What are the issues affecting today’s marketing professionals? Perhaps, the challenges of their role left them in need of some reflection. In this article, we discuss, debated and diagnose some of the main issues that lead to unwarranted doubts about the value and efficacy of the Marketing unit within organisations.
Facilitated by our principal consultant James Beeson, the main contributors to our discussion were Alan Edwards - previously VP Marketing at Peer 1 Hosting, Aviva & Manhattan Assoc. and Moshe Braun - consultant, founder of The Future Strategy Club and now taking a ‘therapeutic’ approach to solving business issues.
Our interview with Alan, summarised in our article below, discusses seven of the most common 'disorders' experienced by today's marketing professional in the context of business-to-business relationships.
JB: It has been a common point of criticism that marketing professionals are losing perspective on their role by persistently following trends (new channels, tactics, technology) and (often) forgetting the basics. In your experience, are marketers guilty of chasing the ‘shiny-shiny’ and, therefore, being tactical rather than strategic in their campaign planning?
AE: Yes they do chase the shiny things. Two reasons I believe, first the vendors of tech are driving this hard (and marketers are an easy sell). Second, and more profoundly, they are often ‘fear’ driven purchases as marketers try desperately to become accountable. If the computer says it’s OK then it must be, right?
JB: Is there a risk that the tools being deployed by marketers are driving skills requirements, so the job is becoming too technology focused?
AE: I think this could be true because I have certainly seen this. You can lose sight of what you are really trying to do by relying too much on what is in the data. And you can spend a lot of money before you realise this! Most B2B sales are still heavily relationship based, that’s why sales people deliver the majority of the revenue still, and that’s why data can only go so far in informing or influencing a relationship based sale.
JB: With an increasing focus on the Customer Experience within organisations, why do you think customer-centricity is often cited as missing in the mind of the modern marketer?
AE: Yes, and simple. Ask the next marketer you meet the last time they voluntarily went out and met a customer on their premises! I’d take a hefty bet that very few would say yes. And what do sales people do? Meet customers almost every single day!
Ask the next marketer you meet the last time they voluntarily went out and met a customer
JB: There’s a good argument to suggest that the tenure of senior marketers is as fragile as a Premiership football manager - and that the need to show results quickly is exacerbating short-term thinking (and short careers!). Why is this?
AE: Like football, marketing has become a results business and as yet, marketers haven’t cracked fully how to prove that they actually contribute. The reason for this is because marketers seldom truly sit down at the top table and ensure that marketing are part of the business planning process and explain what role marketing can take, what the business can expect, and how to measure it. The only discussion that typically takes place is around size of budget and numbers of leads. This inevitably doesn’t meet the leadership expectations, so marketing leader is let go, a new one hired, and same process follows. It needs the marketing leader to push back and have some pretty uncomfortable discussions and make these very clear. It isn’t easy but it is necessary to educate the leadership first and foremost, and then get a better set of expectations for marketing. Usually, brutal honesty earns respect (eventually)
JB: Is the Marketing Department a revenue-generating function?
If NO, then what is Marketing’s purpose?
If YES, why is it not seen as succeeding?
AE: Boy! This is the big one! Could go on forever here. Suffice to say that at the moment ‘no it isn’t’ although it constantly fools itself it is. Could it be? Yes, but only when steps towards 3 above are made. [editor note: A recently published paper by Alan talks in more detail about this subject. You can find it here]
JB: What part is technology playing in increasing marketing effectiveness and ultimately revenue contribution?
AE: Short answer - not much. Unless technology is deployed to support the agreed work of marketing and can provide the basis of measuring what has been agreed [at board level]. In most part (over generalisation coming here!) tech is purchased in order to ‘do stuff’.
JB: Programmatic ad networks promise razor-sharp targeting and massive reach at a far lower cost than ‘traditional’ advertising channels. What’s your experience and why are we so beguiled by digital? And how should marketers allocate budgets across channels to drive sales?
AE: Mm digital advertising. This is a tricky one but consider this.
Historically, how much has advertising in any form really contributed to the B2B sale? Add to this the fact that most B2B companies are operating in finite markets, there aren’t hundreds of thousands of prospective buyers for most companies products. Advertising as a direct response channel is best in B2C where you have scale and reach.
In B2B is it not more about ‘brand awareness’ rather than direct response? Of course digital can be razor targeted but to whom? If you subscribe to the B2B idea that most buying processes involve at least 5 people then is one the target? Are they all the target? Is it the same ad? Different ads? There is of course retargeting based on prior behaviour but isn’t this becoming the online advertising equivalent of the interminable telemarketer? Interrupting people?
I’m not sure many brands, if they thought about it, would really want to be associated with this intrusive channel.
JB: Do people really love brands and hang on to their every post, tweet or snap? Or are social media audiences really only looking for offers?
AE: Does social media have a role in B2B? Simply put, yes it does but like much of the other themes B2B need to be more thoughtful about its application than in B2C.
That’s not to say B2C are 'unthoughtful' but they are a) dealing with such scale that they can listen as well as act and b) they are as much about building brand affiliation as they are about any direct response.
For B2B its back to the same problem of much smaller markets. Most B2B have a few thousand followers at best and with the best will in the world it’s hard to make too many decisions based on the interactions you’ll get with that volume. That said, the channels do have a role providing they are very deliberately chosen to fulfil a specific aspect of strategy and are measured in accordance with that.
BUT! There is one exception to the above – Customer service / experience. I do feel that social media as a channel for engaging and communicating on customer service / support relationships is very important today and will become increasingly important as AI and Bots get involved.
JB: What are the key takeaways for b2b marketers given all of the above?
AE: Marketers are really not seen as strategic, are seldom part of the top table, and even if they are, I don't think they are making the most of this position. Marketing leaders have to become far more commercially strategic and far more prepared to put forward some difficult but necessary arguments.
Marketing must establish a stronger commercial and strategic role in the business, and be accepted as a strategic growth function not a tactical lead generation function.
Marketing must re-engage business and sales leadership to be participants in business planning. In fact, all marketers should complete one year as a quota carrying salesperson. They have to walk in the shoes to understand. They will make better marketing decisions as a result and they will be more commercially astute too.
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