And what CEOs should realistically expect from their B2B marketing leader (and spend) in a digital era?
Speak to most B2B salespeople (and some CEOs for that matter) about marketing and they’ll tell you it’s a cost while sales is a revenue source. I’d disagree. I’ve worked in both sales and marketing. In my opinion, both disciplines are joined and one works poorly without the other. Marketing only becomes a cost when it’s not working well.
To suggest that B2B Marketing is ONE discipline in the digital era is almost laughable. There are so many distinct skills organizations need to pull off great B2B marketing that it’s unreasonable to thing one person can do it all. Your marketing team needs to be good at communications, great story-tellers, masters of the SEO art, fabulously creative, effective at producing videos and all that goes with that. They need to be leaders, project managers, actors, presenters, copywriters, subject-matter-experts, designers, researchers, event managers, conversational experts, sales enablers, they need to know their way around a dozen marketing tech tools – and they need to know how to construct an effective sales process.
If yours is a company that sells to other companies, that makes you a business-to-business – also known as ‘B2B’—business. And companies like yours need clever marketing people today every bit as much as those individuals in your team that sell to consumers. Why? Because research by market analyst firm Gartner Inc. suggests that, for enterprise buyers, at least 41% of the total buying journey today can be described as ‘personal research’ i.e. individuals who are snacking on the Internet to find answers to questions that help to frame their buying decision – and choices. Your business will need to engage prospective buyers long before a salesperson can talk to them face-to-face.
You’ve heard it many times—‘people don’t like to be sold to’.
For B2B companies, it’s now more difficult than ever to reach out to new prospects. The old ways of doing it—cold calls, blanket emails, letters through direct mail etc.—well, they just aren’t what they used to be. If you’re a B2B salesperson and someone doesn’t want your attention, they have many more ways of avoiding you. And the law is on their side. Changes to privacy legislation, like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, prevent any organization from storing personally identifiable data on their systems without first gaining the permission of the data subject.
When so many organizations around the world are looking to be the authority on their chosen subject to attract customers to their websites, businesses need to do more than offer their product online via a website. To be successful, B2B marketers need to ‘seduce’ their audience; to get them to want to find out more about their products and services.
ENGAGING PROSPECTS IN A SALES PROCESS
Attracting new potential prospects to your website is one thing, but to engage them in a way that doesn’t put them off requires your business to make conversation—and do it well. As a B2B marketer in a digital era, you’ll instinctively appreciate the importance of making conversation with your prospective customers—profitably.
What return then should you expect from investments made into marketing?
TELLING YOUR BRAND STORY
One of the biggest roles in marketing nowadays is storytelling. You’ll need your message to break through a lot of content clutter and that requires a higher level of clarity, a good understanding of purpose, awesome and entertaining content together with a forensic appreciation of who your customers are and why they buy from you. With good storytelling, businesses are rewarded by having something interesting to say to prospects that they didn’t already know. It can be a major competitive advantage.
CREATING A COMPELLING PROPOSITION
Go a step further and you’ll need someone with a rich appreciation of your market and products to manage the health of your proposition and product portfolio. Product and solutions managers play a vital role in any organization by protecting and leveraging your products. As a product manager, products are your children and you’ll do everything in your power to protect them, nurture them, help them to grow, work through their life changes and finally ease them into retirement. Businesses operating good product management realize the highest return on investment for their product and service investments.
As I mentioned previously, an increasingly important aspect of marketing is the management of conversations. The Internet and mobile computing has created ever more distant customers that want to be treated as individuals, not numbers. Engineering personal conversations that relate to customers and prospects hundreds of times ‘one conversation at a time’ is the challenge that all digital marketers face. Getting conversational marketing right (and curating the most appropriate content) starts by understanding who your customers are, what jobs you can help them to do better, how they frame their buying needs, where they go to find answers to their questions etc. Businesses often make the mistake of knowing everything about themselves and their products but almost nothing about their customers. Conversational marketing demands this balance is re-set.
Notice I haven’t said a word yet about creating leaflets or organizing trade shows! Yes, much of what marketing is charged with doing relates to generating sales leads – and so it should. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that your customer buying journey starts when a salesperson picks up the phone. That would be a very old fashioned and unrealistic view of how the buying process works today. A dozen or so product brochures are unlikely to increase your lead pipeline, but they will add hundreds of dollars more to your marketing spend. Get real! People today are able to snack on the internet for hours and know pretty much everything they need to know BEFORE they want to speak to a salesperson. To generate sales leads, marketers have to go much further back in the learning journey to IDENTIFY AND UNDERSTAND the customer audience and the unique value YOUR BUSINESS brings to get their jobs done better.
