7 Essential Lessons Toward Marketing as a Business Driver
One CMO's views, rants and aspirations from a decade of doing the work.
What have we learned in B2B marketing over the past decade? A lot.
Think about it. From 2010 to 2020, marketing’s role has shifted from the brand creative, product data sheet and t-shirt department to a function delivering new levels of business impact (yes, there’s much work to be done). I’ll skip the historical tour or walk down memory lane and get to the point.
Being a CMO is a tough gig. As a former CMO and now Chief Growth Officer, a big part of my role this last decade was focused on shifting from being a brand and product-led marketer to one driven by revenue generation and customer delight. For me, the decade started with the martech revolution and the adoption of Eloqua, buying into the dream of marketing automation (MA) as revenue performance management in late 2010 (and including the use of the HubSpot, Marketo and Salesforce clouds over the last decade at different times). I know now MA was really a marketing database, basic connectivity, and an email system, but the vision and potential was intoxicating and alluring. Most importantly, it helped marketing expand its role and earned me a leadership seat at the executive table.
It’s 2021. With the decade in the rearview mirror, we must keep that seat and expand our role because marketing’s own role needs to expand in the buyer-seller process. B2B buyers and our ideal target accounts are so much savvier in how they research, evaluate, and identify vendors and partners. They are not meeting with sales reps as frequently, they have many more options for independent online research, and they can back-channel through peer networks.
The good news is that the capabilities are available, but we must learn from the past and embrace the new way forward. Accessible to us are data strategies, tech efficiencies, machine learning models, precision marketing solutions, and various ways to apply content to surround buyers, identify in-market accounts and generate measurable revenue and business value.
For perspective, and a little nostalgia, here are a few of my learnings from the past decade that shaped B2B Marketing for a generation of B2B marketers and brands. Most importantly, these learnings can guide us to be better, smarter, more impactful marketers in the decade ahead.
Brand drives demand – better, faster and more authentically. Effective demand generation requires thoughtful, impactful brand marketing baked into everything you produce. Every touch should be purposeful and introduce your company to your audience(s). Make sure you have a brand strategy and committed plan that everyone at the company understands, cares about, and believes in. This goes beyond logos, color palettes and mission statements. And don’t leave this just for the corporate marketing team to handle and deliver. It’s about establishing that every employee, no matter their role, plays an important role in growing and protecting the brand.
Technology won’t matter if you don’t have the right strategy or talent to deliver. Technology supports the strategy, not the other way around. And we need the people who understand and are motivated to creatively, even uniquely apply the tools and systems. They can be in-house and/or services partners who are an extension of your team. Too many teams think marketing technology is required for every initiative or the cure all. We have been over-served on technology, mistakenly thinking every new strategy or effort needs the latest tech. ABM strategies many are deploying today being exhibit 1A of this misconception.
Invest in data, talent. Get your data right. Hire data science and business analytics expertise AND have them transfer knowledge so the whole team can apply data for more impact. There is so much richness in your data from your web site, your programs, your customers, and your systems you can put to work to deliver better experiences and more efficient and effective marketing. Invest in building a data model across your core systems and in tools that support your data, customer, and go-to-market strategy. And, most importantly, develop a dashboard with insights that are connected to core company systems and accessible to stakeholders to run marketing like a business.
Stop chasing attribution detail. Insights beat reports. B2B attribution has unintentionally become a game of Marketing getting credit versus its intended and more powerful role of understanding and improving business performance and results. To underline, measuring the impact of dollars and resources investment is essential for marketing, but spending endless resources trying to attribute every dollar to a single channel is a dead end.
Your customer (and prospects) are your customers, not sales‘ customers. Sales and other internal functions are your partner and collaborators. It’s easy to chase pleasing sales teams and even your execs. While you want to be a great partner and collaborator, let your prospects, customers and community be your compass. Spending time to understand their world, their needs and their preferences is a fast path to improving marketing’s business impact.
Silos hamstring marketing’s impact every day. Be a silo buster. Developing and operating your sales, customer, and marketing effort, tech, process, and data separately is a recipe for bad customer experience and a missed opportunity to find and engage ideal customers. Worse, marketing teams organized by channel/function are often competing for our customers’ and prospects’ attention. Take, for instance, events trying to outperform digital, and search competing with content syndication. Sales and marketing then pile on to the problem by both building tech stacks to automate unique processes and databases. Ultimately, we should all be on the same path marching toward the same end goal.
Forms and other coercive “conversion” techniques are ineffective in the long run. I get it. We want to show and justify our value. We end up putting up barriers and roadblocks to collect leads, names, and contacts. Then we try to convert those names to qualified leads by emailing – a.k.a. spamming – them. And while there is nothing wrong with email nurture or even simple quid pro quo for contact info for high value content, there is a better way forward. Today, we can use first- and third-party data to connect the dots for the prospect and technology to understand and activate outreach with an appropriate message at a better time (realize it’s not perfect for “right message, right time,” yet!).
What have you learned over the last decade? And what do we accelerate and do more of, and what needs to go? It’s an ideal time to reflect and continuously carve a new path forward to be relevant to your prospects and customers and to be a respected business driver.