Monthly Archives: September 2011

B2B Marketing: Get professional, get passionate or get a new job…

I was talking recently to a close contact from an agency and we were discussing the issue of poor quality briefings. “The problem is David,” he said, “that too many people on the client side get too comfortable, but they don’t really know what they are doing”. He went on “and then they get the good salary and…” – at this point I finished his sentence – “…it all becomes about protecting their position…”.

I think that he has a valid point. For far too long, business-to-business marketing has been treated as a catch-all function that has often failed to take a professional approach to people management – and this has devalued our profession.

Like many others, I always knew that I wanted to work in marketing. I was absolutely focused on it. I studied every discipline of marketing that I could to systematically prepare myself. Even when I worked in Sales or Operations for periods, I always knew that I wanted the experience to make me a better marketeer – it was a means to an end.

Yet unfortunately, I think that although there are many professional marketeers who are just as passionate about marketing as I am (and many who are far more so), there are still many others who don’t work in B2B marketing because they love it. They simply fall into B2B marketing, because they:

  1. Couldn’t quite make it in Sales. They wanted the status of being in Sales, yet they didn’t quite have the killer instinct needed to sell. There’s no shame in this. But it doesn’t mean that you will be a good marketeer.
  2. Quite fancied working in ‘advertising’ or ‘events’ after stints elsewhere. This again is a huge issue: just because you like the idea of something (and ‘advertising’ sounds more glamorous than most jobs), doesn’t mean that you will be any good at it… I fancied playing football for Liverpool. But try as i might, it was never going to happen…
  3. Worked as a product manager, but built out their empires to incorporate marketing as “nobody understood their product” quite like they did. Again though, detailed knowledge of a product’s specification doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to translate that knowledge into programs that will inspire customers to engage with your company.

So all of these groups land in Marketing by default, but they could just as easily have ended up in any other function. And therein lies one of the biggest issues with marketing as a discipline: it is still not truly taken seriously as a profession that can add value to companies by too many senior people in large organizations.

Can you imagine the company lawyer being told how he should litigate? Or the CIO being told how he should deploy his data centers? Yet in many marketing functions being told how to market is an everyday occurrence.

Many senior executives recognize that there is a need to market their company and/or their products, but they are unwilling to recognize that a professional and strategic approach to marketing is necessary to fulfil its potential. So they don’t demand it. Far easier (and cheaper) to limit marketing to playing at the tactical edges of the company, than to have it front and center.

Many marketing teams only have themselves to blame for this lack of respect for their work. They shy away from the difficult parts of the job – such as building marketing programs around the business strategy and making real efforts to measure return on investment – because they have never been trained to do them. Marketeers fail to engage with the business around them for fear of criticism. Better to stick to the ‘easy’ areas of marketing that they can use as cover through the use of agencies.

Similarly, marketing leaders turn a blind eye, because it’s easier to do so than to deal with the issue (and after all, “Bob’s a really nice guy”). And so a vicious circle ensues: there is nobody to articulate the value created by marketing, so marketing becomes a cost center to be managed, rather than the revenue generation supporter and engine that it should be.

So we are all complicit in this situation to a greater or lesser extent. But what to do? I believe that the solution starts in how we build and select our marketing teams.

A Chief Marketing Officer who I know well always insisted that he only wanted formally (for that read ‘graduate level’) trained marketeers in his team. I wouldn’t quite go that far – some of the best marketeers I know began life in IT or engineering – but he had a point: that if marketing is a safe harbor rather than a passion, then it’s unlikely that to result in truly outstanding results. And with the pace at which marketing is now changing, it is also unlikely that such individuals will have the desire to keep up with new areas, such as social media and marketing automation.

That’s why I believe that true marketeers need three core qualities:

  1. A genuine passion for marketing. I want team members that hunger to be marketeers. That think about marketing all day every day. Individuals who, even when they are sitting at home with a beer, are thinking of creative ideas to improve how they market – and have the self belief and professional approach to make them happen.
  2. A hunger for learning and personal growth. This aspect is growing in importance. With the pace of change within marketing, it is essential that marketeers are always open to the new. This may take the form of professional development, but it could just as easily take many less formal forms. A tendency to favor the new over the tried and tested is really important.
  3. A strategic understanding of the wider market in which the company operates. This is crucial and is so often overlooked: How can I expect to put together differentiated marketing programs and gain the support of the business without being able to clearly articulate how they underpin the organization’s strategic aims?

