4 mental habits of the best B2B marketers

What makes a great marketer? Certainly, the technical marketing skills that we learn and hone throughout our careers are critical. And across our marketing organisations we have a lot of marketing people who have built their careers on being really fantastic project managers. In fact, marketing strategy and plans are worthless without the ability to execute to the highest standards.

But execution on its own is not enough. To paraphrase the great Peter Drucker, it’s not always about doing things right, it’s about doing the right things; in fact, "there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all".

I worry that too many of us are focusing on the immediate tasks and the ‘busy work’ of marketing.

What’s the first thing you do every morning when you get to work? If you’re like me, you check and respond to your email and voicemail messages. And most likely there are a number of ‘urgent’ requests that require ‘immediate’ attention. We arrive early, have lunch at our desks, and stay late in the office. And we do our best to tick off the items on our to-do list, most often focusing on the ones that are quickest and easiest. And all of a sudden, it’s the end of the day and we’ve done nothing but put out fires and run to meetings and react, react, react.

Yet how much of what we do during the day perhaps shouldn’t even be done at all? And what if we did something very different?

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I first published a version of this post back in 2014. But as our day-to-day working life of B2B marketing continues to become increasingly demanding and hectic, I thought that now would be a good time to remind ourselves of ways we can better prioritise and manage our time, so that we can create the time and space for ourselves that we need without running ourselves ragged.

Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People includes a section on time management. It features a very simple two-by-two matrix that has stayed with me years after reading the book; it provides a framework we can use daily for understanding what’s actually urgent – requiring immediate attention – and what’s truly important – requiring ongoing, consistent attention.

I’ve interpreted this matrix specifically for B2B marketers:

4 mental habits of the best B2B marketers

This matrix represents the choices we make for utilising our time during any given workday. Let’s look at these quadrants more closely:

1. Urgent/Important: these are the tasks and activities we simply must complete each day or week. I don’t ever really worry about these things because I know I’ll always complete them. For marketers they tend to be things like meeting production deadlines and product launches. There are also some phone calls and emails that must be made and some meetings that must be attended.

2. Not Urgent/Important: I think this is actually the most important quadrant in the matrix; for me, it represents the crucial thinking or learning time that is critical for my role and longer-term marketing goals. It’s the bit that focuses not so much on what I do (the tasks), but how I do it (the strategy, planning and ideas). I also believe that the time spent in this quadrant is what turns good marketers into great marketers.

3. Urgent/Not Important: I’m constantly surprised at how much time most of us tend to spend in this quadrant, including myself. Urgent tasks are what keeps us busy and they feel important even when they’re not. We prioritise them in the moment and we derive a great sense of accomplishment from them. These are generally all the myriad interruptions that happen throughout the day – from the stakeholder who needs a copy of the most recent publication right now to the event organiser who has such a great ‘opportunity’ to talk to us about. I also think that the vast majority of meetings fall into this quadrant.

4. Not Urgent/Not Important: these are the time-wasters, the distractions, the things we do when we’re tired and don’t want to have to think too much, the things that always end up on the bottom of the to-do list but are easy to tick. Have you ever had tasks that keep being pushed to the next day or week, until all of a sudden you find it doesn’t actually need to be done? Do you go onto Twitter or LinkedIn, not for any real purpose, but just to see what you’ve missed? These are the things we need to eliminate as much of as we can.

In Covey's book, this matrix is presented as a time management tool. But I think it’s much more than that. For me, it’s a way of thinking about what we do as B2B marketers, a mental habit we need to incorporate into our everyday working lives. At bottom, it’s about having clarity on what we are trying to achieve and continually asking ourselves if what we’re doing is urgent or important. The rest we simply must let go of, either by handing off to someone else or eliminating entirely. We just might then start to become better marketers.