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When Did Marketing Become IT?

pingheadThe process of marketing is changing. Yes! we finally understand this now. The need to deliver on Peter Drucker’s promise of marketing as “the distinguishing, unique function of the business” is becoming self-evident.

As such, the skill of marketing is one that is pervasive throughout the entire organization. As Drucker  said, “leadership is a marketing job.” He believed that an organization’s leader is ultimately responsible for its success or failure. And, to that end, the leader has to be able to communicate a believable and desired story to those who she’s leading. An effective leader must never stop developing and working on promoting a compelling and effective story that creates demand both inside and out of the organization. I believe this leadership permeates all the way down to the practitioner.

So, in short, as marketing changes (and we change), so does effective leadership.

And this is where I see so many challenges in B2B marketing departments.

B2B Marketing As Internal Agency

I’m blessed in that what I do for a living enables me to engage with hundreds of B2B enterprises every year. And, despite all of the tectonic shifts going on, most still don’t value marketing as a strategic partner. Most are still wrapped up in a mentality of product-as-differentiator. They deploy a sales-driven culture where marketing is a tactical afterthought, throwing MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads) over the wall to a frustrated and dissatisfied sales force.

But marketing practitioners in these organizations aren’t doing themselves any favors either. Either as a symptom, or root cause of marketing’s inability to be strategic, one of the first things I hear from B2B marketing leaders is some flavor of the following:

We structure our marketing department as an internal agency. We work with our ‘clients’ on their needs in order to deliver (fill in the blank)….

By “clients” they mean sales, product management, the CEO, you name it.

Then, almost without fail, they lament how marketing isn’t perceived as a strategic part of the organization. As one VP of Marketing said to me “marketing just isn’t something our C-Suite understands.”

Subsequently the marketing department is, indeed, an order-taking tactical function –running on the hamster-wheel of demand generation — trying to keep up with client orders for new collateral. They dutifully create event banners, press releases, case studies and spend their days grinding out one more conversion metric for the book of analytics they are forced to produce to justify their worth. Consider these numbers:

  • A study last year found that 75% of CEO’s feel like their marketing departments “misunderstand or misuse metrics like ‘results’, ‘ROI’, and ‘Performance.’”
  • A survey of sales professionals at B2B companies found that only 20% feel like marketing is effective.
  • A 2009 found that only 18% of B2B marketers surveyed said they were “operating at the most advanced levels of their discipline, as “growth champions.”

And the massive disruption of digital has frankly just exacerbated the problem. Instead of becoming more strategic – many B2B marketing organizations have swung the other way – doubling down on the tasks/expectations of marketing, without making the process more strategic.

Is it any wonder that “do more with less” is the rallying cry for so many of today’s B2B marketing technology vendors?

In short – for many B2B enterprises, marketing has now been relegated as a service organization – just like the IT department — taking orders, servicing ‘clients’, and ultimately delivering no differentiation for the company inside or out. Or, to put it in Drucker’s own words, offering no distinguishing, unique value.

Now, before I incur the wrath of IT — I absolutely believe just as much in the office of a strategic CIO and IT.  I empathize that this department has had a similar struggle in both B2B and B2C organizations. This Wall Street Journal article framed this well.

But, here’s the thing; my mission in life is to raise the resonance of the marketing department.  Someone else can go take on the mantle for the CIO.

Content Can Be A Centralizing Force

If you’re a skeptic of the power of marketing in B2B, consider a few other numbers.

Today’s savvy B2B marketing department is not only charged with driving more leads into the sales organization – they are also charged with engaging those customers well after they have signed contracts to provide reasons to retain, cross sell, upsell and ultimately turn them into brand evangelists.

I sincerely believe that content and the facile management of it across multiple channels can be the centralizing force that transforms the B2B marketing department from collateral creator, to strategic partner.  I’ve actually seen it happen. I’ve watched as B2B marketing organizations are much more succesfull when they are empowered to act as centralized actuary, cheerleader, facilitator and, ultimately, owner of content and conversation for the B2B enterprise.

The enterprise inherently knows this is a process that needs to be owned. And Marketing should be the ones to own it.

The Marketing department can be changed. Beyond getting more customers, marketing can be the strategic provider of insight into new markets, new products, customer service efficiency and, yes, even new technology deployments.

This is what can really make marketing the best job in the world, and at its core the differentiating factor for the business. The ultimate value of marketing isn’t producing 100 more leads per month, 35 percent more traffic, or a 25 percent reduction in cost-per-acquisition. No, those are simple KPI’s. The ultimate value is in the unique perspective, powerful stories, and leadership that marketing can bring out the enterprise.

Today, as B2B marketers, we create value through the human connections we forge through relationships. These connections come in our ability to communicate our unique approach to addressing customer needs, and solving their problems. The value is the “big idea” that makes the brand immersive and experiential combined with the insight to deepen that emotional connection over time.

The fundamental key is that this value will not be created by an internal agency.  Our “sales-enablement group” will not create it. A strategic partner will create it; one that will push the organization into uncomfortable and innovative areas, and be willing to take both the power and the responsibility for having the privilege of that strategic seat at the table.

It’s our time to make B2B marketing remarkable.


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