by Mark Eardley. “The purpose of marketing is to attract and retain profitable customers.”

If you don’t like my definition of marketing’s purpose, then you won’t like what I’m going to say about the shameful state of local B2B marketing and why it is rightly held in such low regard within our B2B enterprises.

According to the definition, marketing’s straightforward purpose is clear: to create sales and protect margins. The definition helps more than that. It also provides a benchmark for measuring the achievements of marketing activities. If a direct link cannot be made between activity and achievement, then the purpose isn’t being served.

A decline into irrelevance?

When marketing fails to fulfil its purpose, it paddles itself into a corporate backwater. Its effect upon sales and margins becomes increasingly negligible and its voice carries diminishing authority. Low achievements foster low expectations.

In a downward spiral of non-performance, marketing relegates itself to organising — often fabulously well, mind you — the end-of-year party and caps for golf days. Who’s to blame?

In B2B organisations, the blame for a widespread indifference to marketing’s role lies entirely with the function itself. In terms of creating sales and protecting margins, marketing departments have promoted themselves to an isolated, commercially irrelevant, under-funded silo.

How did the decline happen?

There are two main reasons.

First, with the possible exception of live events, today’s B2B marketers typically have little or no contact with anyone who influences the buying decisions which create and sustain profitable sales. This means they lack opportunities to build first-hand knowledge of what motivates those crucial decisions. As far as understanding customers’ needs are concerned, they operate in the dark and are reduced to describing in gobbledegook their organisation and its offerings.

As an example of this, consider the propositions of corporate ICT vendors. Typically, they present monotonous variations on a theme like this: “We configure innovative, world-class solutions that combine best-of-breed products with agile implementation to deliver bespoke synergies through holistic partnerships that mitigate risk and add comprehensive value in converged value-chains.” Meaningless.

Secondly, the marketing function has happily relinquished responsibility for the quality of customers’ interactions with their organisation. This bodes very ill indeed for the success of any initiative with a title such as ‘customer experience management’…

All this entrenched isolation from customers is completely at odds with the long-respected thinking of Peter Drucker, the doyen of marketing and management consulting. Back in 1954, he viewed marketing’s position like this:

It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.

If you subscribe to Drucker’s view, the concept of a distinct, stand-alone ‘marketing department’ makes no sense at all. Instead, concern and responsibility should be transferred to all areas. That proposition is supported by compelling reasons.

Why customer experience is rooted in brands and branding

Brands create customer expectations. Branding — how the brand comes to life — creates customer experiences.

From a customer’s point of view (the only one that counts) how your brand comes to life is judged entirely in terms of how it consistently contributes to their success and that of their enterprise. In assessing that contribution, their judgement will be based upon your offering’s performance in relation to quality, time, service and price. It will also be heavily influenced by how well you perceive and react to their needs.

Marketers are obviously involved in creating customer expectations by positioning and promoting the brand within its market segments. However, very few play any part in creating customer experiences. They are not involved with branding.

In B2B, branding ensures experience matches expectation. As such, the function is not the responsibility of people such as designers, copywriters, media buyers, content managers or SEO specialists. Irrespective of how experienced and creatively talented they may be, they have no control over how your brand comes to life.

Managing customer experience: safeguard it in the hands of your brand’s real custodians

Within B2B organisations, everyone who affects the customer’s point of view is involved in branding. They are the brand’s custodians because they do control how it comes to life. They alone translate expectation into experience. From the switchboard to the executive board, a consistently positive customer experience can only be created when your entire business works in a united effort to be the brand.

The drive towards the concept of ‘Marketing United’ will only attract and retain profitable customers when it is ardently supported by leadership. If customers are affected by their decisions, senior executives and managers responsible for functions such as strategy, finance, production and distribution should be routinely talking to customers.

Since they are the brand’s most-powerful custodians, these senior decision-makers should be informed by a clear understanding — gathered directly from customers — of expectations and how best to fulfil them. Their understanding should be based upon personal discovery and not exclusively on second-hand reporting from, say, sales and support teams or market research or inanimate, marketing-automated data.

A caveat for being the brand: product-centric minds are hard to shift

After decades of talk about the importance of customer focus and being customer-centric, many organisations pay the concept little more than lip-service. The responsibility for managing customer experiences is still handled by specific departments instead of being shared across the entire business.

If more evidence of stubbornly product-centric mind sets is needed, a random assessment of B2B content will supply ample proof. The insistence on promoting what an enterprise does, as opposed to what it does for customers, still dominates many corporate websites and their brochure-ware. Little or no mention is made of the successes produced for customers or promised to prospects.

Despite this, we now have another faddish concept being proposed to organisations wishing to improve how their markets view them: customer experience management or CXM. Just as its ‘focus’ and ‘centric’ predecessors have had little widespread impact upon driving marketing’s achievement of its purpose, CXM is destined for the same bin where sound principles end up when not deployed. To avoid that, organisations need answers to the enduring question that underpins the entire concept of customer focus: how may we tailor your experience so that it matches your expectations?

More specifically, organisations need to frame that question within the context of product quality; service levels; lead times; pricing; and how effectively they understand and respond to customers’ challenges. When acted upon appropriately, the discoveries made by such an incisive dialogue with customers is the foundation for ensuring they have a more-positive point of view of you than they do of your competitors.

And that’s what attracts and retains profitable customers.


Mark EardleyMark Eardley 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. He may also be found on LinkedIn.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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