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B2B Marketing Expert Interview Series: Feeling B2B with Ann Handley #MPB2B

Posted on Sep 18th, 2023
Written by Theresa Meis
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  • B2B Marketing Expert Interview Series: Feeling B2B with Ann Handley #MPB2B
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    Ready to elevate your B2B brand?

    TopRank Marketing drives results with content, influencer, SEO & social media marketing.

    We’re feeling the excitement mount as we are now just over two weeks away from the MaketingProfs B2B Forum!

    As a lead-up to this event, we’ve been sharing an ongoing interview series, “Feeling B2B,” exploring the emotions behind B2B marketing with top minds in the industry. These conversations range from Joe Pulizzi’s insights into unconventional content marketing tactics to Ahava Leibtag’s thoughts on the nuances that separate B2C from B2B content experiences.

    Today we’re touching on a topic that’s been on every marketer’s mind for most of 2023: the role of generative AI in B2B marketing. We are delighted to be joined for this discussion by marketing influencer and bestselling author Ann Handley. As chief content officer at MarketingProfs, Ann is renowned for her expertise in B2B marketing and her ability to connect with audiences through the art of storytelling.

    This video interview series is created by TopRank Marketing in partnership with MarketingProfs B2B Forum, an event that gathers the brightest minds in the B2B marketing industry. The 2023 B2B Forum will take place in Boston October 4-6, and also has online participation options.

    In this interview, Ann and TopRank Marketing co-founder Lee Odden have a frank and insightful conversation about the integration of generative AI in content creation. Ann opens up about her journey through building a relationship with this new tool and offers practical advice for marketers who want to harness the power of AI while staying true to their creative spirit.

    Watch the video now and make sure to let us know if YOU are feeling B2B!

    Ann also shares a sneak peek into the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum, highlighting how the event is designed to be, in essence, an optimal B2B marketing experience. The Forum is designed to tackle serious business topics while providing the human connection and levity that make for a memorable event.

    Stay tuned for more exclusive conversations in the #FeelingB2B series, and mark your calendars for the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023. This is where the industry’s trailblazers gather to exchange insights, share experiences, and propel B2B marketing into the future.

    Visit to learn more!

    PLUS: Get $200 off individual registration and $400+ for groups of three or more by using our special code, “TOPRANK” when you register here.

    MPB2B Forum 2023 Discount Code Image

    How to Connect with Ann:

    Ann Handley on LinkedIn

    @AnnHandley on X

    Here is the full transcript from this conversation between Ann and Lee:

    Lee Odden:

    Welcome to the Feeling B2B show, a limited interview series featuring conversations with some of the top B2B voices in the marketing industry, brought to you by the fine folks at MarketingProfs B2B Forum. I’m Lee Odden your host, and today we’re speaking with none other than the queen of content in B2B marketing as far as I’m concerned, Ann Handley. Ann is a longtime friend, dog mom to Augie, tiny house owner, and a marketing influencer loved by millions. But wait, there’s more — Ann is also a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, a global keynote speaker, the publisher of an exceptional marketing newsletter, which you can find at, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, and she’s the brains behind the programming at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum coming up in October. Welcome to Feeling B2B, Ann.

    Ann Handley:

    Oh my God, I am feeling it after that generous intro. How are you today, Lee?


    I’m great. Are you ready to talk about your B2B feelings?


    I am ready. We’re going to get all up in our feelings today…

    Lee: It’s really great to see you. Let’s kick it off — what do you love most about B2B marketing?


    What do I love most about B2B marketing? I mean honestly, we have what — three, four hours to talk about just this first question, right? I mean, there’s so much that I really deeply love about business to business marketing, but I think the thing that I love the most is that it’s always changing. If you had asked me this question five years ago, and you said “You know, let’s talk about tactics and opportunities,” I would have a very different answer than I do here in 2023. I think the evolution of B2B marketing — the way that it constantly challenges us as B2B marketers — is one of the things that truly keeps me engaged and energized.

    “I think the evolution of B2B marketing — the way that it constantly challenges us as B2B marketers — is one of the things that truly keeps me engaged and energized.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Share on X

    I would never have a career like that, over 20 years, if I worked in finance or if I were an actuary — no shade to financial people, CFOs, or actuaries — but I just wouldn’t be engaged in quite the same way. I feel like I would’ve done a midlife career shift already. I would’ve been like, all right, I get it — let’s move on.

    But the thing about B2B marketing is that ultimately, you really never get it. What I mean by that is that because there are always new opportunities, there are always new tools and tactics and challenges that come up, and that’s truly what fuels me. I think it’s also what fuels all of us as B2B marketers.


    Absolutely. There are always exciting times in the B2B world, and there’s always something new, something changing, like you say, and what’s not to love about that, right? We all know about the quote from Maya Angelou, that people will forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. What role do you think this idea of feelings plays in modern B2B marketing?


