The Role of Marketing in B2B – What Should It Be?

what is marketing
what is marketing

The classic B2B company is often sales-driven or product-driven. Professional service firms often rely on the power of the rain-maker salespersons’ contacts to drive their growth. In those firms, marketing exists to feed the sale’s beast.

In a product-driven firm, the engineers are in-charge. Their high IQs and detailed knowledge of ball bearings, chemical compositions or software code can put marketing into the awkward position of trying to translate detailed product specs into a piece of content that anyone might read.

In the eyes of the CEO, Marketing has a credibility gap. But I think the role of Marketing in B2B should be much more than creating product brochures and buying print ads in the magazines the sales folks read. I think the role of Marketing is to transform our companies into a customer-driven enterprise.

Marketing owns the customer experience. This means marketing is more than the typical B2B Marketing setup covering field sales enablement, demand generation and awareness through outbound marketing messages and campaigns. It must include product development and service delivery. In classic B2C companies marketing owns the P&L for the brands they manage. The coveted position in those companies is the brand manager who essentially acts as the CEO of that brand’s business. B2B marketing needs to evolve to this position within our companies. “Why?” you ask. Because…

Marketing Represents the Voice of the Customer. This is about more than research and surveys. At the core is the knowledge we gain from speaking to our customers to understand their needs, their fears and the reasons they buy. It comes from the rigors of analytics, message testing and keyword analysis. It flourishes with the creative arts of developing effective copywriting and visual design. And like any complex system, this “organizational knowledge” puts the strategic marketer in the driver’s seat for leading our companies’ strategies and visions for the future.

Marketing is More Than Just Branding. In “Social Media And The Brand” I talk about how today’s social customers are looking for an understanding of what a brand stands for. The only way to accomplish this is with a strategic and consistent representation of the brand in every channel. This is way bigger than the marketing department. With the proliferation of social channels to meet just about every personality, interest and need, we must come to realize that everyone is in marketing. And having a positive impression in the minds of our customers translates directly into a prce premium, lower cost of sales and a higher company valuation by any measure.

Content Strategy Will Save Marketing. A content strategy flips the tables on traditional, linear marketing by defining the process and then securing the right resources for producing a consistent stream of content mapped to buyer needs across all phases of the buying cycle. This is done for each buyer type or “buyer persona” that is involved in the B2B decision-making process. And as I said before, this is much bigger than the marketing department. This is everyone’s job.

Marketing Needs To Earn (and then Command) A Seat At The Table. Says Mike Gospe author of The Marketing Highground. And this recent article by MarketingProfs outlines 4 four ways CMOs can gain the kind of power we need to lead our companies to become customer-driven enterprises:

  • Articulate the company vision
  • Lead innovation
  • Personify the voice of real marketing experience
  • Take bottom line responsibility for sales

That’s my view. But what do you think? What is the role of marketing in B2B companies?

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

12 thoughts on “The Role of Marketing in B2B – What Should It Be?

  1. Great insight Michael. Thank you for sharing and I really like the way you lay out your thoughts. Keep producing great content!

    1. Thanks Kristin, I really appreciate it. This was a tough one. Most people think the primary objective of marketing is to get leads for sales. As a former sales guy and a believer in lead generation as an objective, I do believe that sales (and product engineers) are customers of marketing.

      But to me, everyone wins when you focus on adding value to the customer and advocating for customers back through the organization (to create more valuable content, to improve customer service, to make better products, etc). I think this is why marketing is counter-intuitive to many people.

      Best, Michael

  2. Great post!
    I work in a B2B company. It’s all very recognizable.
    “Everyone is in marketing” and the role of marketing in all touch-points (customer experience) are a long way from being accepted.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Great post. To me, the role of marketing is defined by answering the question: “How can marketing help…

    1. Create more leads? As the shift from outbound to inbound marketing continues, marketing plays a huge role.

    2. Convert more sales opportunities? For instance, how can marketers help sales people differentiate themselves with social media tools?

    3. Increase loyalty and lifetime customer value? For example, by creating loyalty programs, referral programs, influencing product development, producing case studies, etc.

    Every organization is different, of course, and perhaps this is an oversimplification. But when marketers stay focused on the key elements of the sales funnel, it’s hard to go wrong.

    Meanwhile, keep up the great work.

  4. Great reading!

    I also really like what Mike Schultz and John E. Doerr have written in their book ” Professional services marketing”, that marketing can deliver four core measurable outcomes:
    1. New conversations with potential buyers.
    2. Better odds of winning client engagements.
    3. Higher revenue per client and per engagement, and higher fees for your services.
    4. Increased affinity with the actual and potential workforce

  5. Today in B2B, Sales or Product drive revenue, marketing supports that. In CPG, the buying decision is largely driven by marketing, it a point of purchase decision, historical experience with known products and perception of unknown ones, and branding and promotions are driving forces.

    I agree (whole heartedly) that marketing is more than branding and that content strategy will be key. Content strategy, at least today, is the best tool most B2B marketers have to turn the tables and serve their customer, instead of simply shouting at them.

    That though, is where I think the progression will stop.

    Marketing can represent the customer, but this is an intermediary role (and may not establish or reinforce the leadership position you are advocating for marketing). Other groups have the direct interactions with customers. Marketing needs to join those, learn from those, and ensure content and communication reflect what is learned through those direct interactions. But this is an intermediary representing the customer voice for communications, not for, for instance, the company’s specific sales or service practices.

    Sales, service and account is where the most impactful experience or connection happens with the company or brand. As that experience is shared by customers and prospective, it has a massive ripple effect, and marketing is very concerned about that ripple.

    However, unless marketing is massively redefined, (and probably no longer called marketing!) I don’t see marketing owning that customer experience. It impacts them and they will advocate to improve it, but not own it.

    I’m a marketer, and I like the vision you put forward here. Maybe I’m a pessimist today, but I only see B2B marketers being able to hit on half of the vision you put forward. For the balance, marketing is merely one of the stakeholders.

    — @wittlake

    1. Thanks Eric, you make a great defense for today’s view and the possible step marketing can take. I am laying out a grander vision in hopes that we take more than few steps.

  6. Michael,

    I agree with you that marketing has lost credibility in some companies. In fact, in my travels, I’ve heard many sales reps complain that marketing is not providing the right content, generating poor leads and out of touch.

    On the other hand there are organizations that “get it” and thought leaders like yourself who are educating us all on the role marketing can and should play in B2B focused companies.

    1. Thanks Chris, Great post and I really appreciate the support. I’m not ready to throw in the towel and believe marketing can help companies who might lose their way with an overly ambitious focus on bottom line results.

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