Thinking differently about B2B marketing strategy

For those of you who follow me on social media, you’ll know that I advocate a return to marketing fundamentals with a focus on developing marketing strategy first, then the tactics that deliver that strategy. As we enter this holiday season and start looking forward to 2018, instead of the trends that tend to proliferate at this time of year, I thought I’d look at those ways we can begin to think differently about B2B marketing over the coming year. These are my top tips for getting to grips with B2B marketing strategy:

  • Examine the commercial environment in which we as B2B marketers are now working, and look at our customers, our organisations and our profession. Think about what’s changed and what hasn’t - including the buyer journey, the sales funnel, how we engage with our customers and how our customers engage with us, the language we use, and the technology.
  • Question the assumptions that many of us accept without challenge – such as the assumed divide between traditional and digital marketing, and the supposed shrinking of our attention spans. 
  • Consider the ‘marketing myopia’ concept - from Theodore Levitt’s original theory and in the context of the 21st century ‘new marketing myopia’ - then expand this thinking into what marketing myopia might look like in B2B marketing today.
  • Review the influences that continue to occupy us – including the tactics and the channels - and the shifts we need to make in our ingrained perceptions about marketing.
  • Most importantly, clarify where we should and shouldn’t be focusing our attention as marketers in B2B.

"The biggest risk we face as B2B marketers is that our marketing activity is not valued by our organisations"

In particular, put a spotlight once and for all on the fundamental marketing fallacy of our era - that our marketing discipline has changed beyond recognition. This misconception is severely impacting our ability to think beyond our marketing silos and be effective marketers. We have become so busy getting to grips with all the new the tactical elements and distribution channels for our marketing activity that they’ve become the only activity that matters for our B2B marketing functions.

The biggest risk we face as B2B marketers is that our marketing activity is not valued by our organisations. Yet we continue to be viewed by our organisations as a cost instead of a partner for growing the business – a ‘nice-to-have’ instead of an integral component of achieving business strategy and objectives. B2B organisations – and especially professional services – have been slow to adapt to a fundamentally changed commercial landscape. And we have continued to struggle to demonstrate that marketing can and does make a difference, to both our customers and our businesses.

Just as Apple did in the late 1990s, we must start to think very differently about our businesses and about our marketing. We must be bold enough to fundamentally shift our thinking from what we do to why it matters, moving our perspective from ‘inside-out’ – from the marketing tasks that focus on what we manufacture or sell - to ‘outside-in’ –  encompassing how our customers feel about us and what we as a business want to achieve, not over months but over years.

Essential steps to thinking differently

But thinking differently is not easy, it involves both time and effort, and it can be exhausting. Because thinking differently is very uncomfortable for most B2B marketers. It means questioning the accepted norms for marketing within our organisations and that ultimately means questioning our own expertise, even admitting that there may be many things we don’t know. Importantly, it means not simply accepting the obvious and easiest, but working hard to ensure we are exposed to multiple perspectives instead of merely those which validate our existing thinking.

Most of all, in order to 'think different', we need to be infinitely curious; we must continually question everything we think we know and what everyone else takes for granted. When we question, we discover new things, open ourselves to new possibilities, and increase our knowledge. New knowledge brings new opportunities and new ideas, and paves the way for doing things differently. This is how we make a difference, how we create impact and become memorable, forging those lasting connections among our customers and across our organisations.

Thinking different is also about understanding why we think the way we do, and making a conscious effort to create an environment that enables new thinking. In B2B marketing, we're so busy doing, that we don’t take enough time, if any, to simply stop and think about or discuss what we’re doing and why.

How many of us attend marketing team meetings that focus solely on what we’re currently or just about to do? We need to make the time and give ourselves the space to think, both on our own and within groups. I don’t mean brainstorming sessions (which tend to focus on the same things, just done a bit differently), I mean team sessions where we honestly look at the thinking – the logic, the rationale and the emotion – behind what we do.

As B2B marketers, we simply must get back to the fundamentals of marketing – which have not changed. Begin with developing marketing strategy, not marketing plans. With strategy as our foundation, we have the touchstone against which all of our marketing activity can be aligned and measured. Instead of trendy, we can then become more purposeful and valued, and ultimately an essential element in the sustainability of our businesses.

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