Keith Pigues is chairman of the board of directors for the Business Marketing Association International and a member of the Executive Leadership Council. In 2007, he received the Frost &Sullivan Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award and was recognized by B2B Magazine as one of the leading senior marketing practitioners. Since 2007, Mr. Pigues has served as corporate senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Ply Gem Industries, Inc. He was previously VP of marketing at CEMEX USA , where he led all branding, marketing and market development for the U.S. operations of the world’s largest building materials company.

PERFORM: What are you hearing from your members about Web 2.0? Are most already implementing these interactive strategies, struggling to understand and/or implement them or somewhere in between? How are marketing budgets being shifted to address this?

PIGUES: Most business marketers are struggling to understand the impact of Web 2.0 and social media as it relates to their marketing efforts. Many feel that the hype behind Web 2.0 initiatives like video sharing, wikis and social networks is not justified in the B-to-B space. A few of our cutting-edge members like Kodak, Cisco and IBM that are willing to test this emerging space are finding some great results in better engaging their customers. I characterize the current state as one of uncertainty with a strong curiosity.

PERFORM: Most people are familiar with the consumer side of Web 2.0, but they are less clear on how so-called “conversational” marketing can be applied to B-to-B relationships. Can you provide an overview?

PIGUES: Yes, conversational marketing is included in the category of user-generated content. This includes blogs, forums and ratings. And, yes, the B-to-B applications are less clear because many B-to-B companies don’t actively and consistently seek feedback from their customers. Some believe this feedback mechanism lacks structure or statistical significance. I say, if a customer takes the time to provide unsolicited feedback, it’s worth seriously evaluating and acting upon.

Take industrial product manufacturers, for example. Rarely do they proactively and systematically ask customers what they think of their products or ask customers for help in developing the next new product. While this may have been considered too costly in the past, the new Web 2.0 tools can help many companies improve their conversations with customers by opening an online forum or wiki, which provides valuable customer feedback to help accelerate customer acquisition, retention and profits. We have seen some good examples of this use of Web 2.0. GlobalSpec [an engineering-specific search engine]; it does a nice job here.

PERFORM: Where should B-to-B marketers begin in evaluating ways to promote their products and services online? What are common misconceptions and pitfalls?

PIGUES: Unfortunately, many B-to-B marketers are falling short in the Web 1.0 world. They lack an understanding of the common best practices in serving the customer online. Some common misperceptions are things like: social media is for Gen Y; search engine optimization is black magic; my website is a great place to promote my wares versus giving the customers what they need in content and experience to make the best decisions. B-to-B marketers should begin by evaluating the basics of online marketing. The more advanced B-to-B marketers will benefit by understanding how buyers in their specific market desire to receive the information most helpful in their decision-making process. I think this is a good place to start.

PERFORM: Which so-called Web 2.0 tools/technologies do you think are most valuable for corporate marketers who want to extend their brands, engage with customers and, of course, drive sales? Which, if any, do you feel are merely fads, unlikely to bear fruit or succeed as part of long-term marketing strategies?

PIGUES: Comments and ratings are great almost anywhere. Providing an easier way for customers to provide real-time feedback on the product or service experience can help with branding, customer engagement and sales. This, of course, is not a new revelation. However, the Web 2.0 technologies can make this much easier and affordable. Also, RSS [real simple syndication] feeds for aggregation of content and news can help avoid the information overload that many customers face. Forums are a great way to access your customer base to get feedback, not only for new sales opportunities but also to examine issues related to retention and customer service.

At the moment, viral video and virtual worlds like Second Life appear to be fads; however, this could change overnight. I think it’s too early to count them out. If an innovator makes it work, a new technology could be all over the map in an instant. That’s the way the world works today.

PERFORM: Are your members changing the way they structure their marketing departments in response to the demands of the Internet? Are they working with more external agencies or working with them differently?

PIGUES: While most recognize the need to change, many are stuck with the same structure and continue to add one person here or a little extra budget there to explore more effective ways of marketing. Before we see significant change in the structure of marketing departments, there will have to be a shift in thinking regarding human behavior and decision making in the B-to-B space. The antiquated beliefs about how customers make decisions must be reexamined. When this new insight is more widely gained, I think we will see more rapid change in marketing structures to make them more effective. Most of the efforts in the past two decades have been focused on efficiency improvements – doing the same old thing better. Enlightened B-to-B marketers have discovered it’s time for a new, more effective approach to create demand and deliver value to customers.

The same is true with most agencies. They recognize the need to change, and a few are truly making the leap into more effective strategies and capabilities to help their clients create demand and deliver value to customers. Until we see a critical mass of B-to-B companies making the shift, we will likely see more of what is happening today – which is that many of our members are working with online/Internet specialists, as most traditional agencies do not execute well in the interactive space.

While our corporate marketing members are making some positive steps in the way they work with agencies and other external partners, rarely do we see a company taking all of its online initiatives in-house. At the very least, they hire a consultant to educate and guide them on best practices. Search and websites would be common examples. I do think the truly innovative companies will begin to define a new order of working relationships between B-to-B companies and their agency partners. Agencies that take a leadership role in this effort could pave the way for rapid change and gain a significant competitive advantage in the Web 2.0 world and beyond. This could very well be the next battleground for agency success and maybe agency survival.