B2B Marketing Talent - A shallow pool? A B2B growth barrier?

Ed Marsh | Oct 22, 2013

The worst move is no move

Yesterday we wrapped up with an admonition from the MIT Sloan Management Review article on digital transformation, that  “The only wrong move for executives, then, would be not making any move.”

That article spoke broadly about digital transformation in companies; the compelling need; the impediments; and CXO perspective.  It dovetailed nicely with the Adobe research on digital marketing.  

There are common themes that I've drawn from the articles and augmented with my experience:
  • Many B2B SMBs have adopted elementary digital practices (anyone know of a business using paper ledgers for accounting anymore?) but not really embraced it across all functions of their business.  There are widespread beliefs that certain functions or verticals are somehow exempt.  Conservative, traditional management is hesitant.
  • Many have reacted to hype in past and been disillusioned with the results.  This experience adds a degree of reticence to the natural inertia of "We've always done it this way."
Certainly many businesses could benefit from cutting edge, strategically identified and properly implemented technologies in their businesses.  Internal social messaging platforms, for instance, could improve communications for instance.  But even the most traditional businesses have shifted critical business functions to digital platforms.  Accounting, design, and even many steps of manufacturing have been digitized and automated by the most conservative businesses in the most traditional industries.


Business development - the last bastion of the old guard

When did you last hear someone talk about how they are re-engineering their business development?  Probably never.  Now sure, I know companies use email now (but how many still list fax numbers on business cards??) and at some point they put up a website.  If they're pretty cutting edge they might even use SalesForce.com.  

But at the end of the day nobody ever bothers to Kaizan their sales process like they do their WIP inventory, do they?  You've got a sales manager, maybe a marketing manager, reps making cold calls and following up on trade show leads, and probably some direct mail and magazine listings.  If you ran manufacturing this way you'd be out of business.

But here's the rub.  (Anyone interested in where that expression comes from?  I just learned recently that it comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet - now it has intellectual overtones!)  Looking back at yesterday's research recap you realize hesitance is perfectly sensible.  The alternatives to which one might resort appear fraught with complications.

In a marketing world, where most marketers view the majority of their colleagues as only marginally competent, and only a small minority believe their work is actually working, any sentient business person would be nuts to spend money engaging that sort of "talent."

It's a moving target

In addition to the "shallow pool" of talent, it's also clear that the practice of marketing is changing in radical ways and at a rapid pace.  Practitioners described the change of the last two years as being greater than in the previous fifty; and more than half describe it as a process of trial and error.  There are not clear rules yet against which to measure your progress. 

And of course speaking of measurement, most say they do that poorly too.  And all of this in a discipline that 65% say will be critical to the survival of business.

What a mess!

So as a business owner / senior exec wondering how to address the diminishing success of your traditional sales and marketing approach, you are in what appears, initially, to be an unenviable position.

The experts are at least confused, if not incompetent, and the process isn't yet defined, much less refined.

And yet you must grow sales

But maybe things aren't as bleak as they appear...in fact, maybe you've got some remarkably flexible, economical and effective options.  Maybe the discombobulation of traditional B2B marketing presents the perfect opportunity.

Here's why:

  • For too long marketing prowess has been a function of budget.  Of course there's still some correlation, but it's far more tenuous.  SMBs can now compete for leads with monster multi-nationals; anywhere on the globe, at a very small cost
  • Everyone's trying to figure it out - you've got the opportunity now to map the path forward rather than be channelized later
  • You'll look back and realize your early efforts were clumsy - but the content marketing foundation of today's digital marketing tools generates cumulative results.  Starting now, before everyone's figured it out, will yield long-term results
  • Many of your competitors will succumb to all the easy excuses for why they must wait.  If you're willing to move, they're willing to cede leadership to you by default!

And here's a list of suggested actions and cautions:

  • Steer clear of in-house talent - hiring and firing is a hassle.  When statistics say that you've got less than a 50% chance of finding someone who really intuits this new field, don't set yourself up for costly, resource draining HR hassles.  Further, success today requires expertise and deep knowledge in several parallel disciplines.  Finding all of them rolled into a single person package is unlikely.  And with the pace of change, being in the midst of many projects, across clients and industries is the best way to keep up to date - vs. being cloistered in a single business environment.
  • Avoid long-term contractual engagements with outsourced resources.  Ramping up an initiative like this requires lots of front end work.  So be prepared to pay for that.  But don't lock yourself in for a year, with those costs amortized, until you know that the folks you're talking to can deliver - for your business, this year as things change.  (After all, that's different than for a different client, last year!)
  • Be very, very skeptical of ad agencies cum marketers.  (This may get me some nasty comments, but it's important.)  You deserve business advice that is built on an abiding commitment to the practice of modern B2B marketing - not a group that has seized buzzwords in an attempt to stay relevant.
  • Don't do anything with anyone that isn't preceded by, and predicated on, a carefully developed strategy that draws on a deep dive into your end-to-end sales process and carefully constructed and outlined goals.  (A great goal planning guidelines is SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, with a defined time frame.)
  • Remain skeptical, but not averse to digital marketing.  But if anyone says that "SEO" or "Social Media" or a sexy website are THE answer, simply run away.  This is a complex process that requires a cerebral, integrated approach.
  • Shift a portion (neither a wholesale switch nor a refusal to experiment) of your marketing budget into programs which can be shown to offer clear ROI and a process for ongoing continuous improvement.
  • Recognize that as you change your business development approach, your sales tactics will have to change too.  The good news is your prospects will be much happier.  But you'll likely need some experienced resources to help make that transition.  (check out Frank Belzer's @FBelzer book on the topic)
  • And whatever you do, don't hire from that 50% of marketers that don't know what they're doing!

Simple, if not easy, choice

So there's a pretty simple choice.  Turn back to your rolodex (maybe even literally) and keep pushing on biz dev sales & marketing approaches that are less effective.  Or, dip a toe into the really ugly, disorganized, 'still sorting itself out world' of B2B digital marketing.

Nobody ever said running a business was easy - many have said the precise opposite.  But sensing when change is imperative and how to navigate the process certainly discriminates successful companies from the rest.

Want to see how we help B2B companies take their first tentative steps into real B2B inbound marketing?  Download our super detailed breakout below.  It shows how for less than the cost of a couple average B2B trade shows we'll do almost all the work and demonstrate real success - and you've got various opportunities along the way to throw your BS flag and back out.  We make it pretty darn easy.  Maybe it's worth trying?  After all, the old methods aren't working very well anymore.

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