The eight pillars of B2B marketing maturity

B2B Marketing has designed a set of parameters which can demonstrate progress along the path to digital marketing maturity. The eight pillars, as we call them, are the leading indicators of progress taken from the marketing leaders’ point of view.

The pillars we have selected split into two separate groups of four. One group is focused on aspects of marketing execution and performance, while the other group revolves around organisation, asset and infrastructure management, and processes.

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The four pillars of execution are things that marketing teams should be doing. Progression to maturity in these pillars requires change in marketing processes and the behaviour of the marketing teams.

Strategy and evolution (planning, innovation, change and performance management)

This describes the overall way of doing business as the marketing organisation. Marketing leaders must set up and manage their organisation to be agile and innovative, reacting to changes in customer needs on an ongoing basis. This requires encouraging flexibility in both planning and measurement and setting up processes accordingly. The traditional five-year or three-year marketing plan is now passé, and even an annual marketing plan can no longer be expected to stay steady for a 12-month period. The most mature organisations will be doing their planning based on data gathered on an ongoing basis from their customers, and are structured to support innovations and change.

Sales and marketing need to be considered as the agents of change. Unlike our colleagues in other disciplines across the organisation, we are in the unique position of being led by our customers’ evolving needs. We have access to a wealth of data to support informed decisions concerning future strategies and direction of travel.

Effective marketing leaders recognise and promote the value of sales and marketing’s creative thinking. Not just to drive innovation in marketing’s ability to deliver influential value to the right stakeholders, but to ensure their organisation remains in touch and relevant to the current and future needs of their customers.

Growth (GTM, demand gen, ABM, ecommerce, channel marketing, and sales enablement)

The foundation of growth marketing involves setting and implementing a comprehensive and agreed upon go-to-market (GTM) strategy, which usually centres upon generating demand for products and services. Marketing leaders often deploy an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy to support programmes such as programmatic advertising, and encourage their teams to support the sales organisation in their direct selling activities by doing joint account planning and providing their rich data source of predictive analytics. As many B2B companies sell as much of their offerings through indirect channels as through their own sales force, the involvement of channel partners is also becoming an important criterion of success for marketing leaders.

The most highly measured and results-driven aspect of marketing, demand generation is the programme that never sleeps. When you’re only as good as your last quarter’s results, it’s impossible to take your eye off the ball. But how do you gain an important cut through when response rates are becoming increasingly hard to predict and your sales teams have a never-ending appetite for new leads?

The emergence of ABM has been seen as the saviour for many – a shift from short-term tactical programmes to longer-term engagement and relationships through a close partnership with sales. But does it work, can it replace conventional demand gen, and what skills and technology will you need? 

Strong marketing leadership addresses those issues and explores the evolving role of direct and indirect sales, and the consequent impacts on marketing, which are evolving rapidly in response to changing buyer behaviour, new delivery channels and Covid-19.

Execution and campaigns (digital, data, events, creativity, propositions, internal communications, and agency management) 

Building award-winning campaigns that will engage audiences to change how they think and feel takes a broad range of skills; from initial strategy and data through to crafting a compelling proposition combined with powerful creative that is delivered to the right people in the right place at the right time.

The ability to appoint, brief and manage external resources has become increasingly complex with the growing trend to manage a roster of specialist agencies across strategy, creative, messaging and deployment across multiple channels. It will also look at the evolution of different channels and how to deploy them effectively in the light of a rapidly changing buyer and communications landscape.

Marketing leadership has an important influence on the way that the organisation executes the day-to-day processes of marketing campaigns. The campaigns should target buyers through channels that are fully-aligned to customer needs and preferences. Market research becomes a constant work in-progress project, and the data collected feeds into the campaign execution decisions. 

Customer experience (buyer journey, sales enablement, sales and marketing alignment, advocacy, and customer success)

Once a peripheral role for marketing, customer experience (CX) rapidly earned its place as a critical component for business success – albeit one often without a formal strategic plan or accountability. And rightly so, as no other discipline focuses on the customer from cradle to grave to accelerate acquisition, reduce churn and optimise revenue potential.

Highly effective CX strategies or programmes can be beautifully simple, so the skill is to resist unnecessary complexity by attempting to be too clever too soon. Many companies proudly claim to be customer-centric, yet fail to deliver on the promise because they neglect to build a solid platform of alignment across all customer-facing stakeholder groups. CX is a mix of tactical initiatives, designed to address specific pain points, and strategic programmes, aimed at improving profitability across the entire business.

Marketing leaders must now care about the complete customer experience from their initial (and hopefully repeated) buyer journey, through to their success as a customer and potential involvement in advocacy marketing. The experience touchpoints usually involve staff external to marketing, so sales enablement and sales/marketing alignment are critical to this success pillar.  

The four pillars of design are elements of organisational design, resource management plus technology and reporting systems. Progression to maturity in these pillars requires executives establishing the right organisational structure and culture.

Data strategy, insight and intelligence

Every business should be in the data business to remain in business. Information is power. But knowing where to access the right data, interpret and leverage it fluently has now become an art form in itself. It starts with building coherent architecture and processes that capture the right signals in the right places to generate a balanced diet of insight that can be successfully leveraged across your sales and marketing operation. 

In addition to the fundamentals of managing an ever-increasing pool of data, marketing leaders must also consider the new opportunities presented by emerging technologies and how third-party sources, such as intent data, can be successfully leveraged to support marketing strategies such as ABM.

Building effective teams (internal and external talent, recruitment, alignment, structure, skills and competencies, and career pathways)

Recruiting, developing, harnessing and retaining effective people is one of the greatest challenges for any marketing leader. And it doesn’t stop at in-house resources – striking the right team balance between specialist contractors and outsourcing to marketing agencies can be equally challenging.

It is not enough to have individuals within marketing that are competent. They also need to have scope to grow and have sufficient commercial acumen to understand the bigger commercial picture and their role within it. 

Marketing leaders must also strive to be as diverse and representative of the company as a whole, to maximise creativity and ensure societal alignment.

Brand and content management (brand value for all stakeholders, positioning, propositions and communication consistency)

While the focus and appetite to invest in brand has ebbed and flowed, its contribution to an organisation’s success or failure has never diminished. 

The scope of the brand has moved way beyond the conventional meaning of pure identity and customer perception to address a considerably wider population of stakeholders: from shareholders and financial analysts, to influential pressure groups monitoring environmental sustainability, diversity and social responsibility, to employees and the supply chain. The public faces an organisation and the accountability for its behaviour requires highly sensitive and skilful management.

Using content to consistently engage, educate and influence how audiences feel about your organisation, products and services, is a function your organisation can employ to build the relationship between your audience and your brand. 

Successful marketing leaders will also embrace how to maximise internal brand engagement and communicate this via relevant channels and opportunities by providing frameworks for brand assessment, development and consistent application across all stakeholder’s journeys. 

Marketing operations and process

As the ‘engine room’, marketing ops turns a great strategy into a winning formula for sustainable growth. But, harnessing the power of robust processes aligned with an integrated tech stack can be a complex jigsaw which takes a firm grasp on the array of tools needed to deliver results. 

Successful marketing leaders build and manage an organisation that is fit for purpose and scalable to meet changing demands, as well as aligning with other areas of operational excellence, such as sales, and track the likely evolution of combined revenue operations, function and skillset.

The B2B Marketing Leaders report 2020

We recently sent a survey based on the four pillars of execution to 100 marketing leaders. The results of this survey were used in this report to demonstrate where marketers are at in their journey to digital marketing maturity. Check out all the findings here.

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b2b leaders report