Back2Basics: Things are what they used to be
by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) In B2B, things are what they used to be. Just listen to The Man.
Next year, an iconic advert celebrates its 60th birthday. Created in 1958 and commonly tagged as “The Man in the Chair”, the ad earned its iconic status because it’s B2B’s equivalent of the apple that apparently fell on Isaac Newton’s head.
Just as that falling apple prompted Newton to explain the laws of gravity, The Man in the Chair did the same for the laws of B2B marketing. Like Newton’s exposition of gravity, it writ B2B’s rules in stone.
Things definitely are what they used to be
What The Man is saying may be distilled into three key questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why do you matter to me — the customer?
Those are still the fundamental questions that everyone who influences a business buying-decision wants clearly and credibly answered in terms that are specifically relevant to them.
An ad for all time
The Man in the Chair was conceived by an account executive called Gilbert Morris at the predominantly B2B agency, Fuller & Smith & Ross of Cleveland, Ohio. To illustrate the image of a typical, hard-boiled, no-nonsense businessman that he wanted to feature in his ad, Morris initially posed for the shot himself. It seems the agency reckoned he got the look dead right — that’s him all tight-lipped and menacing in the chair.
In 1999, Advertising Age’s Business Marketing named The Man in the Chair the best business-to-business advert of the 20th century. And, to celebrate The Man’s golden anniversary in 2008, an updated version was staged live by the Business Marketing Association (BMA) in the US.
Getting better all the time
The potent significance of the BMA’s homage lies in how it highlights that, whilet markets change, people change and technologies change, B2B’s fundamentals don’t. It neatly shows that today’s communications wizardry does nothing to alter the fact that you are commercially irrelevant if your markets don’t know who you are, what you do and why you matter — to them.
The ad’s moral is truer now than ever before
Far from losing its relevance over the intervening years, the moral is much more-important today than it was almost six decades ago. That’s because the internet and all its comms platforms have enabled decision influencers to sell to themselves.
They are no longer forced to engage sales people for insights to inform their decisions about the challenges they face and how to address them. They’re discovering for themselves how they want to fulfil those requirements — online and on their own. More than ever before, the moral is that sales now start long before any sales call.
In this accelerating shift from sales engagement to sales fulfilment, the function of selling has been pushed towards the end of the modern buying-decision cycle. Sales teams are no longer bullishly creating orders; they are meekly taking them.
A golden age for B2B marketing has already dawned
Allied to the rise of commoditisation, all of this means that B2B has entered a golden age. A new era has dawned and its advent has — rather perversely — been driven by a negative impact of information and communication technologies.
The increase of Internet-empowered, self-sold influencers means sales-engagement is in decline, creating a vacuum in the decision cycle’s early, sales-triggering phases. Marketing’s engagement with customers and prospects must fill that vacuum — and (at last…?) get really serious about achieving its sole goal: to attract and retain profitable customers.
After all these years, The Man is still teaching his lessons. Modern marketers and the organisations they serve would be wise to learn them.
Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He is the author, together with Charlie Stewart, of Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. Mark contributes the monthly “Back2Basics” column, covering how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing, to MarkLives.com.