When it comes to marketing, B2B firms seem to gravitate to extremes. Some of them spend all of their time stuck in the mud, internally working and reworking their objectives while never getting much of anything into motion. Other engage in a flurry of activity, continually jumping from one campaign to another without giving much thought to the objectives of any one thing.
Obviously, neither of these extremes is desirable, but breaking out of these two modes — “ready, aim, aim” and “ready, fire, aim” — is easier said than done. Here are a few of the reasons why B2Bs get stuck in these ruts, and suggestions for how to escape, and turn marketing from a cost center into a profit center.
The Expertise Issue
When you’re audited you call an accountant; when you’re sued you call a lawyer. Businesses are quite comfortable using experts, except when it comes to marketing. B2Bs often go it alone, either because they fancy themselves marketing experts or have been burned by self-described experts who led them down an expensive path to nowhere.
Marketing, however, is just as dynamic a specialty as accounting or law. Keeping up with best practices is difficult, and mastering the nuances of complex activities such as search engine optimization (SEO) and direct mail marketing takes times and continuous learning. It is difficult to establish a marketing strategy when knowledge is limited; firms that recognize this limitation fall into the trap of constantly rethinking their strategy, while those who are oblivious tend to launch program after program, incorrectly thinking that tactics are strategy.
Escape by interviewing agencies until you find one that is the right fit. For ideas about how to do this, refer to my detailed post about how to select a marketing agency. Only when you combine a thorough understanding of best practices with the unique aspects of your business can you reach critical mass for creating, deploying and sustaining a strategic plan.
The Sales-Driven Issue
Most B2Bs are intensely sales driven, which makes it difficult to find the right role for marketing. Typical issues include —
- How much influence should marketing have in our business plan?
- How do we resolve conflicts between sales and marketing?
- How do we organize a marketing department and budget for it?
- Who should marketing report to?
- Why do we need marketing when sales is giving us plenty of growth?
Escape by defining marketing’s role clearly and making sure the entire management team has bought in. This should really be done before any serious marketing is undertaken; otherwise, results will be undermined by continual second-guessing and disruptive internal turf wars. For firms not accustomed to formal marketing, it’s best to start modestly. Ambitious programs with big budgets can come in time, once the firm gets comfortable with the idea of marketing — and after results have been obtained.
If you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend lead generation. The best way to get the sales department on board with marketing is to give the sales team well-qualified leads!
The Bad Benchmarking Issue
A big challenge for B2Bs is the lack of B2B firms that do great marketing! This is in sharp contrast to the B2C world, where you can find tons of examples of companies doing it right. Unfortunately, when B2Bs use B2C firms as benchmarks, things can go awry very quickly, because B2C techniques don’t often translate well into the B2B environment. For instance —
- B2B marketing generally requires a much more sophisticated and technical approach to content creation.
- Sell cycles may be considerably longer, necessitating entirely different conversion activities.
- Channels such as social media work marvelously for B2Cs, but tend to be marginally effective at best for B2Bs.
B2Bs that recognize this problem can still go wrong by using competitors as benchmarks, jumping to the conclusion that if they are visibly doing marketing, they must be doing it right.
Escape this problem by being super-selective in choosing benchmarks. A good benchmark is a firm that is in your industry or a related one, and one that is known to be getting results. If you can’t find such a benchmark, you’re probably better off blazing your own trail than following in footsteps that could be leading you over a cliff.