Here’s the problem with an annual list like B2B News Network‘s B2B Pros to Watch: we could justifiably run many of the same people we celebrated in 2018 — Anne Handley, Jay Baer, Lee Odden and so on — every single year.
Of course, that wouldn’t be very interesting, and it would do a disservice to an industry that is chock-full of talent. That’s why all of this year’s names are new, and based on submissions we received as well as our own highly subjective choices. That subjectivity is informed, however, by the fact we’ve seen many of these people on stage, avidly read their blog posts or are obsessed with what they’re posting on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.
I hope you’ll see some names on here of people you’ve never heard of. I hope some of them are people you might have forgotten about, but recognize as industry leaders. And hopefully there’s also a few you’ll see and nod in agreement, knowing they deserve to be recognized for their thoughts, their work and overall contribution.
As a reminder, this is not intended to be a ranking, but a list of people equally rich in their gifts and impact. Enjoy — and feel free to reach out at email@example.com to tell me who I overlooked and should be added in 2020.
Shane Parrish, founder, Farnam Street
Last November the Wall Street Journal ran a story with the headline ‘How a former Canadian spy helps Wall Street Mavens Think Smarter.” It was a profile Parrish, whose Farnam Street blog, Knowledge Centre Project podcast and events are focused broadly on self-betterment. It may not scream “B2B” in that it’s explicitly aimed at those in marketing, sales or tech, but Farnam Street offers one of the most intellectually fascinating (and largely free) resources for almost any kind of enterprise leader. As Parrish’s projects continue to grow, expect to see a lot more than financiers paying attention.
Amber Naslund, Senior Content Marketing Evangelist, LinkedIn
For months, Naslund offered her followers on LinkedIn a detailed, almost confessional recount of her search for a new job, which ultimately lead to a role on the very platform she was using to tell her story. Her posts and comments go well beyond her own experiences, however, offering criticism and commentary on a number of issues, from “showing up” as a marketer to transcending the urge to tear others down when they seem to be more successful. The volume and quality of the responses she gets prove this is someone who is saying things the industry needs to hear, but is equally ready to listen.
Aaron Orendorff, EIC, Shopify Plus
#LetsGetRejected may sound like a somewhat downcast way to talk about finding your purpose and managing your career, but Orendorff uses it in a way to tell insightful tales of lessons he’s learned personally, as well as from others in his network. While his work at Shopify speaks for itself — a recent post on the future of e-commerce includes a Who’s Who of marketing and tech innovators — it’s his willingness to pair it with an authentic effort to engage his followers that sets a new bar for content marketing.
John Lincoln, CEO, Ignite Visibility
His firm produced Social Media Marketing: The Movie, but long after its debut Lincoln could be found back at his desk, offering a weekly LinkedIn video on the most important developments happening across Twitter, Instagram and other channels. Lincoln frequently goes beyond the headlines with his own commentary and insights into the trends — almost like a casual consulting session you can watch on your lunch hour.
Alan Gannett, Chief Strategy Officer, Skyword
He was already on a roll, having published a book, The Creative Curve, that explored the nuances of expressing powerful ideas across a wide range of industries and contexts. The Gannett propelled himself even further by merging TrackMaven, his content analytics firm that works with the likes of Microsoft and GE, with content marketing platform Skyword. This year will be when we see what those two forces look like as a united front, and how Gennett will contribute in fresh ways to their joint success.
Heidi Cohen, Actionable Marketing Guide
How to get rid of non-human traffic from your blog. The ins and outs of solopreneur pricing. Interviews with leading authors of books on social media and content strategy. Cohen’s tips and advice on her Actionable Marketing Guide go into the kind of depth that leave you with more than half of your strategy developed — you just have to apply them more specifically to your business context. A born writer, Cohen’s blog should be standard reading for anyone who’s serious about succeeding across digital channels.
In just a few years, Frisch and his team has turned his annual conference, the Content Experience (CONEX) into the best reason to stay in Toronto during the latter part of the summer. A fantastic impresario of marketing talent from across North America and beyond, he somehow manages to pop up in speaking roles at myriad other events, while also cranking out videos, blog posts and other content that give a bird’s-eye-view into his firms’ current thinking and strategy. This is a guy who loves his industry, and the feeling is obviously mutual.
Under Peluso’s leadership, Big Blue has continued to be at the forefront of an almost dizzying array of initiatives to market its products and services. From mainstream TV commercials focusing on blockchain to a constant stream of online hubs exploring artificial intelligence, Peluso recently told Digiday she had her marketing team take a page from developers in adopting an “agile” approach that makes the firm consistent in its messaging but fast-moving in achieving results. Want to know how to do omni-channel successfully? This is it.
