Why Digital Marketing Prowess is an Irrelevant Predictor of B2B Marketing Success

Ed Marsh | Feb 11, 2014

Most B2B manufacturer marketing is doomed to fail

Now, that failure may not always be recognized.  Perversely, the bar is so low, that often mediocre results are trumpeted as extraordinary. 

Senior executives at most B2B manufacturers are skeptical of digital marketing.  And they are right to be so...but not for the reasons they cite.

The standard justifications include blanket statements such as:
  • we tried that and it didn't work
  • we already have a website
  • people in our business don't use social media
  • that's not how people buy XXXXX product 
  • we have an intern working on that and will put resources into it if we see progress
But the real reason for frequent failure is that B2B marketing and manufacturing excellence are skills that simply don't coexist.  So a B2B company that undertakes a DiY marketing effort (no matter how brilliant and technically astute the founder is) will achieve little of the potential.  Similarly a marketing agency that applies standard tactics to reach a B2B manufacturer's buyers will often execute perfectly...with little return.

The issue isn't whether marketing can/will work, it's really about empathy & experiences

There are lots of issues at play here.  The superficial is easily identified. B2B manufacturing folks and hipster marketers are basically incompatible characters.  This isn't a value judgment on either, it's reality.  They basically speak different languages and live in different worlds.  So there's little chance of fruitful and effective collaboration.

mareketing for b2b manufacturers requires deep empathy for the industrial worldAt a slightly deeper level is the question of real, visceral grasp of fundamental business drivers.  Most marketing folks have pursued a marketing career path.  In that role they've had a variety of positions...in marketing.  They've likely never worried about supply chain management, borrowing base, AR risks or enterprise valuation.  They haven't felt the churn in the gut that B2B owners know well.  So their context for imagining an ROI is a hypothetical construct.

And then at a fundamental level, it really breaks down.  I have never met a marketer who:
  • wandered a factory floor during 3rd shift
  • felt the tension of a line disruption and looming penalties for late delivery to mass retailers
  • stood on a loading dock in the upper Midwest in January
  • keeps a hairnet | ear plugs | safety glasses in their briefcase
  • understands interlocked e-stops
One the one hand that's to be expected and entirely normal.  On the other hand that absolutely guarantees the mediocrity and futility of the marketing strategy they implement.  If you simply have no understanding of the real pains and challenges of potential buyers, you can't possibly market effectively.  At best you might find a marketer in an agency who was in a marketing role at a B2B manufacturing company - and still captive to the marketing silo perspective.  (Managers in marketing firms do buy software, computers, printing services, accounting & legal assistance and cleaning & payroll services - and they have a much easier time producing effective marketing for companies in those B2B industries.  There's authenticity in their work.  But there's an enormous chasm when it comes to most manufactured products, particularly in the industrial sector.)

"No problem" you might say.  After all the marketer's job is to help the client, and ultimately the client needs to understand their buyer.  That's true to a point - but by extrapolation, then, an "agency" is irrelevant.  What they provide is labor for specific execution steps - so it saves the time of going to Elance to contract for each email to be sent.  "NO!" you insist, "You don't understand the value an agency brings!"  Hmmm, is it really me that doesn't understand?

The perfect combination doesn't exist

That's probably true.  A marketing agency staffed entirely with energetic, passionate folks working at reasonable rates who have all had P&L responsibility in B2B manufacturing roles is a B2B marketing unicorn.  It's obviously fanciful.

And buyers of B2B marketing who ask for references of similar companies are missing the point.  The reference request should be for clients who have similar buyers - and who manage every aspect of their business for continuous improvement!  That is the acid test for marketing effectiveness - effectively engaging, converting and helping to close the same types of buyers - and doing it dramatically better out of the gate and incrementally better every month.

Is all for naught?  Fortunately not.  There is a solution to be found in specific collaboration.  I'm one of a small group that has assembled a unique and 'killer' collaboration of complimentary skills.  We all:
  • have substantial experience marketing industrial products for B2B manufacturers
  • are business owners and have spent our own money and others on business investments
  • are passionate yet clear eyed about the potential and challenges of inbound marketing for B2B manufacturers
Collectively (through individual expertise) we have:
  • bruises, bumps and scars from years of B2B industrial business
  • sold in / to all phases of industrial sales channel
  • owned P&L responsibility for industrial companies
  • built B2B sales channel around the globe and understand localization intuitively
  • expert, energetic & scalable execution teams to efficiently implement tactics supporting collaboratively created strategies
For this team, sales & marketing of industrial products isn't some kind of abstract exercise which we can approximate by overlaying other models onto this matrix.  Rather, it's intuitive and we provide a single resource for growth from clarification of strategy and target markets through execution of marketing automation and detailed, iterative steps.

We're excited to create a new model for genuinely effective marketing of B2B manufactured products in the industrial sector.  Interested in learning how we might collaborate in support of your companies growth objectives?  Call me and let's chat.  (978) 238-9898.