forward. This focus on alignment between marketing, sales, and the rest of the business is a key aspect of my work.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
I’m always looking to refine my understanding of the latest marketing technologies and strategies. The digital landscape is ever-evolving, and staying ahead requires continuous learning and adaptation. Additionally, I’m keen on further developing my skills in data analytics and understanding customer behavior at a deeper level.
How do you perceive the current landscape of B2B marketing?
B2B marketing is increasingly about personalization and understanding the unique needs of each business client. With the rise of data-driven strategies, there’s a greater emphasis on delivering tailored experiences that resonate with the target audience. It’s also about seeing marketers as business people who understand what drives their companies forward.
How have recent market trends and changes influenced your approach to outperforming competitors?
The shift toward online campaigns and the increasing importance of digital optimization have been significant. I’ve always pushed any technology to its absolute limit, from using YouTube as a hosting platform for official APIs to customizing HubSpot forms for ads. It’s all about reducing friction for customers and staying ahead of the curve.
B2B buying cycles can often be lengthy and complex. How do you maintain engagement and nurture leads throughout the various stages of the buyer’s journey?
It’s crucial to provide value at every stage of the buyer’s journey. This means delivering relevant content, insights, and solutions that address the specific needs and challenges of the potential client. By understanding their pain points and offering tailored solutions, we can maintain engagement and build trust over time.
Personalization is gaining prominence in B2B marketing. What are some ways marketers can leverage data for personalization?
Everything in life is moving toward personalization. Just as platforms like Netflix and Amazon provide personalized recommendations based on user preferences, the same level of personalization should apply to the B2B sector. By leveraging data analytics and understanding customer behavior, marketers can deliver tailored experiences that resonate with the target audience.
ABM has also gained traction for its personalized approach to targeting high-value accounts. What advice would you give to fellow B2B marketers looking to adopt this strategy?
ABM is all about understanding the unique needs and challenges of high-value accounts. It’s essential to conduct thorough research, leverage data analytics, and collaborate closely with sales teams to deliver tailored solutions that address the specific pain points of these accounts. By focusing on quality over quantity and building strong relationships, B2B marketers can achieve greater success with ABM.
Based on your experience, what are five ways companies can improve their B2B marketing strategy to help beat competitors?
- Embrace Continuous Improvement: Rather than relying on one-off campaigns, focus on iterative improvements. For instance, my work in SEO, paid search, and conversion rate optimization has always been about refining and optimizing, leading to consistent success and growth over time.
- Leverage Technology Innovatively: Push the boundaries of available technology to enhance customer experiences. An example from my journey is when we became one of the first to use YouTube as an API hosting platform, offering a unique way to engage with our audience.
- Align Marketing with Sales: True alignment between these departments is crucial. At Adaptive Insights, our “Plan to Win” roadshow program brought customers and prospects together, showcasing the power of collaborative efforts between marketing and sales.
- Prioritize Personalization: As we’ve seen with platforms like Netflix and Amazon, personalization is the future. B2B marketers should leverage data-driven insights to deliver tailored experiences, just as I’ve emphasized the move toward personalization in fintech.
- Remember the Human Element: Beyond all strategies and technologies, it’s essential to remember that we’re dealing with people. My philosophy has always been to view our teams, prospects, and customers as fully-formed humans, not just roles or titles. This approach fosters trust and deeper connections.
How do you utilize data or AI to refine your B2B marketing approach, and what tools have been particularly impactful in gaining a competitive advantage?
Data and AI play a pivotal role in understanding customer behavior and delivering personalized experiences. Tools like HubSpot have been instrumental in refining our marketing approach, allowing us to leverage data analytics to optimize campaigns and reduce customer friction.
Which digital channels have you found most effective in reaching your target audience, and how do you optimize your presence across these channels to outshine competitors?
Digital optimization, especially in areas like SEO, paid search, and conversion rate optimization, has been highly effective. Additionally, platforms like YouTube have been invaluable for hosting official APIs and reaching a broader audience. By continuously refining our strategies and staying updated with the latest trends, we ensure that our presence across these channels stands out.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
I’d inspire a movement centered around authentic human connection in the digital age. In a world dominated by technology, it’s crucial to remember the importance of genuine human interactions, understanding, and empathy. By fostering real connections, we can create more inclusive, understanding, and collaborative communities, both online and offline.
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