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3 fallacies of B2B marketing

Three fallacies continue to dominate B2B marketing thinking. These fallacies are hindering our ability as B2B marketers to create and execute marketing that matters to our customers and our businesses. And they're damaging our profession.

There are others, of course, but these three fallacies fascinate me because I attend conferences, roundtables and other events where the conversation hasn't fundamentally changed for many years. I hear the same frustrations and the same excuses: our markets are changing so fast that it’s impossible to plan; we don’t have the right people or the right tools; we don’t have a big enough budget; our business doesn’t value us; there’s too much/not enough data; there’s so much noise out in the market we’re not reaching our customers; we’re so busy all the time…. I could go on and on.

But marketers have always faced these kinds of challenges in B2B. We have to stop making excuses for what we can’t do, and start to focus on becoming better marketers.

1. Digital has forever and fundamentally changed marketing’s very foundations...

... and its function and purpose are nothing like what has come before.

What's the role and purpose of B2B marketing? Why do we do what we do and how do we do it? These questions lie at the heart of marketing thinking. Our job is fundamentally about engaging our customers in meaningful ways that ultimately differentiate our organisations, our people, and our products and services from our competitors. We do this by developing marketing campaigns and programmes that deliver value for our customers and growth for our organisations.

This is a major shift in marketing thinking for B2B – from a focus on what we sell (inside out) to a relentless customer perspective (outside in) – which has been predicated on the shift in buying behaviours enabled by new technology. However, this is a shift in our commercial and marketing environments, not a fundamental change in marketing itself. Although the tools we use may constantly change, the core principles of marketing remain the same. If we can continue to focus on this truth and ignore this unfortunately ubiquitous fallacy, we just may be able to deliver marketing that matters.

2. The marketing plan is the marketing strategy

In our headlong rush to embrace ’digital’, we've created a profession of project managers and tacticians. We know how to ‘do’ marketing; we’ve become or hired the specialists necessary for this technology-first world. Of course, we need this type of expertise in our B2B marketing organisations. But expertise in a tactic or channel doesn't make a marketer or define marketing. By constantly focusing on our outputs, we've drifted further and further away from our marketing roots. We have lost and are neglecting to teach our people the fundamentals of marketing, which have not changed, although we must bring new perspectives to these fundamentals.

And we unknowingly use the words strategy and plans interchangeably and incorrectly.

I continually hear the word ‘strategy’ used to describe a tactical activity, especially in too many articles from so-called marketing experts. We create our marketing plans and call them strategy. We start with what we do (the tactics) without doing the hard work upfront about why we’re implementing this activity in the first place, in other words, what we’re trying to achieve.

So, what’s the difference between strategy and plans?

  • strategy is an approach we take to achieve a long-term primary goal – an outcome.
  • plan is the detailed set of short-term activities – outputs - that encompass specific objectives and tactics that support and sustain the strategy.

Without strategy, plans are just a random set of tactics that may or may not actually achieve anything for the wider business. At best, plans without strategy may realise some short-term targets. At worst, they consume valuable time, budget and energy in the wrong direction, in pursuit of misaligned objectives.

3. The purpose of marketing is lead generation

Clearly, one of marketing’s many tasks is to generate leads for the business. Lead generation is the marketing activity that stimulates and captures interest in a product or service in order to develop and fill the sales pipeline, with the ultimate goal being an actual sale. It's the process of identifying specific, named contacts who may be ready to buy, and one of marketing’s many responsibilities is to implement activity that will capture those names to send along to sales.

But make no mistake, lead generation is a short-term, tactical activity, designed to do one thing and one thing only: create a never-ending pipeline of leads that sales can use to drive revenue.

I’m not saying that generating leads is unimportant, of course it’s important. At the risk of oversimplifying, our organisations stay in business by acquiring customers and making money. But acquiring customers is a process – often a complex and lengthy one in B2B, with many people involved in the decision-making process.

Lead generation is only one aspect of marketing. Even though we may have better tools to measure the effectiveness of our lead generation activity than we may do for other marketing activity does not mean we should be distracted or ignore those other things which are also marketing’s responsibility – namely strategy, segmentation, positioning, brand awareness, customer insight and engagement – that enable the long-term sustainability of our companies.

We do a disservice to marketing as a function and a profession – as well as to the companies we work for - if we define ourselves solely by our tasks and short-term tactical marketing activity without a clearer understanding of our wider role and purpose as marketers.

Because, ultimately, our role as B2B marketers – if we do our jobs well –  is to deliver growth by making our brands and our people memorable in the hearts and minds of our customers long after any marketing campaign or sales promotion is over.

I explore these issues and more in my new book – B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement – now available to pre-order from Kogan Page Publishers and Amazon everywhere.