Back2Basics: B2B in 2018 — a licence to sell
by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) B2B is brimming with tools, techniques and processes. The flow of “martech” innovations and their applications spills forth seemingly endlessly and B2B’s cup runneth over with efficient new ways to get new things done. The impact on sales and margins should be phenomenal. Recessionary barriers ought to be effortlessly swept aside as thoroughly modern marketers drive revenues and profitability ever upwards. Loyalty should be at an all-time high among existing customers and new ones should be queuing at the door waving purchase orders.
Then reality interrupts fantasy.
The people who influence and make buying decisions still see many marketing messages as slick propaganda, lacking relevance and credibility. Price continues to dominate customers’ choices as they battle to differentiate one offering from all the others. The divide between sales and marketing is as wide as ever because the direct connection between marketing activity and the only achievement that matters is as vague as ever.
The only achievement that matters: attracting and retaining profitable customers
Attributable results. That’s where the focus needs to be — on how activity leads to achievement. This raises a pretty obvious question: across the spectrum of marketing activities, which ones achieve the goal of attracting and retaining profitable customers?
Answering the question encourages marketers to focus on what they are doing rather than on how they do it. B2B commentary is chock-a-block with gushed enthusiasm for new tools and techniques. The danger of this deluge of shiny new gimmicks is that it distracts marketers from focusing on the goal.
Think about the continuing hype around just one of these gimmicks: content marketing. Then ask yourself how much of that content is pulling in new customers and reinforcing the loyalty of existing ones. As with any marketing activity, measuring against that benchmark quantifies its effectiveness.
First, be effective. Being efficient can wait
If an activity isn’t demonstrably effective, what’s the point of applying some clever new gizmo to make it more efficient?
The trouble is, it’s not always easy to show the link between activity and achievement. That’s often because mechanisms to measure outcomes have not been built into an activity right from the start. The link becomes even more indistinct when marketers measure the wrong things — and are motivated to do so simply because they can. For example, push-button analytics might produce a lot of descriptive information about an activity’s past performance but they can’t tell you what motivated a B2B sale. There is, of course. an established, tested and proven way to discover that: you ask customers. Then you analyse that data — and respond accordingly.
Right from the horse’s mouth: gauging effectiveness
Continuing with content as an example, you can analyse its effectiveness by simply asking customers the extent to which it influenced their decision to buy. You can discover who was influenced and the reasons why. You can qualify and quantify the content’s relevance and credibility across the ‘sphere of influence’ and you can assess the efficacy of marcoms formats and channels.
In short, you can measure what matters — you can measure what attracts customers and retains their loyalty.
A licence to sell — marketing’s primary privilege
Who cares how many people your marcoms reach? To quote (again) David Ogilvy, “Don’t count the people you reach, reach the people who count.” In B2B, that means reaching everyone who influences and makes buying decisions with information that proves how your offering will contribute to their success and the success of their organisation.
Unlike sales teams, marketers may freely ‘access all areas’ in their target markets. We have no gate-keepers obstructing our connection to the people who count. We have a licence to reach the right people with the right message at the right time. That gives us the opportunity to create profitable sales.
We have held this privilege for multiple decades and our licence to sell has no expiry date. Any marketing activity that can’t be linked to the only achievement that matters is clearly long past its own expiry date. So why do it?
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 and Charlie Stewart have written Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. His monthly “Back2Basics” column covers how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing.