B2B marketers: What will you do differently in 2018?

In 2017, many of us in B2B marketing started to think differently about what we do. We began to question much of the hype that dominates our profession as well as many of the assumptions we accept without challenge. In doing so, we have begun to shift our perspective from a focus solely on tactics to the wider goals and objectives of our organisations.

But it’s not enough to just think differently about what we do as B2B marketers, we must start doing differently if we are ever to create the kind of impact that is meaningful to our businesses and customers. In our B2B marketing world, we need to stop relying on the marketing activity that we’ve always done and start asking ourselves: are we really doing the right things? And it’s not just about doing the same things a bit differently; it’s about doing fundamentally different things.

Like understanding our purpose, both as a business and as B2B marketers. Like developing a marketing strategy where there isn’t one. Like questioning what we think we know about our customers. Like being accountable to our businesses.

Just like thinking differently, doing differently is not easy. It most often entails stepping out of our comfort zones and doing many things we may never have done before, which can feel risky, particularly when the outcome is uncertain. We may succeed, we may fail. And our reputations and credibility as marketers are always on the line. We are only as good as the last thing we’ve done.

Here’s a thought: in 2018, why don’t we resolve to return to marketing fundamentals? If we are grounded in brand, strategy, customers and measurement – and everything that a focus on these essential elements of marketing entails – we will be better equipped to do differently. If we have clarity on what our brands stand for, developed and agreed a marketing strategy and plans with our businesses, deeply understand our customers and markets, and put in place meaningful measures for what we do, then our businesses will trust us as partners for driving growth.

Essential steps to doing differently

As with thinking different, the first step is to make a conscious decision to do some fundamentally different things. We can start by nurturing these habits:

  • Don’t make assumptions – Everything changes; the market, our customers, our business needs, our priorities, ourselves. Don’t assume that what was true yesterday will be true today, just because everyone in your business, department or team believes it. Challenge each and every assumption appropriately and we just might be surprised at what we discover.
  • Cultivate curiosity – Related to the first habit above, we need to continually ask questions and really listen to the answers. The best marketers are infinitely curious, because they really want to understand what’s important and why. And the two crucial questions can be uncomfortable to ask: why are we doing this? Does this matter to our customers?
  • Apply the domino effect – Start by focusing on just one thing, whether that be a single output or a specific activity for one part of your business. If you can shake up even a single way of doing something, it has the potential to spread throughout the entire organisation. And you just might be surprised by who approaches you to say "I want one of those [marketing activities]".
  • Create an on-going dialogue with the business – Marketing is simply not a set of standard exercises that we do day-in and day-out, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We need to have conversations with our salespeople, so we must create the environment and the opportunity for both formal and informal discussion.

We then need to ask ourselves five tough questions and do something about the answers we find:

  1. Is there a marketing strategy for my business that I understand (and can articulate), and to which my plans are aligned? Challenge what’s held up as strategy. If you can’t articulate your marketing strategy and instead point to your marketing plan, then you don’t have a marketing strategy. Accepting this is your first step towards doing differently.
  1. How do I develop my marketing strategy and plans? If you have a strategy, review your process for developing that strategy as well as the process for building your subsequent plans. Speak to your leaders and teams as well as your stakeholders outside of marketing to agree on a meaningful process that will be adopted by everyone. 
  1. What is my purpose? Take the time to think about and understand why you do what you do, beyond earning a living. Understanding your own needs and motivations will better enable you to think as well as do differently.
  1. What can and will I do differently? No matter your level within your marketing organisation, commit to finding and doing one thing differently, no matter the outcome. Be sure to agree on this with the appropriate stakeholder.
  1. Where does my marketing team physically sit within my organisation? Look at where you and your team physically sit. Many marketing teams sit in an area devoted to operations or what's often called internal services, and this may be on another floor or even in another building to your salespeople. Do whatever is necessary to relocate to where you’ll be able to have on-going, direct interactions with your salespeople.

Finally, be patient. Doing differently takes time – time to have the appropriate conversations, time to find the right idea, issue or activity, time to get business buy-in, time to plan and execute, and time to understand the results. Change is hard and, especially in larger organisations, there may be a lot of people that we need to bring around to what we want to do. As with all things marketing, retain your focus on the outcomes you want to achieve and don’t get bogged down in the outputs.

I explore these and other issues further in my new book – B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement – now available from Kogan Page publishers and Amazon everywhere.