The Leadership Gap in B2B Marketing

The Leadership Gap in B2B Marketing

February 16, 2012
3 min read

B2B Marketing Leadership gap

CMOs feel largely unprepared for the challenges of today’s marketing challenges when it comes to the changing buyer, the corporate pressures to contribute and the skills and tools they have to work with. And yet much of the B2B Marketing conversation is still on generating leads.

Generating leads is one important aspect of what we do in marketing but while we are busy talking about how to meet the needs for sales today, we are losing ground in our ability to meet the needs of our customers tomorrow.

This is why I believe we have a leadership gap in B2B Marketing today.

Change is coming to B2B Marketing. Are you ready?

In this article from last year, I talked about the changing buyer and a series of stats to support the notion that traditional marketing approaches are becoming less effective, driving up the cost of leads, driving away customers and creating a negative loop of promotion, customer rejection and higher marketing costs.

I included a few examples of Marketing leaders like Dana Anderson from Kraft (not B2B!) and Lisa Arthur from Aprimo who are driving change in their organizations by addressing some of these challenges. The comments in that post are pure gold and largely in support of the notion that we (still) need to see change-agents in our marketing leaders.

The Future of marketing was digital?

Digital used to be an important topic because so many B2B Marketers lacked these skills. And with the entrance of “digital natives,” we thought we would all be saved. The future of marketing used to be digital because the future is here!

Yet we largely stopped talking about the digital skill gap and never really addressed it…

Marketing leaders might be scared to address this issue to avoid putting fear into the minds of their teams. But as Danielle Sacks said in the Fast Company magazine article The Future of Advertising, “Digital will f-ck you up!”

Maybe it’s okay to allow the situation to fix itself for some organizations through attrition. But I think change is happening so quickly that buyers are beginning to increase their rejection of promotional messages and are expecting digital relationships with brands who know what they are doing.

In Marketing Managers and The Parable of the Monkey Tree I talk about the disconnect between leaders and managers in marketing and suggest that we all have a role to play in driving change in our organizations. But when I look across the social landscape, how many CMOs are active on twitter, blog or engage directly with customers on digital channels?

We Need Social Leaders

My wife Liz Brenner (@LizBrenner), who also works at SAP (yes, it’s a family affair!) recently covered these 3 great example of social media leadership coming from SAP and our User Group organization ASUG. Here are a few of the great quotes from the leaders she covered:

The Social CMO: Keeping it Real with SAP’s Jonathan Becher

“I’m a big believer in abandoning traditional B2B marketing techniques in favor of a people to people approach. It’s especially critical for those conversations to be two-way.  Twitter is a fantastic way for me to listen to what people think about SAP and our solutions.  As an executive, you usually get packaged analysis after the fact.  Twitter is unfiltered and it’s real time.”

The Social CIO: On the Cutting Edge with SAP’s Oliver Bussmann

“Social media is changing the enterprise decision making process. With a tablet (such as iPad), I can scan and take in news quickly, take advantage of RSS feeds to stay up to date with relevant blogs, and even use mobile apps to aggregate, orchestrate, and assimilate facts fast.”

The Social CEO: Connecting with ASUG’s Bridgette Chambers

“I believe great leaders wield influence, rather than command and control. Social media tools provide another avenue for ASUG to continue being the chief influencer of SAP’s product strategy.”

Calls-To-Action for CMOs

So there are some examples of marketing leadership today but what I would like to see is a vision for change from B2B Marketing leaders and examples of the benefits (and mistakes) they experienced along the way. Who is going to step up and provide a roadmap for the rest of us?

In the meantime, here are some calls-to action for marketing leaders from IBM:

  1. Start investing, supporting and leading your teams in the use of digital channels.
  2. Make it a mission to transform your organization into a social business.
  3. Use analytics to measure and drive customer value, investment decisions and customer engagement.
  4. Put all of the above on your “people agenda.” Make sure you are hiring and investing now in the skills and talent you will need to support the needs of a more digital, social and mobile business environment.

So what do you think? Do you have any examples of leadership in B2B Marketing? 

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10 thoughts on “The Leadership Gap in B2B Marketing

  1. Tony Zambito

    Hello Michael,

    I think the future is now as well. A recurring theme this year will be the need to let go of traditional and make the move into the future. Key will be to balance important social business aspects with new understandings of buyer behaviors. I hit on similar themes in my recent article As The World Churns for CMO’s ( My views are more managerial in nature but hit on some similar themes. One call to action I would add to yours is to balance analytic with qualitative predictive buyer modeling to get the 360 degrees rounded view of the buyer – badly needed for CMO’s today. Excellent once again Michael!


