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How B2B marketing leaders drive business growth: lessons from Nicole Parlapiano, WeWork Marketing VP

B2B marketing is a constant balance between the emotional and the analytical. Running a successful marketing team means getting that balance consistently right, something that can keep Nicole Parlapiano up at night. She’s WeWork’s Head of Marketing for the U.S. and Canada, and she was inspired to share her B2B marketing advice with us after listening to Sydney Sloan’s Up At Night podcast episode.

On the one hand, Parlapiano says, B2B marketing leaders need to run teams that come up with impactful creative that differentiates their product or service in a breakthrough way. That sometimes means not taking the traditional problem-solution route. On the other, those leaders need to be experts in the measurable metrics they’re committed to, like opportunities and revenue. Parlapiano’s overarching advice for B2B marketing leaders—or those aspiring to climb the marketing ladder—is to embrace the mix of creative and analytical.

Here are six B2B marketing tips Parlapiano shared with us:

1. Understand the context and complexities

Parlapiano explains the complexities of her job this way, “The tough part about B2B marketing is that it’s a rational and emotional sell. The individuals involved usually care about different things, and the sales journey is long. It’s marketing’s job to inform and influence the buyer groups along the sales cycle, and to help expedite the sales cycle to close the deal.”

About what the experience teaches you, she explains, “If you are a marketer at any company, philosophically understanding the challenges of B2B marketing will help with internal communications and buy-in. The better you are at explaining your plans and making your case for budgets with different stakeholder groups, the faster you can move.” How does she make her case? She models—read on.

“The better you are at explaining your plans and making your case for budgets with different stakeholder groups, the faster you can move.”

Nicole Parlapiano, Head of Marketing, US & Canada at WeWork

2. Model everything

With a background in private equity, Parlapiano said she’s learned to apply financial models to a) internally build a business case for B2B marketing campaigns, and b) campaign optimization.

She says, “I model everything. I look at historical performance benchmarks, form my assumptions, and forecast what I think the campaign will yield. We usually like to look at three different scenarios: low yield, average, above average. This gives us a performance range. Midway through the campaign flight, we re-evaluate and check where we are falling within that range and which areas of the funnel we can improve.”

Not everything works as planned and sometimes that’s a function of timing. Parlapiano admits, “You sometimes need to know when to ‘call-it,’ when something just isn’t working, no matter how much you try to optimize, and it becomes a waste of time, money, and resources to try to make it work. I have a hard time doing that because my ego is saying it failed, which is hard to admit. If everything is successful, we’re not really learning anything.”

3. Manage the biggest risk: executing the creative

“Creative is always the most risky component when I’m planning campaigns or programs. I can recall many times in my career where the creative idea was amazing, and it just fell apart in execution, or where we just played it too safe and it didn’t move the needle. It’s a hard thing to nail.”

“I can recall many times in my career where the creative idea was amazing, and it just fell apart in execution, or where we just played it too safe and it didn’t move the needle. It’s a hard thing to nail.”

Nicole Parlapiano

When creative ideas do fall apart, Parlapiano says, it’s due to one of two reasons: 1) there are too many cooks in the kitchen, or 2) the idea is impractical to execute. “We let the idea go through too many people or accept too much feedback… because everyone has an opinion on creative. Or sometimes it’s a great idea, but it can’t be executed in real life.”

Another problem she’s encountered is being overly precious. She adds, “In hypergrowth, we don’t have time to be precious. It’s more of a get it done mentality.” But Parlapiano is a big believer in creative. “I’d say 60% of marketing effectiveness is message and creative articulation. Amazing creative trumps everything.”

4. Build bridges

Parlapiano and her team agree to aggressive annual goals, then reassess on at least a weekly basis. But they don’t agree to the goals in a vacuum—Parlapiano has a close relationship with all of her cross-functional stakeholders: sales, government affairs, general managers, real estate, design, and of course the regional “C-We-O.” They sit together, they’ve traveled together, and they’ve built a lot of trust. And they have a strict “no throwing under the bus” mentality.

Building trust with fellow leaders may seem like simplistic advice, but Parlapiano’s success has come by turning that trust into open conversations and clear agreement on the interdependence of marketing’s goals.  “Everything is connected,” she says, “from marketing, to sales, to real estate, to the community teams on the ground.” And by explaining exactly what inputs and follow-through she needs to hit her marketing objectives and impact the company’s overall goals, Parlapiano is able to be a more effective marketing leader.

5. Hold clarity meetings, especially during rapid business growth

This is a shared technique that Parlapiano pointed out Sydney Sloan mentioned in her Up At Night episode. Sloan uses a “clearing meeting’ with her CEO to discuss any issues or tensions As she puts it, “I may agree or disagree, but I’ve learned it’s better to be aligned sometimes than to be right.” 

Parlapiano takes a similar approach. One of her biggest fears in growth mode is the business moves so quickly that people can become confused along the way about what the company’s purpose is, and what it’s driving towards. Or people make assumptions that aren’t the case. So she sets monthly “clarity” meetings with her leadership counterparts to make sure everyone’s aligned, and there’s a deliberate venue to resolve any ambiguity.

And she takes clarity even further, practicing the inclusive management technique of balancing out the opinions of extroverts with those of introverts. She says, “if I know someone is naturally more introverted on my team, I will ask them for input after the meeting instead of calling them out in the room. I try to get people to challenge me. Leadership needs to be inclusive, so I want to stay attuned to the emotions in the room.”

6. Be passionate about your product

When she moved from private equity to marketing, Parlapiano explained, it was driven partly by the product: It was dating site behemoth eharmony, where “the mission was to find someone a soulmate.” She described a headquarters filled with framed photos of marriages and families that eharmony helped create.

WeWork’s product can be seen in a similar way, she said, which helps her bring passion to her work every day. “At WeWork, we’re trying to match people and companies with a physical space where for better or worse—they will spend more time with their coworkers than their families at home. We want to make that a better experience. They may not meet their soulmate, but they could meet their business partner, a funding source, or form a stronger connection with their coworkers.”

Looking to find a space that’s a perfect match for your business?

Find out how WeWork can connect you to new markets and opportunities for growth more easily, and with less capital outlay, compared to other options.

And be sure to listen to WeWork customer Sydney Sloan’s Up At Night podcast episode on managing a B2B marketing team during hypergrowth (#7 fastest growing tech company in North America!).