DISPLACING THE MYTH YOU DON’T NEED SALES ANYMORE
Is the inbound marketing function now displacing the outbound sales discipline? Absolutely not – even great products and services don’t sell themselves, but it is a vital component of any go-to-market approach.
WHAT THEN, IS THE ROLE OF A B2B MARKETING LEADER?
B2B Marketing Leaders today have to be the conductors of a chamber orchestra. Business owners and leaders should expect their prime marketing hire to focus on leadership, not doing. They need to strategise, plan and orchestrate the marketing. Their job description should include to:
- Set the direction and make sure it delivers the maximum customer value to the most profitable audience groups
- Tell the story of the brand
- Articulate the sales proposition into an easily targeted and repeatable story
- Design the conversational path that will guide customers through the conversational journey to become purchasers of products and services
- Design the sales funnel process and expose any broken chain links that might de-rail efforts to win customers
- Develop an affordable marketing plan that balances investments in winning, retaining and growing customer accounts
- Direct the troops that will make the magic happen
- …and if they have time, get out of the office and spend more time with their customer audience discovering what else they may want to buy!
RESOURCING B2B MARKETING
‘Can your business AFFORD marketing?’ Few humans possess all of the skills to perform strategic marketing, product marketing, inbound marketing, market research and marketing communications. That means, any marketing team these days will need to have at least a dozen competencies within it. Can you afford twelve extra heads in your business? No? Well, in that case, if you want marketing to be a business enabler, not a cost burden, you’ll need to start thinking about how to resource your marketing in new ways moving forward. If one person can’t do all that you need for B2B marketing, how do B2B tech companies create their marketing teams?
It’s probably unlikely many startups have the money to pay for all the marketers on full-time salaries. The answer has to be to create a virtual team of freelancers that are committed to your business, its values and mission.
HUDDLEJAM is an example of the new Marketing-on-Demand platforms being developed by SIMPLIFY WORKFORCE to help re-calibrate the marketing function. It creates a place where SEEKERS that want to get a marketing job done will find willing SOLVERS able to fulfil their needs. The result is an on-demand workplace for marketing where both sides win. SEEKERS are able to balance their marketing task needs with a large community of specialists offering the skills they need. Meanwhile, SOLVERS benefit from being able to focus on the thing they do best and work when it suits them. Rather than attempt to employ super-human marketers that combine all of the skills highlighted in this article, the marketing leader becomes the orchestrator and concierge for a larger and more capable team.
SPENDING YOUR B2B MARKETING MONEY
Spending money on marketing B2B products and services is a necessity these days, not a nice-to-have. It’s not a question of offsetting marketing spend with a couple of extra sales-people. Business leaders who believe they can scale their sales funnel by simply adding an extra salesperson will be sorely disappointed at the results. But if you are spending money on B2B marketing, I encourage you to consider three things:
Build on success
Mastering B2B marketing is about trying out new ideas, seeing if they work, and then scaling success. I see many B2B marketing plans that are wish-lists of too many projects and content productions without any focus towards sales outcomes. Smart B2B marketing looks to leverage profitable customer experiences, and grow sales through profitable customer conversations, one conversation at a time.
Read our conversational marketing ebook
Spread your B2B marketing spend across all four phases of the sales life-cycle
Companies often make the mistake of focusing 80% or more of their marketing spend on winning new customers when it’s five times more difficult to win a new customer than sell new products and services to existing customers.
Align your sales and marketing phases, and make sure you don’t have a leaky funnel!
Investing in content production, social media marketing, events, websites and SEO are all necessary building blocks of a marketing plan, but sales success often falls short because the opportunities being generated by marketing are not easily converted by sales teams into business. A process is only as good as its weakest links. You need to make sure you don’t have broken chain links in your sales and marketing processes. The best way of doing this is to construct your conversational path thoughtfully. One way to do this is to benchmark your process again the SONAR2 model that Newton Day has developed.
Guide to SONAR2
Explore our sales enablement process design model. Benchmark your sales and marketing processes…
Interested in more articles about B2B marketing methods, tools and tips? Visit our website for more ideas, or call us for a chat over coffee.