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We want to build B2B marketing teams of the future; why is what we're inheriting so out of date?

I recently sat down with a dozen senior B2B marketers to talk about their marketing teams, including what their skills and objectives should look like in 2020 and the beyond. It wasn’t long before I realised that it’s fruitless planning for the team of the future before we’ve solved the marketing team of the present.

In our conversation we hit on a universal challenge. New marketing leaders often step into their role with a legacy that’s hard to change – the perception of marketing as playing in the supporting role. The exact issues were unique to each business, but a few key themes came up:

  • “When I joined we were seen as more of a comms team than a ‘real’ marketing team”
  • “The majority of our efforts were to manage events chosen by the sales team”
  • “We were set up to each serve individual parts of the business, rather than deliver on a wider strategy”

Built to serve

The first issue is that marketing is often defined by a list of tasks typically prescribed by a senior leader in another department - often sales. This means that, while marketing delivers some value, it has no room to deliver unique insights or deliver additional value that other senior stakeholders could have delivered or conceived of. As a result marketing isn’t always seen as worthy of inviting into the room where big strategic decisions are made.

This is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario - while the team is structured to serve other parts of the business, marketing is not able to deliver to its full potential. Yet while marketing isn’t going above and beyond, the business is unlikely to give it the room it needs to evolve and grow.

This explains why so many marketing teams really are comms team. If your department is built to support other parts of the business, you’re unlikely to be in the room when such pivotal discussions about pricing and product development are held.

Much of this stems from a lack of real marketing leadership in B2B businesses, through no significant fault of their own. Historically there was far less need for marketing leadership in B2B businesses, and it’s only with the globalisation of business and the empowerment of buyers in the last 15-20 years that the need to shift focus away from sales and towards marketing has begun in earnest.

This meant that, when marketing was first built, it was made to reflect the existing structures within the business, rather than being built to meet strategic needs and deliver the most relevant value. In order to find a foothold for marketing to be truly impactful.

Two ears, one mouth

As long as marketing is simply a comms team, it will never get the credit it deserves. Not only must marketing be the voice of your business in the market, but the voice of your customers in the boardroom, providing insights and points of view that are relevant to the strategic focus of the business right now.

These insights will define you as a strategic thinker, as someone who can inject customer centric thinking into the wider business in order to create better products, better experiences, identify new markets and more.

But in order to identify those insights, you need to know what you’re looking for.

Listening dog

The second smartest person in the room

In order to understand which insights are useful to the wider business, and what to do with those insights, it’s imperative that marketing leaders understand not only their customers, but also the products and industries in which the organisation operates. They must also understand the way the business is structured and makes decisions, as well as the long-term strategy and rationale behind it.

This will be an ongoing process, as many marketers are inclined to say yes to requests, particularly if that’s historically been the expectation in your business. But in order to define what marketing can be, it’s important that you start by defining the boundaries of where marketing will operate on a day-to-day basis.

The art of saying no

Our participants also suggested that, if marketing is in a subservient role in the business, finding time to think strategically about its use in the company can be problematic.

In order to find this time, it’s important that marketers don’t agree to undertake too many menial and procedural tasks, or agree to requests that don’t fit into the marketing strategy. That’s no matter how much a sales director wants a £5k dinner event for a prospect in two weeks time.

Stop right now

Many of our roundtable attendees have suggested that the mid-level and senior marketers who join their team spend the first 12 months learning about these challenges in place of marketing techniques - this is doubly true for leaders who should already be pretty sharp at marketing.

Board buy-in

Finally, transforming a marketing team takes time and resources, while the returns are not instantaneous. In order to successfully deliver on such a task, it’s imperative that you have the backing of senior stakeholders in the boardroom, who have an understanding of the values you can impart, the process that’s involved and what you’ll need from the C-Suite in order to support you to make it happen.

Once you’ve established the role marketing can play, you’ll be in a position to decide the optimal structure, skill set and culture for your marketing team. Which, compared to these challenges, is almost the easy bit.

If you're a Head of Marketing, Marketing Director or CMO of a client-side B2B brand and think you'd enjoy being part of these discussions, apply to become a member of the B2B Leaders programme today and join in over 20 live events a year. 

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