3 business survival factors B2B marketers can’t afford to ignore
I’ve been a B2B marketer since 1990 and in that time, the discipline has transformed beyond recognition. When I started, the customers I served relied largely on the guidance of our sales executives, and those of our rivals, to compare options and decide what to buy. Not today. Making introductions to new prospects was a matter of attending trade-shows, running events, sending out direct mail and getting recommendations from others — and picking up the phone. Again, not today.
Over the past 6-months, I’ve made it my mission to unscientifically interview over two dozen B2B business leaders and senior marketers from industries as broad as motor trade, office technology, manufacturing, healthcare, government, recruitment, professional services and hi-tech. Consistently, a common set of ‘symptoms’ of poor performing lead pipelines emerge:
- Sales and marketing teams are at war. Management teams introduce digital marketing expertise into their businesses, expecting miracles from the money being invested. What they end up with is a youthful digital marketing team that sees their legacy sales colleagues as being in the dark ages, while incumbent sales teams find their new marketing whiz-kids big on arrogance and weak on results. One of the reasons why these new marketing approaches typically underperform is that ‘the business’ in question hasn’t really understood what their conversation should be with customers, and what they need to do to grow trust with the web surfer audience that trips across their online content.
- Companies are distracted and over-burdened by technology, with slug-speed ‘IT’ dragging its heels. This is an odd one, and yet it’s common. Departments in need of the latest digital marketing tools (of which there are over 40 different types and hundreds of apps incidentally) will procure new apps ‘as a service’ and then experience a devil’s own job gluing them together. IT teams find themselves disenfranchised and isolated from the SPRINT culture and drag-and-drop tools. (When IT teams are entrusted with ensuring the ‘business continuity’ of operating back-office systems of record, addressing the ‘situational needs’ of individuals and teams can quite understandably drop off the priority list!)
- Leaders and managers are suffering from a shortage of useful actionable insights. While companies are gathering more data than ever about their customers, their ability to harness data to distill actionable insights that drive decision making remains poor. When asked, most managers and leaders say they lack ready access to the insights they need. One of the reasons for this is the discontinuity of data held in disparate back-office systems. And when this operational data is put to use for a new purpose, the quality of captured data is visibly suspect.
From the interviews I’ve held, I distilled these three business survival factors for B2B marketers. Having identified them, I sought validation from the people I’d interviewed and (encouragingly) found a widespread endorsement of my findings. I hope you find these three points equally helpful and I’m naturally curious of your own experiences and perspectives!
My top 3 survival factors:
1. Businesses must make ’willing prospects’ that want to engage with them. That means customers must find value from the conversations (be they virtual or analog) they’re having with vendors. We’ve moved into an ‘I-Want-What-I-Want-When-I-Want-It’ era. Buyers complete the majority of their buying process performing ‘personal research’ online BEFORE they reach out to companies and commit themselves to dialogue. (We see this evidenced by lower attendance at trade-shows, fewer prospects visiting showrooms, forecourts, and shops. Prospects are generally less willing to speak to salespeople). Product marketers need to think less about their product life-cycle and more about the customer behaviors they seek to encourage. The question of today is, ‘What behavior do you want your customer to adopt?’
2. Businesses need a ‘purposeful brand’. Brands are more influential than ever before. Buyers have a choice of who they buy from and they want to spend their cash on products and services from companies that have a purpose beyond making money. With market-places awash with different purchasing options, buyers more naturally look for the brands they know for their long-list. Social equality and diversity, data integrity, community investments, and green credentials are particularly important.
3. Businesses that ‘upscale’ their position in market hierarchies will become ever more dominant. In a global always-on market, having the ability to reach the top of the market food chain requires significant online marketing spend, demands larger product portfolios, calls for deeper pockets for infrastructure investments, and R&D. The bigger a company becomes, and the broader its channel reach, the better able it is to survive market changes. Consider Amazon. It’s at the top of the food-chain. It has visibility over the purchasing behaviors of customers and the costs of suppliers, placing Amazon in a privileged market position.
These factors have become critical to business success in our era. Yet, maximizing the potential of a business pre-supposes that the business knows what it is, how it creates value to customers and stakeholders and where its competency strength lies; whether in customer intimacy, product leadership or operational excellence. Knowing WHICH OF THESE your organization is aiming for is really important.
Can a customer-intimate company survive without the best product or service offering? Yes, provided it can deliver more of what a customer wants to buy, more often than its rivals to become the obvious ‘go to’ partner.
Can a business with a fantastic product survive without great customer intimacy? Yes, provided it has customer intimate partners.
Can an operationally excellent organization thrive even when it’s not very customer intimate and doesn’t have the best product? ‘Maybe,’ if this results in the organization having some operational skills or privileged assets that are highly valued by customers.
Ian Tomlin is a marketing and management consultant with over 20-years experience in helping businesses to grow. He is (now) CEO of the B2B conversational marketing company, Newton Day. Find out more about Newton Day here.