As companies bleed revenues, profits and jobs, it’s ironic that people are debating the death of B2B marketing or its obsolescence. And yet I’ve been in several conversations over the past week on this topic.
I think a better framing for the conversation, rather than death or obsolescence, is B2B marketing’s strategic relevance and value contribution to the corporation and the marketplace.
I believe that B2B marketers need to redefine their roles and figure out how to contribute more directly to revenue growth, market share gains, better margins – while solving meaningful customer problems and nurturing 2‑way customer relationships.
I find it frustrating that so few companies are willing or able to invest in the infrastructure that marketers need for faster learning, better customer insights, or ways to prove accountability and marketing ROI on their tactics. Clearly, marketers are struggling with how to make a compelling case for these investments – and face a reluctant, if not hostile, reception from the people who control the company’s purse strings.
There are numerous indicators that B2B marketing is struggling to survive, or prove its contribution to the corporation. Forrester reports that B2B marketing budgets, particularly for tech vendors, are facing cutbacks in the range of 15–25% for 2009. Layoffs abound, with deep cuts in marketing jobs and a corresponding impact on external marketing services firms.
The other day a former senior marketer from Microsoft mentioned that even the term “marketing” is falling out of favor, especially in smaller or mid-tier businesses. He described the migration of classic marketing activities from the marketing department to other business functions, and opined that the more strategic the function, the less likely it was to stay within the hands of marketers. He also cited a report he’d seen somewhere that CMOs, on average, earn lower salaries than their C‑level counterparts; or appear at lower levels on org charts – classic indicators of power within a corporation.
Some Root Causes
It’s easy to identify some of the self-inflicted causes of marketing’s disrepute. A recent survey by the CMO Council reveals that the majority of companies have no formal programs to turn “the voice of the customer” into revenue-generating opportunities for the company. It’s too easy to focus on telling (or broadcasting) rather than listening and engaging.
Sadly, I often see B2B marketing departments consumed with sales support tactics, at the expense of time (or money) for more strategic insight-building activities that could offer a more lasting contribution. Things like deep customer insights or the ability to spot under-served markets and identify real customer pains.
Too often tech marketers are infatuated with their products and technologies, and lose sight of the need for deeper customer intelligence or meaningful engagement models. Caught up in feeds and speeds, they lose sight of the need to connect to the buyers’ pains and reasons to buy, or how to architect the true solution to the customer’s need – especially when multiple parties need to collaborate on that solution.
In love with their own products, do marketers misinterpret what it means to “romance the brand?” Do they not understand that consumers and buyers are now in much more powerful positions, and therefore marketers need to foster trust-based relationships or deliver on more authentic value propositions connected to value – as perceived by the customer?
Despite all the hype about social networking, it’s still surprising how few companies have any institutionalized processes for listening and responding to what customers are saying. Everyone knows that word-of-mouth referrals or recommendations from trusted peers are highly influential for buying decisions, and yet:
Despite overwhelming agreement on the importance of customer experience and word-of-mouth, senior marketers admit their companies are failing to take decisive action to integrate customer voice and experience into key business and marketing processes.
Source: A 2008 survey by the CMO Council, sponsored by Satmetrix, the NetPromoter Company
When I ask clients why they don’t do this, the answers vary: no one is responsible for this, it’s too hard, it could threaten our business model, we can’t afford the infrastructure to make this possible. Etc., etc.
Another major contributor is marketers’ reluctance to embrace accountability and metrics (marketing performance measures) as a way of life. More on that later…