by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) The espoused and enacted theory may sound complicated and academic but it has very pertinent applications in real life and, specifically, in B2B marketing.

In the context of an organisation, the espoused part of the theory refers to how an organisation says that it behaves — the promise it makes to the outside world. The enacted part is how that organisation actually behaves. Obviously, there may be gaps between these two and the theory is that, the greater the difference, the greater the chaos internally within an organisation. This is true irrespective of the size of the company, or whatever phase of business it’s in.

What happens when the gap is too big

A few years ago, we needed the services of an IT software provider to provide CRM software to our company. It presented its capabilities and all the ways its software could help us solve our problems.

With CRM software, it’s not as simple as buying a product; you have to deploy it, people need to be trained and there are various change-management processes that must be implemented if the changeover is to be successful. We asked the salesperson pitching the services about this, and were assured that it would take away all the pain from this adoption process, that it had a dedicated team whose sole responsibility it was to handle change management and implementation. We were told it it had done this successfully multiple times, that the support team would be on hand 24/7 to help us switch over, and that we’d get all the training we needed to make the changeover a success.

We signed on the spot and bought the new software. However, when it came to deployment, it quickly became clear that its client services teams were not readily available to help us at all, our employees were not trained sufficiently and it was incredibly difficult to actually get the new system deployed.

You know how this ends — we had to cancel the contract and we lost time and money, plus it caused our company a great deal of stress. The pain wasn’t just on our side. The IT software provider lost a client, lost revenue and there was great internal chaos trying to deliver.

And what was the core issue? The gap between what the salesperson promised us and what the company could actually deliver was far too large.

Strategic partners, not just brief-takers

In a B2B context, B2B agencies often get briefs on campaigns where clients tell us what promise they want to make to the world. They want people to be told how they can solve their problems and they are usually very clear on exactly what their value proposition is. But we always take it a step further. Because what a good B2B agency should do is work with the client as a strategic partner to understand whether the brand can actually deliver on this promise. The minute you dig under the hood, you may realise that the brand cannot necessarily do this at all — because it doesn’t have the execution capability.

Making this gap between the espoused and enacted too vast does no one any favours and it’s a huge problem for the client: it makes a promise, the market demand comes in, but then it can’t deliver. Again, this costs money, and creates stress. It’s a big problem for us, too, because when companies stop performing, it cuts marketing budgets, and we could lose our client’s business.

Tailor your promise

Typical business thinking says that, if your business can’t deliver on your promise, you should mobilise your business and fix it. But, actually, research shows that it’s more effective to fix your promise than to change your business. While this may cause friction in the short term, it’s always a better long-term decision.

Taking this viewpoint shifts a B2B marketing agency from filling the role of a mere production house which takes briefs to a strategic partner. That’s why we always emphasise that clients should tailor their promise to their capabilities, rather than tailoring their business – because this has been shown to be the most-powerful and -sustainable solution.


Warren MossWarren Moss (@warrenmoss) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.

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One reply on “Thinking B2B: Applying espoused & enacted theory to B2B marketing”

  1. Am about to launch a new B2B brand and needed to hear this. Thanks Warren!

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