    Oh my gosh — I think it’s enormous. We often associate B2B marketing as much more straightforward, you know — it’s all about the data and it’s all about how we sell solutions and we sell software or we’re in manufacturing, and we sell a service or whatever the case may be. But I think ultimately, the opportunity in B2B to think about telling the stories in a way that will truly connect with who we we seek to serve is so much richer than it is in almost any other kind of marketing. If you’re going to CVS and you’re going to pick out a piece of chewing gum, you’re not going to think about how this Big Red versus Juicy Fruit makes you feel.

    Instead, I think it’s much more of a snap, in-the-moment decision. Also, there are no great stakes, but I think the opposite is true in B2B marketing, where we do need to think pretty deeply about how these services and solutions, if you will, fit into our lives. How will they make our lives better, not only as people, but also within organizations. The stakes are higher, and I think that the emotional resonance ultimately can be a lot deeper. What does that mean? I think it’s incumbent on us to think about how do we bring some emotion into B2B marketing, because people’s lives and their jobs are on the line every single day. That’s a pretty high stakes environment, and there are a lot of feelings all up in there. I think there are lots of opportunities to really embrace emotions in B2B marketing.

    “I think it's incumbent on us to think about how do we bring some emotion into B2B marketing, because people's lives and their jobs are on the line every single day.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Share on X


    Totally. You know we’ve all heard that adage that people make decisions based on emotion, justified with logic. When you think about the buying committee, there are other humans involved. There’s consensus that you have to achieve when making recommendations on vendors and things like that. There are emotions involved with that — the more people who are involved, and I love what you said about storytelling, because there’s another expression:  facts tell, story sell — and what better method is there to connect with people on an emotional level than through effective storytelling?


    Yes, and you know, I’ve never given a speech, written a newsletter, or publishing a blog post that a few years down the line, when I bump into somebody at an event or when I have a conversation with somebody, what they remember from all of those interactions with me is usually a story that I told. If you extrapolate that more broadly, it’s exactly what you just said. Stories sell. They stick in our brains. We remember them at a much higher degree than we do just from say a bunch of facts or features about a B2B solution or tool. I think it’s incumbent on us to really harness that power and that opportunity.


    Absolutely. For a lot of content creators and marketers, generative AI and artificial intelligence represents a sort of threat, but in some ways you have embraced it. I’m curious, what advice do you have for coming over to the dark side? Just kidding — what advice do you have for marketers trying to make sense of AI and content?


    I don’t think of it as a threat, honestly. I did go through this sort of Kubler-Ross five stages of grief, or seven stages of grief, where I got to some pretty dark places when ChatGPT came on the scene. November 30th, 2022 is a date that is burned in my brain because I remember that feeling of, “OK, well it’s been a good run. Guess I better go become an actuary now, you know, because my life in B2B marketing is done. It’s over. I have nothing left.” If I am showing up as a writer and a creative every day, and if that’s what ultimately engages me, then what does that mean in a world where the robots are writing for us? So I had to work through that on my own.

    Ultimately I came out the other side with a definite feeling of acceptance. But more than that, I would say actually some excitement around it, because I see it as much more of an opportunity for us to create in a way that is unprecedented, really. I know those are some big words, but I really do believe that I think of generative AI more as an efficiency tool than I do as a straight up writing tool. We call them writing tools, because that’s an easy way to talk about them. But I see them much more as efficiency accelerators than anything else, in B2B marketing. That’s how I think of it. Again, we could talk about this for another three or four hours, but you know, at a high level, that’s how I think about it.

    “I think of generative AI more as an efficiency tool than I do as a straight up writing tool. I see them much more as efficiency accelerators than anything else, in B2B marketing.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Share on X


    Thank you for that, because I think there are a lot of folks in that situation, trying to make sense out of this technology. What does it mean to them? We’ve both been around for a little while, and we remember when things like social media were brand new, and there was a sort of phase that a lot of folks went through where they’re just wondering what is it? You know, who cares — the old taking photos of my food kind of thing. And obviously it’s a pretty big platform, and it’s ubiquitous in how people communicate these days. I think generative AI is the same way. We’re just getting started really, with all the plug-ins and add-ons and things that really can help optimize tasks and creativity.

    I got to give a presentation on generative AI and content when I was abroad recently, and the thing that stood out with a lot of people was this idea of generative AI making you more what you are. Kind of like, if you’re a broke jerk and you get a lot of money, you’re just a rich jerk. If you put crap into a generative AI platform, you’re going to get crap out, right? So a lot of people who are sort of not really seeing it aren’t really necessarily maybe bringing imagination to the situation, and having that imagination of what’s possible. It’s the people who do that are really seeing those productivity and creativity gains.


    I love that. I think that is so accurate. I love what you just said about how it amplifies more of who we are at our core, and I think that’s where I had to get to when I went through those five stages of grief to get to acceptance. And now I’m using it very much as a — well, I call it my fairy godmother, you know — it’s the kind of thing where I have no idea how to start this presentation. True story: Recently I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs, but also their spouses at an event in Missouri. I’m used to speaking to business audiences, but I thought, spouses — I have no idea how to speak to this audience — but you know who really helped me there, to talk through almost like a fairy godmother, to help me talk through what does this audience need, what are the elements of what I talk about with AI that actually would be relevant to a broader audience.