His site is a treasure trove of advice on how to overcome customer objections, master old calls and more. His Twitter feed may be even better, with a constant stream of shares, retweets and comments that reflect on what it means to close deals in 2019. If you’re a rep or a sales manager who has ever wondered how to truly embrace “social selling,” Blount pretty much has the market cornered.
John Neeson, Co-Founder And Managing Director, SiriusDecisions
There is now a whole generation of marketers and sales executives who came up through the ranks learning about the frameworks and principles developed by Neeson and his team at SiriusDecisions. It’s an analyst firm with some of the strongest credibility in B2B, which made its acquisition by Forrester one of the most intriguing deals of 2018. The question is whether the two organizations will mesh in a way that broadens the research of its expertise. If Neeson stays on, the prospects are good.
A few years ago, Acunzo won a sort of people’s choice award at Content Marketing World for a session he lead, which meant he got to offer a keynote the next time around. His skills offstage, however, have been just as compelling. The Unthinkable podcast has touched on the evolution of brands like Merriam-Webster, the ongoing changes in the way we work and more. In 2018 he expanded beyond the podcast to launch Unthinkable Media, which shows that, despite gaining a loyal audience already, Acunzo is just getting started.
Lots of companies focus on their value proposition or their purpose, but Dunford has practically cornered the market on something that may be even more critical: positioning. Her work as a keynote speaker and consultant only seems to be picking up steam — probably thanks in part to a track record that includes launching 16 products as a executive. The testimonials from Twitter on her web site describe her as hilarious while offering valuable insights. Not bad positioning at all.
It’s almost unfair to look for a single person to represent the vanguard of account-based marketing, but Cancel gets points for being first out of the gate this year as co-author of a book, Conversational Marketing, that builds on the philosophy that has guided his software company, his podcast Seeking Wisdom and his work as entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School. While many marketers may be reluctant to do away with their lead generation forms and landing pages, Cancel has to be given credit for trying to create a new category within ABM that involves a more direct approach to converting customers and prospects.
Fatima Khan, Chief Privacy Officer, DemandBase
She was only a few months into the job when Khan found herself having to contend with the most talked-about compliance chore of 2018: the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by the European Union. While most firms sent out panicked opt-in e-mails and left it at that, Khan conducted interviews with a wide range of publications including Forbes, Diginomica and AdExchanger about her approach to the legislation from a B2B perspective, along with original research. As DemandBase’s first privacy executive, Khan is helping set the standard for her peers in countless other organizations.
Ben Baldwin, Founder, ScaleDriver
He might be called ‘The Founders’ founder.” He describes himself as an “advocate for innovators.” Having launched four organizations himself, he probably knows innovation when he sees it. His current firm, ScaleDriver, is focused on breaking the constraints that make it difficult for Fortune 500 organizations to come up with and execute their best ideas. However he’s also behind The Founder City Project, which offers a way to network as well as discuss issues around recruitment, retention and more. Being a board member of the Drucker Institute and a go-to expert with the Wall Street Journal shows Baldwin’s influence is only going to grow.
With its surprise acquisition of Marketo, Adobe showed it was willing to put even more skin in the game then when it purchased Magento earlier in 2018. When it came time to announce those deals, Rencher did almost as much of the talking and context-setting as Shantanu Narayen, suggesting he’ll play a pivotal role in helping extend the firm’s Experience Cloud strategy towards B2B firms.
Tracy Yelencsics, VP marketing, Conduent
Everyone recognizes the name “Xerox,” but many in B2B might not be as quick to identify the firm’s services arm which was spun out in 2017. Yelencsics has already made appearances as a keynote speaker at the Association of National Advertisers to talk about how fast the Conduent logo, strategy and brand had to be developed. This the year she’ll need to take her time proving that it’s a brand name more enterprises should learn.
Erik Matlick, CEO, Bombora
While Bombora is by no means the only firm that’s been talking about the power of intent data in B2B purchases, few other companies have worked as hard to partner with all the right martech providers. Matlick not only ended 2018 with the launch of a new B2B Marketing Measurement suite but oversaw a series of deals with DiscoverOrg, Triblio, Marketo, InsideView and more. When this many people want to plug into your product, you’re doing something right.
Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group
There are lots of theoretical discussions about content marketing, but Brenner makes it real in the from of blogs, keynote speeches and books that dive into details few talk about — including pricing. His interests range from naming B2B products to Instagram marketing. No wonder AI-based content software provider Concured brought him on as acting CMO last year.
Talking lemons and timepieces? They might seem like unlikely mascots for one of the world’s best-known consulting firms, but they were a key part of Deloitte’s first global brand campaign, led by O’Brien. The “Look again” tagline was not only featured in ads that peppered airports and other major sites, but via in-broadcast features on Fox Sports such as replays and retrospectives, along with digital advertising. O’Brien shows how a marketing leader can work well with its agency (in this case, Heat) to deliver unexpected and positive results.
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