Are the sales alignment evangelists leading us up the garden path?

Marketing leaders in the B2B marketing space are a positive bunch – despite often working in a challenging environment, with ongoing uncertainty, they generally remain upbeat and optimistic about the future. That was message I took from the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum, held at the Bishopsgate Institute on September 20th.

The event was designed to give CMOs, marketing directors, VPs and heads of marketing an unprecedented opportunity to learn directly from their B2B peers from all different sectors. It was structured around keynote sessions from leading thinkers interspersed with roundtable discussions on the key points covered.

I was pleased – and a little relieved! – that delegates echoed the positive vibes about the profession presented in our B2B Marketing Leaders Report, which showed that 88 per cent feel valued by their organisation, and that respect for marketing is rising.

So far so good. As the day progressed, however, there were general rumblings of discontent regarding some of the changes that marketing is undergoing, with the important of data, technology and analytics growing, at the expense of creative or management elements. One speaker questioned the underlying rationale for this shift in emphasis, suggesting that the personalities and agendas of key individuals ultimately determine the value of marketing, regardless of how impressive any metrics or KPIs may be. In other words its all politics.

The rumblings continued at the post-event drinks, when one delegate threatened to puncture the positivity bubble surrounding marketing automation, revealing that his rollout of a leading platform has more than one year and counting. That’s certainly not something that the vendors would choose to advertise.

The event also served to highlight the differences between IT and other sectors – professional services and finance in particular – where the focus on leads and nurturing is less necessary and consequently practice is less advanced. This suggests that the reinvention of marketing as a sales-focused and data-driven industry may be less advanced and taking longer than certain commentators might suggest. For some marketers, rightly or wrongly, it’s not even on the agenda.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Are the marketing automation/sales alignment proponents all leading us up the garden path? I guess it comes right back to the question of respect (or the lack of it) which was the focus of one of the key questions in the Marketing Leaders Report. If you’re a senior marketer, and you have the backing of the board without becoming a data geek, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if you have little backing from the board and a lot of questioning about what you’re doing why and where your marketing budget is going, perhaps you need to ask yourself why, and whether this calls for a new approach. In these continually challenging times, B2B marketing leaders surely cannot afford to be complacent.