Why B2B CMOs Should Invest In Marketing Marketing


Al Collins, Founder and CEO of VShift, a digital strategy, design and technology agency for enterprise-scale brands in regulated industries.

It’s a fact of life: The purpose of marketing—and the value of the marketing organization-–is less well understood in B2B than in B2C. A B2B chief marketing officer and longtime client once told me: “Some of my counterparts in sales think marketing’s job is to make the PowerPoints look pretty. I have to train them that marketing isn’t just about sell sheets or being the brand police.”

Why would sales have such a narrow view of the marketing function? Because B2B sales are relationship-driven, and sales often feels it “owns” the customer. A top sales executive at a large financial data firm explained it like this: “When I call my customer, they pick up on the first ring.” There’s no need for marketingit’s a relationship sales model, and he already has the customer’s full attention.

The above examples represent a pervasive point of view in B2B that marketing is superfluous or even unserious“the cherry on top,” as a B2B tech investor put it some years ago.

All of this is unfortunate because there is much marketing can and does do at every stage in the B2B sales processfrom pre-awareness to post-purchase. I think marketing needs to do a better job of getting the word out. So let’s spend a few minutes “marketing marketing.”

B2B: A Relationship-Driven Sales Model

First, we need to understand why B2B sales are relationship driven:

• B2B sales are often complex. They may involve multifaceted products or services requiring contracts, configuration, customization, training and ongoing support. The selling company needs to be deeply familiar with the customer and that company’s specific needs and nuances. Becoming that familiar takes a salesperson, or sales team, to engage with the customer.

• Because of that complexity, many parties have a say in the decision. In B2B sales, often many roles or departments must be consultedfrom finance to operations to IT to everyone’s perennial favorite, procurementto reach a consensus on a purchase decision. Engaging those decision makers and influencers is an ongoing set of interactions (i.e., a relationship).

• All of this means that the sales process may take months, even years. Given the inherent complexity of B2B sales, the time frame for closing a deal can be lengthy. As a result, B2B sales needs a strong customer relationship to maintain continuity and keep the process moving.

What Marketing Does For B2B

If relationships are critical to B2Band if sales owns the relationshipthen it’s reasonable for non-marketing types to ask: How does marketing make a difference? Here’s what to tell them.

• Marketing drives awareness. Yes, sales directly engages the customer, but marketing can lay the groundwork for that engagement, communicating information about, say, a new product, service or policy. In so doing, marketing enables sales to move more quickly to a substantive conversation. As an example: Some years ago, my agency handled an account-based marketing (ABM) campaign for a global financial services business launching a new guaranteed pension annuity. The ABM campaign reached the CEO of a Fortune 50 car company who was astounded to learn of this opportunity to offload his pension obligations. When sales came calling shortly thereafter, the CEO was already preparedeven eagerto have a substantive conversation.

• Marketing articulates the brand value proposition. Every brand has a set of overarching reasons why a customer should choose it. Marketing is best positioned to ensure the value proposition is appropriately and consistently communicated via language, brand voice and visual identitywhile still providing leeway for individual salespeople to put their own spin on the story.

• Marketing communicates with the marketplace. Both in times of crisis and for more mundane announcements, marketing ensures that a brand communicates promptly, clearly and appropriately with the marketplace at largeand in so doing saves individual salespeople from having to be the conveyors of potentially complicated or difficult news and information.

• Marketing listens to the voice of the customer. Communication isn’t a one-way street, and while salespeople do have ongoing direct contact with individual customers, marketing manages social platforms and other channels where multitudes of customers and prospects provide feedback that businesses can use to inform product development and the customer experience.

• Marketing delivers customer intelligence. Marketing’s purview over customer engagement platforms means they have data that can inform and potentially shorten the sale process. For example, in a recent ABM campaign my agency handled for a major player in housing finance, marketing was able to alert salesin real time—as to exactly which high-value target companies were clicking through to the campaign landing page. (Marketing’s analysis happened to reveal that an unexpectedly high percentage of visitors were C-level executivesintelligence sales quickly worked into their pitch.) Using marketing’s customer intelligence, sales was able to follow up and have substantive conversations with every company that had demonstrated interest.

• Marketing helps customers overcome hurdles. With so many stakeholders and executives involved, B2B sales is inevitably plagued by foot-dragging and internal politics. Marketing can arm prospective buyers with data and arguments to help drive past internal roadblocks and move the sales process forward.

Why Marketing Marketing Matters

Ensuring that sales, IT and finance understand the roleand powerof B2B marketing doesn’t just make marketers feel good; it also enhances marketing’s effectiveness by opening opportunities for collaboration and sharing of information and insights. Of course, getting your message across to other departments requires repetition, refinement and patience. But hey, that’s how marketing works. So if you’re a B2B CMO, your job isn’t just marketing—it’s also marketing marketing.

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