Is it just me who feels this? Look around you: if members of your team are in Marketing by default, rather than desire; if their ambition is self-preservation, rather than professionalism, isn’t it right to ask yourself if you will be able to count on them to deliver the ideas and marketing programs that you will need to make your company stand out in the future?

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Marketing automation: no substitute for common sense.

I have been spending a lot of time recently looking at marketing automation. Overall, I have been pretty impressed with what I have seen. These applications have developed extremely rapidly over the past few years in both usability and intelligence. The power that marketing automation solutions such as Marketo, Eloqua and Aprimo now place in the hands of marketeers is fantastic. They allow us to roll out campaigns faster than ever before, nurture leads and effectively directly measure return on investment on marketing programs without masses of manual labour and endless spreadsheets.

The long term vision of many of these solutions is to move business-to-business marketing on to a new plain entirely: revenue performance management or, in layman’s terms ‘managing a marketing pipeline just like a sales pipeline’. For every marketeer who has ever struggled to prove the return on investment for their marketing dollars, this promises to be the Holy Grail.

Once implemented, companies should be able to forecast the marketing activity required to generate sufficient incremental sales. Marketing ceases to be a cost center and finally gets the recognition it deserves as a contributor to top line growth, which is surely what any marketeers worth his or her salt really craves.

Despite this, I can see how marketing automation could become a victim of its own success, if it is implemented without strong marketing leadership, for two reasons:

  1. The reporting that it provides is, by its very nature, retrospective. The temptation to keep repeating campaigns that ‘worked well last time’ becomes very strong, because one of the key features of automation is, of course, repeatability. Campaign reporting is a powerful tool, but it must always be allied to understanding of the market and the major trends during marketing planning.
  2. The elements that marketing automation solutions can measure become the only elements considered when deploying marketing programs. The output of any program is reduced to an email, a landing page and a white paper – because they are the things that we can directly measure quickly. Other potentially more effective traditional channels to communicate our messages are ignored because they don’t provide us with the instant gratification of a click-through.

The danger is that we become obsessed with measurability and focusing all of our efforts on the programs that can be directly deployed through marketing automation, to the detriment of investment in other aspects of the marketing process. Which is great in the short term, but we may find that neglecting other important elements, such as brand investment and sales enabling leaves buyers increasingly unaware of why they would even want to engage with our companies and sellers unable to deal with those customers when they do.

The strongest B2B marketeers will have the backbone to stand up for the programs that add long-term strategic value to their business, not just those things that can be measured directly.  If awareness of what separates your business from the crowd is low, then the most elegantly crafted automated marketing programs are unlikely to help you succeed.

Marketing automation has the potential to massively strengthen the deployment and measurement of marketing strategy: but it shouldn’t BECOME your marketing strategy. It’s vital that we, as professional marketeers, are constantly proving our value to our organizations in terms of top line contribution whenever we can. But we shouldn’t forget that not everything that has value can be measured in numbers. Marketing automation is no substitute for common sense.

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Big long ideas in B2B marketing…

Here’s video of a talk that I gave at the B2B Marketing European CMO Conference in Paris on how protracted sales cycles drive the need for big, long ideas in business-to-business marketing.

The conference itself was excellent: Richard Robinson from Google gave an excellent talk on mapping customers’ digital journeys and the level of debate was excellent:

Definitely a good event for any B2B marketing manager and one to watch for next year.

IDG boards ‘bullet train’ to mobile marketing

Here’s a link to a story on the use of mobile in B2B marketing, which includes a few quotes from an interview that I did with BtoB Online a few weeks ago. The campaign (which we did with IAS B2B Marketing and IDG) won a B2 Award for best mobile marketing. When reading it back it occurred to me just how far we have evolved from my first somewhat clunky attempts at mobile marketing way back in 2005. Mobile apps really have changed everything…