I’ve just finished the excellent Complete Guide to B2B Marketing by Kim Ann King. It’s very “List-ey” – it’s full of To Do lists (“Want to figure out your budgets for media spend? Here’s a 7-point list of how to do it”), which I really like. Many marketing books are rather waffly and vague, so a practical guide is always welcome.
But, here’s the rub – by the end of the book it would be very easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the list of things you need to do to be running a world-class marketing organisation! From reading the book you’d be left with the impression that you must be doing all of the following:
- Fully integrated web, marketing, customer and predictive analytics
- Implemented full experimentation and optimisation platform
- Full marketing automation
- Advanced personalisation and targeting across all channels
- Complete oversight of the marketing funnel from out-of-funnel to leads to MQLs to SQLs to closed
- A clean, de-duped and pristine CRM
- A full inbound/content strategy
- Deep and extensive planning cycles from data to goals to strategies to tactics to results and back round again – carried out quarterly
- Segmentation, positioning, messaging, buyer personas and so on for every product group and segment
- A Brand awareness plan for new markets
- Demand generation activities across all stages of the funnel
- Full retention marketing plan for your “existing customer” segment
- A plan for organisational enablement for all of the above including budgets, staffing, forecasts
- On top of all this, keeping on top of new developments in marketing, self-education and so on
..and this is just scratching the surface. In fact she’s very open in the first chapter about how the role for anyone in marketing today can feel overwhelming, that there is so much to keep on top of.
How do you cope with this? All of the things above seem vital, important – how can you be doing your job properly unless you’re doing all of the above?
I’ve also just re-read Porter’s great article on Strategy (https://hbr.org/1996/11/what-is-strategy – you need an HBR subscription to read it unfortunately). One primary point he makes is to ask the question “What is a strategy?” and one of his tenants that qualifies an activity as “strategic” is whether or not you are making choices to not do something. For example, if at your business you want to “Improve the reporting system so that we can see product performance better” – this might be a big project, but you’re not choosing to not do anything. No-one would choose to “Make reporting worse so that we can’t see what’s going on”. All you’re doing is improving your business effectiveness.
However if your company had two products, A and B, and you said that “We’re only going to sell product A going forward and stop selling product B” – that’s strategic, because someone else could choose to sell product B instead (or stick with both, or neither).
How is this relevant to Kim Ann King’s book? You have to make choices. You have to make choices about which elements of marketing activity you are going to focus on, and to which you are going to say No. This is your job as a marketing leader, to prioritise and say no to things. Anyone can take the list above and propose “Doing all of the above”, but that road leads to a lack of focus and burnout.
How do you choose? It’s the simple, but difficult job of understanding your business, and where your problems are. To take an example from my own organisation, Redgate. There’s a section in the book about “Building a community site, with content to build trust and inbound for your brand”. But, we are fortunate to already have this (a couple of sites, www.sqlservercentral.com and www.simple-talk.com). It’s not that these can’t be improved, but is it a priority to start a new community site at Redgate? No it isn’t.
This is an easy one though – when you’ve already ticked something on the list. What about all the things you haven’t done yet? This gets more difficult, but then this is your job. Should you spend the next year cleaning and de-duping your CRM system so that you can implement advanced personalisation and targeting? Or re-branding your company? Or building analytical capability for the future? Or implementing a MarTech platform? Or experimenting with new channels?
The job is to diagnose – what are your current problems? What is currently holding your business back, your constraints? What work could you do that would move you towards your company goals next year? This latter point is vital – if your company objectives are about growth rather than, say, cost-cutting, or process improvements, this suggest different activities.
What’s very important is to recognise the different go-to-market strategy and type of company that you work in, compared to others. Perhaps my one criticism of this book is that, though it purports to be specific to B2B marketing, there’s not enough opinion on what is most useful for B2B marketing, and what’s more relevant to B2C. There’s some (e.g. that LinkedIn is more relevant than SnapChat) and there is more of a focus on lead nurturing through to sales people (more relevant to the high-value/low-volume world of traditional B2B), but there isn’t quite enough direction on “This activity is popular about B2C marketers, but really is a waste of time for you”.
This is where your job comes in – what sort of B2B org do you work at? At Redgate, really we’re B2BC. We’re absolutely selling software to businesses – there’s no way Jo Public is interested in SQL Server comparison tools. But, where most traditional B2B orgs are high-value/low-volume with all that entails (low lead volume, high ATV, significant sales nurturing, multiple buyer personas in each org etc etc), we are much closer to B2C in our business model – low ATV, high volume, mass (1:many) digital marketing and so on. So for us, certain activities are more relevant than others. As an example, most marketing automation platforms use a nurturing model based on slowly taking leads through a number of stages (awareness, leads, MQLs, SQLs etc), using personalised content – based on in-depth data and analytics for different customer segments. This is needed because often B2B organisations have complex offerings that need to be explained and “sold” to companies, so that they understand the benefits of spending $500k with that vendor.
But – what if this isn’t you? What if you sell software for $400 that, quite frankly doesn’t need explaining in this way? What if it’s pretty darned obvious what it does, and the free trial tells the end-user everything they need to know? In that scenario, is it worth investing millions of dollars in a new marketing automation platform? What’s the uplift going to be – will you ever get payback?
It’s these hard decisions that you need to make to ensure you and your team don’t get overwhelmed with new activities. You’re making strategic decisions when you decide not to do one thing and instead do another. May be you put marketing automation off for a year (despite the overwhelming message from the industry that you have to be be doing it ) and focus on finding new customer segments instead? Maybe for you, it’s about starting a significant community platform this year, and everything else can just keep ticking along?
Once you’ve decided, there’s then the equal challenge of leading the change through your organisation. Every idea (automation, branding, content, channel, sales support etc etc) will have its advocates in your company. You need to hold on to the logic for why you’ve chosen A, not B, and try to get that adopted through the company so that everyone is working to the same goals. The strategy is just the start of the process…