  2. Baxter

    Michael, great article. I agree with most of your points, but I disagree that the best use of a CMO’s time is to be active on Twitter constantly (that’s what a social business team is for, right?). Like all information they use for decision making, it should be packaged into a way that makes it actionable for them. Responding to customer comments is just nonstop interruption of value added activities they could be doing for the firm. Should they also read form submissions and emails too?

    I agree with you 100% on the skills gap in marketing. I wish I wrote more about it here, from the marketing geek side:


  3. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Tony! 360 degrees is the only way to go. I would start with using any research to start but to do it right once the business case is sold in.

  4. Eric Wittlake


    The thought you start with here, on transitioning beyond “leads”, ties well to my post this morning on lead generation versus demand generation.

    What strikes me here is B2B isn’t, broadly speaking, focused on creating demand by changing the audience’s perspective through conversation, relationship and (gasp) broader marketing. Looked at this way, I believe B2B’s digital gap is really an audience gap. As Tony points out, we need to understand the audience, and then we need to go meet them on their turf, not force them to come to ours.

    It’s particularly notable that you label this a B2B gap. B2C marketers appear to be closely this gap much more quickly than B2B. To me, that’s disappointing, as B2B sales has always been about relationships and marketing has included significantly more 1-1 communications. I hoped to see B2B marketers pushing this evolution more than they have. Or maybe I should say, I hoped to see more B2B marketers than just yourself and a small handful of others pushing it!

    Great perspective, enjoyed the post and the personal addition of a bit a of family insight!


  5. Michael Brenner

    Great insights Eric. I thought about adding a line about how “the B2B marketing funnel needs to widen to meet the market” or something like that but I wasn’t sure the analogy was gonna work. But I think it’s what I meant when I was thinking about it. It is exactly what you said: we need to close the audience gap and stop being so darn insular and focused on internal goals. Your post gets right to that point!

  6. Michael Brenner

    Hi Baxter,

    I was certainly not suggesting any CMO spend any significant amount of time on Twitter or any other social tool. But we need Social CMOs who can use those tools to listen to the market. I don’t think sitting in the ivory tower and dictating social activity to a team of interns is the best way to become a more social business. People who use social tools, GET what it means to be social. But don;t confuse my encouragement of use as a recommendation that it is the BEST way to spend their time. It needs to be part of the balance.

    I hope that helps to clarify!

  7. Julie Schwartz

    You raise from very important points in your post. Buyer behavior is indeed changing and marketers need to change the way they market to reach the new B2B Social Buyers. However, the traditional buyers are still out there too. They haven’t died off yet! So the challenge today is marketing to a bifurcated audience. Marketers need to rebalance the marketing mix to address the needs of both types of buyers.

    In ITSMA’s recent How Buyers Consume Information Study, we asked 465 senior executives at large enterprises across 4 continents “Which information delivery channels or formats do you typically prefer?” While the best ways to reach the Social Buyers are online and social, the traditional buyers still favor face-to-face (events and sales calls), websites, and even hardcopy reports and brochures (!!)

    All this is making the marketer’s job very complex.


  8. Michael Brenner

    Hi Julie,

    I have to say you are absolutely right. First off, you’re using research to form conclusions and to help us marketers make decisions which is more than half the battle. Second, you are correct that the audience is fragmented and requires very different kinds of methods, content and approaches.

    I am specifically referring to the gap that exists (we do not have a gap in traditional outbound!) in many marketing organizations and the need for fresh, courageous voices to talk about how they are coping with that change. I used examples from my own company, a couple of other technology companies and a consumer brand. But I think there should be more.

    To be clear, I am not recommending we abandon traditional techniques. In fact, I think events are becoming more important. What I am asking for is for marketing leaders to address the gap, to share their learning and to help us all identify the best way to meet the complexities of today’s buyer landscape.

    I appreciate the comments and thanks for adding to the conversation!

    Best, Michael

  9. Sabrina


    I liked this article and agree with most of what you had to say. Can you recommend a presenter on this topic for a marketing workshop my company hosts?


  10. Michael Brenner


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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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