Our resident business development rock star, Keith Smith returns for his annual predictions for the coming year, picked up from conversations with his guests on his brand new podcast. And the title? Well, he does have a prediction about link bait…


Last year, I predicted the future in 2060, not knowing that a pandemic would make one part of it come true in 2020.

I predicted that we would all be isolated in our living accommodation, with everything being delivered to us – even the means to make a living.

One tiny virus later, and we shot 40 years forwards into my vision – sometimes, my accidents impress even me.

This year, for my end-of-year essay, I thought I’d pull my focus in a bit to the next 12 months. This time, I’m basing my thoughts on evidence, science, and fact—something our politicians could do more often.

In our business, we launched a podcast this year (The Fuel Podcast), and because the subject is creating a new business, I got to interview some very clever people.

People who launched all sorts of companies in all sorts of industries, from finance, to research, to sales, to management consultancy, to advertising, brand, digital, marketing, and PR agencies around the world – even Ian Truscott, the talent behind RockstarCMO (the best of the year, so far, I think).

I jokingly called them “Interviews with business people trapped in their homes” not knowing how darkly comic-ironic that line would turn out to be.

In my 40-odd interviews this year, I gleaned some handy nuggets of information that I have now assimilated into a personal opinion, giving me a lot greater chance of accuracy with my predictions for 2021.

So here are my top 7:

#1 – Sales & Marketing sitting in a tree K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

All marketing must support sales. Vanity marketing is for the top 1% of brands and the Super Bowl. Beyond that, we’re staring into an economic abyss, so every effort a company makes in 2021 must be to benefit the task of shifting boxes. Marketing is a creative art form, and – used wisely, it can inspire the consumption of anything from chocolate to accountancy services.

In my business, when agencies reach out (f*ck! Stop saying that) to engage new prospects, it needs to be meaningful and come loaded with lots of goodies such as thought leadership, advice, convertible data, empathy, and understanding.

This is where the CMO can drive sales. Marketing provides the canvass for the sales picture. It provides meaning, context, and a call to action. Company leaders I have spoken to over the last year have – to a person – said that they are over the days of playing the numbers game. The 2020s – the pandemic decade – is all about creating and nurturing relationships one-on-one. Personalization. Empathy.

#2 – When the winds of change blow, build windmills, not walls

When I first started sales, I had a desk, a chair, a telephone, a notepad, an ashtray, and a phone directory.

Start at ‘A’ and work forwards. Churn, baby churn!

It was a hell of a way to earn a living but, looking back, I don’t regret it. It toughened me up for something I’d see a lot of in my future – rejection. But what it also gave me was a desire to do the same job differently. Use another tool, another method, another strategy to succeed. That’s how I came to co-found the business I still have today. I needed another strategy to beat the competition, and if I found it, I could help others do the same.

LinkedIn and Twitter are the single biggest assets to new business since the telephone (and Instagram since the fax.) Used properly, social media is a massive channel for sales. Not acting like a snake-oil salesman or carnival barker, but engaging, reinforcing, supporting, amplifying, and leading are all well-known tactics of the seasoned social media –savvy person.

I was wrong. Sometimes it is all about likes. But those likes must come with some substance, empathy, understanding, and knowledge – do you see a pattern starting to form?

#3 – The end of the linear strategy

For the best illustration of this, think of movies. Pre-pandemic, a film would go from pre-sell to cinema, DVD to cable, to everything else.

The biggest mistake that MGM and Universal made with the latest James Bond film was not being agile enough to do a deal with Amazon or Netflix in April.

Instead, they kept kicking the can down the road and have delayed the movie’s release for so long that Billie Eilish, the singer of the theme song for the movie, has settled down, married, and had three kids. I jest, but the point is made. A bit of Bond-like agility would have created a mega-deal and millions and millions of streaming viewers – most of them new to the franchise.

The problem behind it is linear thinking. In 2021, we will see the beginning of the end of linear marketing strategies.

  • Research, develop, create, release, and then see where the market takes the products—more real-time sales and marketing activity
  • Launch a product or service and follow the sun with sales.
  • Look for the unexpected uptake and nurture new channels for sales,

There are many examples of products and services designed for one thing that found life doing something else, but with this real-time, crowdsourced world we now live in, companies can watch their babies take on new life and thrive with different audiences.

This will require agility and empathy from sales & marketing, and the ability to pivot, explore, and roll with the punches will be a key skill to develop this year.

#4 – Welcome to the age of influence!

If we’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that people we once thought were wasting time and effort bumming around on social media, vlogging, and podcasting were actually making shitloads of money. More than we were!

We now live in an age where people buy products that people they know and respect endorse.

Find your influencer or influencers and put them to work. I’ve seen it in the consumer market and the b2b market – equally as effective. It’s an extension of the good old recommendation and referral marketing strategy but reworked for the social media age. This means that sales will be slow to start, but the bell curve will be bigger and broader – unless your influencer gets publicly busted for something terrible.

Macro influencers, influencers, and Micro-influencers will all play a much bigger role in the lives of CMO in all walks of life and business.

#5 – The credibility of clickbait

Another issue that has grown in status has been the need for brands, spokespeople, and companies to be credible. In a recent podcast with Vanessa Green of Greenlight Content, she amazed me with the ultimate irony; that journalists have now become the guardians of truth.

Click-baity headlines, sensationalism, fake news, and just plain outrageous lies have grown out of control.

While there will always be a place for attention-grabbing headlines and stories, we’re all becoming a little bit desensitized to them. I predict a pendulum swing towards the need for factual, credible content to power marketing, not eye-candy, plastic manufactured bait-and-switch listicles (see headline)

#6 – We’re all publishers now

With the growth in penetration of Vlogs, apps, live streams, webinars, and podcasts, we now have the capability to extend our messaging beyond the confines of brochures, websites, and telephones. We all have a wealth of publishing tools at our fingertips that mean we can adjust our messaging to suit the end-user, and, yes, this means we have to be more precise about who we intend those messages for.

From Tik-Tok to podlets (©Keith Smith 2020), there is a greater need to be proficient in our ability to use them. Obviously, not every channel is appropriate for every type of communication. Still, whatever the message, we now have to think about the entire comms landscape and what vehicle we use to navigate the terrain.

Where only five years previous, the phone was the undisputed world runner-up of sales tools (face-to-face being the GOAT), we’re now connecting with business prospects through a multitude of convenient pathways.

This is the way.

#7 – 2020 – Dumpster fire or forge?

Finally, what the fuck just happened? This time last year, none of us even knew what a pandemic was, and anyone wearing a surgical mask in a bank would have been shot (or at least arrested).

We had no idea what card fate was about to deal with us, and what we got was a big fat deuce.

But was it as bad as we think?

Didn’t it force us into a position we were all heading anyway? Most of us wished to spend more time with our loved ones.

We all wished we could learn new things.

We all wished we could stop commuting.

We all wished we could slow down a bit.

And while this is a stark lesson that we must be careful what we wish for, we have all moved into a new phase of life, and we’ve seen some splendid pivots on a par with Shaun White, and I believe that it’s made better people out of most of us.

We found reserves of energy and tolerance that we didn’t know we had, so I like to view this as the opportunity to make, not step changes but giant leap changes that will set us on a new course for 2021.

And there’s no ‘new normal’; it’s a whole new baseline to work from.

A genuine, sincere, happy, alternative New Year to all readers of RockstarCMO!



Photo of crystal ball by Jenni Jones on Unsplash


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