The State Of The Union In B2B Marketing

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Marketing Really Obsolete?In the article, he reminded us of GyroHSR President Rick Segal’s comment that  B2B Marketing is obsolete mainly because decision makers have changed.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Gary Slack, chairman of Slack & Co., and Tom Stein, president of Stein Rogan+Partners both disagree that B2B Marketing is obsolete.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?

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.

10 thoughts on “The State Of The Union In B2B Marketing

  1. IMHO, B2B sellers need to have a laser like focus on buyers. Deep personas, learn to fish where the fish are, have great bait (content).

    The biggest problem B2B sellers face is how the market shifted so quickly. So they have to unlearn decades of what made them successful.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    Find New Customers “Lead Generation Made Simple”

    1. Thanks Jeff. Great perspective! There is a bit of a debate over the term “buyers” because it can seem to objectify our “customers” vs. understanding them as “people” but I get your point. If we understand who they are (personas) we will be much better able to speak to them.

  2. I’m struck by the parallel between what Valeria says re bringing the voice of the customer, and what Brad Power says on HBR about process redesign (bear with me, they are actually very related); she from the marketing perspective, and he from the operations perspective. For Brad, the whole rationale for cross-functional process redesign in large companies is to systematize the voice of the customer driving what the organisation does. See e.g. here:, especially point 6. You can talk to the silos (and that’s important) or you can obviate them, which is more powerful and more permanent, though obviously, a lot harder to do.

    1. Tim, I am so glad you brought that up. I actually almost brought in the “Re-engineering The Corporation” book example regarding how operationalizing effectiveness has changed and we need to use the voice of the customer alomg with the “effective marketing” benefits to drive change. But the article was getting a bit long so I left that for another day. HBR (and you) did a great job of tying these 2 points together. Thanks!

  3. Are B2B marketers missing the forest for the trees. When it comes to selling IT products 100% yes.

    The fact that generating quality leads and then high volume of leads is one of the challenges marketers see is a MASSIVE point of the disconnect between IT buyers and IT vendors. Some are starting to get it. ( slowly)

    Most IT vendors are hiring armies of inside sales people to cold call, follow up 1,000’s of registrations and play the numbers games. This actually hurts the IT vendor and will ensure the competition who are enagaging the ” buyer (very assumptive ) on their terms.

    As always: Not my opinion, my opinion is irrelevant. just letting B2B Marketers know what 1.3 million b2b IT buyers think.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful article. A classic challenge is striking the balance between long-term and short-term objectives. Customer insight is the marketers greatest currency. Yet, real, short term pressures often contribute to forcing marketers to devalue their own currency by taking the eye off the customer insight ball. @MargaretMolloy

    1. Margaret, You raise an excellent point. And this is why the relationship with sales is often the most pressing concern for marketers along with the need to drive quality and quantity of leads. To me the bigger concern is when we experience those who do not realize the value of the longer term goals and the “price” of chasing the short term ones.

  5. Michael –

    You state in your post that i “missed the point” with regard to B2B Marketing being obsolete – as espoused by my friend, Rick Segal.

    Respectfully, I do not think I missed the point. I do, however, think that Rick overstated his point.

    Is B2B Marketing obsolete? No. It isn’t.

    If it was, you’d need to find something else to write about, as there would be no need for a blog called B2B Marketer Insider. There would be no need for Rick’s agency. There would be no professional need for the people who read you blog.

    I could go on.

    Rick used a “BIG” provocative statement to make a smaller point.

    Because of smartphones, he believes B2B decision makers are connected all the time – suggesting the need to market to them in different ways that reflect the extent which work and home life, being in the office and out of the office, all blend together.

    Yes, we know that. We live that. Our marketing and engagement efforts must be mindful of it.

    But does that mean B2B Marketing is obsolete?


    You also state that “Short-term thinking, SPAM, cold calling are no longer the answer.”

    I state that they never were the answer.

    You also state that digital and inbound marketers are leading the way forward.

    I agree – though I think there are other disciplines leading the way as well.

    My experience is that many B2B marketing organizations are still struggling with brand strategy and segmentation, with market-driven product development, with developing the listening mechanisms that drive true customer-centricity, with developing marketing initiatives and programs that create real brand/business momentum.

    Yet, there is wonderful work being done in all these areas – more and more all the time.

    To your point, B2B marketiing has changed dramatically and dynamically. It is changing even as I write this. We need to be ever more agile and active in our marketing approaches as a result.

    1. Hi Tom. Well said! And I appreciate you making your point of view here in the comments. By extending the conversation, it helps our readers see the full story and get a better answer than just my humble point of view. So allow me to apologize for the hyperbole.

      I think you are 100% correct that you didn’t “miss the point” by simply countering Rick’s. Maybe the better or correct question is: “are the main differences in B2B and B2C marketing still relevant?” Unfortunately, too many of us marketers and agencies on both sides continue to push short term tactics to produce results without a view to 1) long term implications and 2) the fact that “buyers” are “people.”

      I really appreciate your comments on the struggles with branding and market-driven product strategy. We live it every day. And like you, I am ultimately optimistic that we will all rally to meet the dynamic challenges we face.

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