Originally published in CMO Essentials on May 15, 2015.
B2B marketing used to be a simpler proposition—conduct market research, agree on a creative and compelling message, and execute campaigns around that message. Today, marketing is responsible for targeted branding, messaging, ample and quality demand generation, event collateral, competitive positioning, ROI, digital and social awareness and more. We must be experts in more areas than ever before, and we must be willing to give up what previously worked well to try what might fail, in order to bring value to our organization.
Marketers must now be “specialized generalists” — generalists enough to understand the many channels and technologies available to them, but experts enough to be effective across channels – and deeply so within at least one of them—which means that marketers need to be master collaborators, as well. There isn’t a single element of the marketing mix that doesn’t contribute to the overall strategy and the results produced, and marketers must know a lot about all of these strategies in order to be effective and understand how their customers think, educate themselves and buy. Analysts and industry leaders are now rallying around this concept, labeling it “customer obsession.”
The question then becomes: Is it enough to make the collective decision with your marketing colleagues to be customer obsessed, and if so, what are the roadblocks B2B marketers face in achieving this customer obsession?
1. Limited access to our “characters”
Successful marketers know that telling a compelling story is paramount to their strategy. However, most marketers aren’t given the power to alter (or even be informed of, often times) the product roadmap, nor do we have the time to immerse ourselves in the sales process in order to truly understand the scope of what prospects want to know, and what kinds of challenges they face. So, we aren’t given full access to complexities faced by the central characters in our stories.
It is highly difficult for marketers to tell relevant, relatable stories if we can’t get inside the minds of our protagonists. The plot, the dénouement and the resulting resolution are all contingent on character. And let’s be honest. Stories that engage smart, adult readers shouldn’t be of the fairy tale variety.
2. Data takes time to analyze
Analyzing and measuring data is critical to understanding product-market fit, customer behavior, user-experience, retention, and the buyer’s journey. Aberdeen research, for example, found that 67% of marketers report using analytics for campaign development, and another 56% report using analytics to improve customer relationships.
Unfortunately, the most important metrics are often the hardest to measure, or at the very least, take the longest time to parse, optimize and improve. And to make matters more complicated, software suites that offer color-coded charts and real-time analytics often present a slew of additional challenges that marketers don’t have time to spot or configure in ways that make more business sense.
If you’re a B2B marketer with a sales cycle of 6 months +, measurement in these areas becomes even harder. Open rates, number of followers, and traffic are all important, but marketers must be able to quantifiably connect their efforts to hard metrics, such as revenue and growth. If you launch a marketing initiative in January, but you can’t connect those efforts to sales until July or even December, it’s not easy to optimize or make the case to change your mix in the interim. And if you’re a newer company that sells high-value products or services to enterprise brands, this can take even longer due to less data and unique buying journeys.
3. Late onset marketing ADHD
Unless you’ve got a large staff of inbound marketers, outbound sales people and digital and social marketers driving and optimizing your campaigns, marketers have to be able to narrow their focus. And since the most successful marketers today are also voracious readers, trend spotters and self-teachers, narrowing your focus to what works and what’s relevant takes a lot of consistent research, blog-reading and self-educating.
We must avoid marketing ADHD by learning to focus on the right tools to drive the right results, which requires us to be savvy marketing consumers as well.
Today, B2B marketers should be passionately curious (but able to channel that curiosity effectively), ready to shift focus on a dime if the data dictates it, and willing to take risks to reap results. That’s not always easy for marketers who previously relied on a signed-and-bound marketing plan to guide their efforts, or who aren’t willing to let go of more traditional way of doing things.
4. Not everyone orders the same dessert
If four in five B2B purchases involve multiple decision-makers, then I’ve got to be a marketing and sales patissier to appeal to all of them. Without sitting in on sales calls all day, or having direct access to the decision makers to pick their brains, this is incredibly difficult. To further complicate matters, decision-makers move to new departments, organizations go through a total “reorg,” or the team recalibrates their lead-gen strategy. All these factors can result in a need for a totally new recipe.
Take all these ingredients, whisk them together and try to produce one perfectly set and torched creme brulee. Serve up the creme brulee, wait for it to be eaten, and monitor the faces of your consumers for their reactions. Tweak your recipe, adding a bit more or less creme this time, making sure to catalog every minuscule change you make to the recipe so that you can do some “if this then that” reasoning for the next iteration.
And if you discover, much to your horror, that creme brulee just isn’t satisfying your prospective consumers’ palates, consider a lemon soufflé or the more traditional apple pie. Or try serving them right-to-left rather than the more preferred left-to-right.
These marketing challenges can be solved, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, these solutions aren’t downloadable and ready-to-implement in 24 hours. These solutions take humans to engineer, execute, manage and optimize. But if it’s true that marketers are as passionate, solution-oriented, creatively and strategically minded as they should be, then we are uniquely positioned to take it on.
The solution lies somewhere in the new marketing mindset, the data, the customers who produce that data, and the power and scalability of the products we use to become intimately acquainted with them. Marketers who build time into their plans to sit down and work with the data as a team rather than relying on software to digest and transform it for us, will make the cut and so too, will the products and services they sell.