Key B2B Marketing Trends 2021

Year after year marketing functions must change and adapt in order to remain relevant in today’s world. The tempo of change is constantly increasing, which for some, is the reason that they decided on a career in marketing in the first place. This constant change brings with it a consistent demand and desire to want to upskill ourselves and improve our knowledge.

Last year was no different. Marketing functions were forced to adapt as usual, but this time on a much quicker scale! Never has there been such a need for marketing automation and digitalisation. What do businesses need to guide them through this journey of change? Top in-demand talent. Dynamic and forward-thinking Marketing Directors, Digital Transformation Specialists, leaders who aren’t afraid to disrupt the industry and can bring with them a different take on things.

Let’s examine the changes and challenges that we, as executive search experts in the marketing space, are seeing and expect to see in 2021. We can then take a look into how COVID is impacting the marketing job market, and what this means for businesses trying to attract and secure the very best marketing talent.

What changes are we noticing?


Over this past year we’ve continued to see an elevation in senior marketing roles becoming more aligned to service lines, which require a broader understanding of both online and offline channels, and above all for senior marketeers to feel confident in being a thought partner and advisor to very senior stakeholders. This has been supplemented in the growth and advent of ‘centres of excellence’ or operating ‘hubs’, allowing a one stop shop internally to drive best practice around technical skill sets.

With this comes a bigger drive on campaigns and a ‘one firm’ approach, going to market with a single shared vision and purpose.

Digital is on the up

There has been a significant shift in which areas of marketing businesses are investing in. In previous years a reoccurring area of focus has been the development of client relationships as a part of the marketing funnel, and with this the integration of sales and business development into the marketing agenda, and whereas this is still an area of importance, we have seen a huge shift towards investing in digital skills, tools and automation, accelerated by COVID-19 as the buyer journey has moved fully online. Investment in digital was already on the rise pre-COVID, so off the back of what we’ve experienced in 2020, it’s not at all surprising to see this increase further.

In Marketing Week, they state that research from LinkedIn finds digital marketing is among the fastest growing sectors for new jobs in the UK. Social media and digital marketing roles grew by 52% in 2020, according to an analysis of LinkedIn’s 29 million UK members

With regards to how this impacts senior marketing positions, we’re seeing clients favour candidates with stronger digital capabilities in generalist roles, and those who have the ability to heavily contribute towards digital transformations and rollouts, as well as the awareness and competency to utilise martech as a key pillar in their marketing plans. Standalone digital leadership roles to either drive transformation or run in house digital teams are currently our most common mandate across the business.

Content Marketing

Again, for a sector that has been quite traditional in its marketing activities over the years, COVID has forced many professional services businesses to revaluate how they manage their content strategy. Whether it be webinars, thought leadership content or video blogs, professional services firms are having to increase their online presence and raise the bar in order to stand out as experts in their markets. Content is still king, but firms are now much savvier around how they disseminate and use that content through mixed media.

Increase in businesses shifting to ABM (account-based marketing) model

ABM has historically been more prevalent in B2B IT/technology businesses and less so in wider professional services (historic sales first organisations).

As more and more businesses are shifting to using an ABM model which again, heavily integrates the customer, key decision makers and buyer journeys into both marketing and sales, the talent pool is hyper competitive given that the companies will pay much higher salaries in order to secure these professionals to be ‘first past the post’ in delivering best in class ABM ecosystems.

We see a lot of generalist marketeers talking about ABM on a ‘one to many’ model, yet very few are still driving genuine demand activity through a ‘one to one’ programme. This has led to people ‘salary surfing’ the trend, and this will definitely present certain challenges for professional services firms when trying to secure talent with specific ABM experience in the years ahead.

What challenges does Marketing face as we progress into 2021?

On a recent marketing focussed professional services webinar, it is discussed that the 3 biggest challenges ahead for professional services in 2021 are;

  • Digital Disruption/ keeping pace with new technology
  • Changing client expectations or buyer behaviour
  • Managing the impact of COVID-19 on the business/ keeping employees safe

In the same webinar they also discuss strategic priorities for 2021 and again, ‘Investing in digital tools and automation’ comes out on top with 74%.

COVID – What does this mean when it comes to hiring marketing talent?

Due to the challenges presented by COVID and the sudden decline in recruitment activity that took place at the start of the pandemic, clients took to a very risk adverse way of hiring and started to put more emphasis on recruiting ‘like for like’ backgrounds.

We’ve now reached the one-year mark since COVID started to impact the UK, and with the majority of firms effectively and successfully working from home, marketing candidates are starting to become more confident with exploring new opportunities in the market. With that said, the talent pool for senior marketing professionals is still not fully back to how it was pre-COVID, and many people are still slightly sceptical about leaving the security of their current roles given the degree of uncertainty.

In previous years, based on research from LinkedIn the talent market has behaved in the below way:

  • 21% of people are ‘Active’ which means they are job hunting and easy to find via advertising.
  • 15% are ‘Tentative’ – these are people who may consider a change.
  • 44% are ‘Explorers’ – they are not looking but willing to discuss opportunities with a trusted advisor.
  • 20% are ‘Super Passive’ – Happy in their current roles and will not move

In the present day, we’ve effectively seen the number of active job seekers rise due to high unemployment rates from the backlash of COVID. The number of super passive people (who are in secure roles and not looking to move) has increased due to market uncertainty.

Naturally this has squeezed the explorer community. Although difficult to access, this community is where businesses are most likely to find the very best talent with the most relevant backgrounds and skillsets.

Taking this into consideration, it has become common for businesses to post job adverts and see high volume response rates. This may sound like a good thing however, this is only due to the active candidate pool increasing and so acts as a smokescreen.

Example: A business posts a job advert for a Head of Marketing and attracts 300+ applicants. On the surface, this looks great and the business feels that this is down to excellent market conditions for hiring. However, the majority of these applicants are from the newly increased active talent pool which may not offer the in-demand skills the business is looking for.

Using a trusted search firm, and dealing with experts who specifically know the current senior marketing landscape, will offer businesses a big advantage when it comes to hiring senior marketing talent. At tml Partners we focus and have relationships with people who sit within the explorer portion of the market. Having access to this talent pool will ensure that businesses can secure the very best senior marketing professionals who have the in-demand skillsets in this competitive market.

What else can hiring managers do to ensure that they are securing the top marketing talent?

Now more than ever, it is imperative that during interview processes, hiring managers ensure they are doing all that they can to ‘sell’ back to the candidate and demonstrate interest. This is especially important when interviewing candidates who are passively looking and aren’t urgently searching for a new role.

As a business, demonstrating the successes that you’ve had throughout the COVID pandemic and talking through exciting on-going plans, will ensure candidates feel confident if they were to make a move. Being able to show that the business has a positive mentality on how they are tackling the challenges that come with COVID, is an excellent way to secure candidate interest and mitigate the risk of them pulling out of processes and deciding to remain with their current firm.

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