    AI was enormously helpful. Now, I could have done some market research. I could have called up some of the spouses and spoken to them one-on-one. That probably would’ve been great too, but it was an enormous time saver just for me to ask ChatGPT what should I be thinking about with this audience? That doesn’t mean that it did the work for me, but it gave me a starting point, and that’s the piece that is so critical. It can really give you a launchpad to make your ideas bigger or make them richer, and that’s where I think the true value is for so many of us. I think that’s what we need to unlock as B2B marketers.


    Absolutely. So on top of the awesome advice you’re giving right now, there’s going to be programming at B2B Forum on generative AI, right? I’ve noticed quite a bit in the program, with lots of folks talking with various angles, which is great to see. People can look forward to that. If you want to get your questions answered about generative AI, content, and B2B marketing, B2B Forum is the place to be. What are you looking forward to most at the event this year?

    “If you want to get your questions answered about generative AI, content, and B2B marketing, B2B Forum is the place to be.” — Lee Odden @LeeOdden Share on X


    At B2B Forum we have fantastic momentum this year. Last year was our first year back in person after a few years off because of Covid. So last year was a little tricky. It was a little hard for us because it was a building year, but this year we are on track to sell out, and I feel really great about that. We’ve got some really nice momentum, and along with that I think we’re seeing lots of new ideas and sessions. Like you mentioned, there’s a whole lot more of AI that’s sort of woven throughout the program, because that is very much how B2B marketers are experiencing AI right now.

    It’s not like we are all suddenly switched to become just AI-centric and AI focused. We have to figure out how do we take these tasks that we do every day and figure out, is this a good match for AI or not, so much as we are experiencing AI woven throughout our jobs. That’s very much how the program is designed too.

    The second thing that I’m really excited about is that we’ve got a nice mix this year of some high level sessions that may be great for leaders of teams. They can go and get a very broad look at key leadership lessons and key leadership ideas. Katie Robert is leading a session around leadership and how do you talk to the people who manage the robots, I think is the name of our session, or how do you manage the people who manage the robots? So it’s very much from a leader’s standpoint.

    We have other sessions that are really focused on leaders, because I wanted teams to be able to come to the B2B Forum and experience — the tacticians on your staff can experience more of the instruction that they need, the tactics and the tools to succeed in their roles and to lead themselves further in their careers. But also I wanted to offer programming for the leaders who are bringing those teams, to make it much more of a sort of inclusive experience for those teams. That’s one of the ways that we’ve really thought about the program much more intentionally this year.

    “There's a whole lot more of AI that's sort of woven throughout the #MPB2B program, because that is very much how B2B marketers are experiencing AI right now.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Share on X


    That’s so smart, because you know — beyond just bringing your team to an event and having the shared experience, the bonding and learning about new things at the same time, I love that idea that you’ve got content specific to those leaders because they obviously have different responsibilities, and there are different expectations than someone who’s solely focused maybe on implementing. So that’s super smart.


    We also have some fun surprises. One of the things that I obsess over, and you know this because you’ve been there for so many years, is that I don’t want anybody to walk into the Omni Boston and mistake it even for a second as any other business to business event. I don’t want you to be on the show floor and be like, am I at a Gartner event?

    I wanted to feel very much like this could only happen at a MarketingProfs event, and the way that we execute on that is through a million little touch points. They’re so fantastic about really embracing the culture of the B2B forum that I think is really special,  and it’s so different than anything else out there.


    It’s great that you brought that up, because that’s one of the things that really differentiates B2B Forum — there is a rich culture and a rich community connected to the event. You hear a lot of people use the expression, “These are my people,” and the attention to all the details is pretty awesome too. There are funny placards in the bathrooms, signs and goofy sunglasses, and all kinds of marching bands, and you playing an accordion on stage. There’s just so much that you’re not going to find anywhere else.


    It’s fun, and I think that’s not just because we are silly people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We’re all very serious marketers, but at the same time, no one wants to go to an event and feel like you’re not having fun, you know? I think the more you have fun, the more receptive you are to all that’s going on. It’s not accidental that we incorporate all these little moments that are memorable, and provide a richer experience for attendees, because we want you to remember, and we want you to be open to learning and to making new connections and networking. The only way to do that is to make people feel comfortable, seen, and welcome. That’s why we do all of those little things.


    And you’re bringing it back home to “Feeling B2B,” right. It’s an experience, and people feel it. Thanks so much for joining us, Ann.

    You can see and learn more from Ann at MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston or online, October fourth for workshops, and October fifth and sixth for the main conference. You can get all the information about the event, the speakers, the agenda, venue, hotel, and more at

    We’ve also got much more information available about the big MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023 event: