I wish I could say “the state of our union is strong.” And although I’m usually a very optimistic person, I find it hard to say these words today. Yesterday I read the 5 Things You Need to Know Before The State of the Union (the real one) and I thought of the many parallels between the U.S. political environment and B2B Marketing in 2011.
So what is the state of union in B2B Marketing?
The U.S. president’s “State of the Union” address comes at the start of each New Year. It seeks to demonstrate the vision and goals of our upcoming year. And it is set in the context of the biggest issues facing the U.S. nation: the economy, jobs, our role in the world and the role of government in our lives.
Similarly, here is what I think are some of the biggest questions surrounding B2B Marketing:
- Is B2B Marketing dead?
- How can we lead our organizations to become customer-driven?
- Why can’t we align with sales?
- Why does B2B Marketing content stink?
- What are the greatest challenges in B2B Marketing?
So let’s try to tackle these issues (by no means a comprehensive list) and then try to lay out a vision.
Last week Sean Callahan from BtoB Magazine asked Is B2B Marketing Really Obsolete?In the article, he reminded us of GyroHSR President Rick Segal’s comment that B2B Marketing is obsolete mainly because decision makers have changed. He stated that business people no longer separate their home and work lives. He mentioned the increasing use of mobile devices as one of the key drivers of this change and the need for organizations to meet customers where they are with mobile marketing. (I agree with him.)
Gary Slack, chairman of Slack & Co., and Tom Stein, president of Stein Rogan+Partners both disagree that B2B Marketing is obsolete. They state that we are still just trying to engage buyers as we always have and that all people are different in their media consumption, blah-blah. I think they missed the point. B2B Marketing has changed dramatically. Short-term thinking, SPAM, cold calling are no longer the answer. I think we need to change the way we get and keep customers!
We need to lead our organizations to become customer-centric. Management guru Peter Drucker (I love Drucker quotes!) said “the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” He also said “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” So I think we need to put the customer at the center. And we should be driving our organizations to do the same.
Ask most B2B Marketers what their biggest challenge is and they’ll say “How To Align Marketing With Sales.” But doesn’t this miss the point. If we focus on the customer, the alignment just happens. Maybe marketing and sales simply need to merge and become one: eliminate the line altogether because after all, what customer wants to be sold to or marketed to?
Yesterday I asked the question in Twitter: “what is the biggest challenge in B2B Marketing. I had a number of answers on content. Paige O’Niell (@Paige_Oneill) said “I think the biggest challenge is evolving from generating leads to generating content!” Tim Parker (@tdparker) said “we can’t produce enough good content quickly enough.” Ksenia Coffman (@KseniaCoffman) agreed but asked “content marketing is the buzz, but how do you measure its performance, exp. over time?” Well I love this advice from content expert, Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe) in the 10 Reasons Your Content Marketing Stinks and How to Fix It.
But what are really the biggest challenges in B2B Marketing? According to MarketingSherpa’s 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report, the number one issue for B2B Marketers for 2 years running is generating quality leads. And this is almost twice as important as the next most important challenge of generating high volume of leads. Engaging customers isn’t even on the list. Are we missing the forest for the trees?
So where do we go from here and how do we get there? In my post B2B Marketing Predictions For 2011, I predict that we will see a revolution in B2B Marketing with marketing automation taking care of much of the more technical aspects of marketing and bringing about a return to focusing on customer loyalty and satisfaction. I believe digital and inbound marketers will lead the way.
So in the end I am optimistic! Beth Cotter (@GreyKW) mentioned on Twitter yesterday that the biggest challenge in B2B Marketing was strategic thinking and market planning. William Deacon (@wdeacon) said that we needed to rise above the noise and focus on quality. And I also agree with Jennifer Dubow (@jennifer_dubow) that we need to take Social Media seriously as a marketing AND sales tool. So there are plenty of us folks that get it. But to me, the notion that really spoke to me was the great advice from Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge) for marketers to get out and “Be Social” by speaking to the various silos of our companies. We need to bring the “voice of the customer” to the entire organization.
I am optimistic that enough B2B Marketers are starting to speak to our customers (and really listening). And are using those insights to drive a better “State of the Union” for B2B Marketing. Let’s keep it up…but tell me, what do you think?