B2B Marketing Activity Does Not Equate To Marketing Results

It has been bothering me for some time. Why do businesses persist in pursuing B2B marketing techniques that have long been established as a complete waste of time and money? Then yesterday a colleague made a comment and suddenly the answer became clear. It is marketing activity, not necessarily results that can justify the marketing departments (or person) existence.

I still regurlay receive cold calls that start with ‘can I speak for the person responsible for x’. The chances of getting past any receptionist with the most basic of training with that starting pitch have to be minimal. If calling the business owner directly surely the response rate has to be zero.

Let’s assume a cold caller can make 20 calls / hour and they get past one in five gatekeepers (optimistic) their troubles are not over. The person they need to speak to may not be in, or in meetings, or on another call, or away from their desk so reaching the required person could easily take a minimum of three attempts. Therefore in a seven hour day of full on cold calls the caller may reach nine decisions makers (best case). How many will respond to a telephone offer? 1 in 10? 1 in 20? The numbers don’t add up.

Taking another example of banner advertising. Average click through rates have been shown to be 0.08% (Source Sizmek) and 8% of internet users account for 85% of banner ad clicks (source Comscore). Therefore the chances of reaching the target audience are minimal but the cost substantial.

Measuring the effectiveness of advertising is notoriously difficult yet businesses continue to spend significant sums with no real idea of the business the activity generates and certainly no idea how the activity relates to sales leads generated.Measuring ROI on B2B marketing activity

So why persist with these, and other tactics, that deliver little to no return. The problem is perceived activity. Those trained in sales equate activity to results. The logic behind this is difficult to challenge as failure to engage with customers or prospects in some way results in a failure to sell. When times are hard and the eyes of those in charge turn to the sales director to deliver results he or she naturally turns on the sales department to increase activity.

In many B2B organisations, especially those that are medium to small sized, one person tends to head up both sales and marketing. In the majority of cases that person tends to be from a sales rather than a marketing background. They therefore also tend to turn to marketing for evidence of activity first, results second.

Strange as it may seem most marketing people tend to want to stay in their jobs. When any evidence they present that activity based tactics are a waste of time on money falls on deaf ears they fall into line with the activity approach. Marketing process and the long term view disappears out of the nearest window.

The problem for the marketing department in many cases is one of measurement and process. With no process in place and an ad hoc approach it is much more difficult to make a case against the activity approach. To justify any other technique it is essential to have robust measurement data in place showing positive results over the medium to long term.

B2B Marketing Process And Automation

The real purpose of marketing is quality lead generation not, as many wrongly assume, branding and advertising. A robust B2B marketing process will ensure leads are delivered consistently but on its own it is not enough.  A level of automation is also required to ensure the process may be delivered at an appropriate cost and is both measurable and repeatable.

Disadvantages of the Ad Hoc Marketing Approach

Too often B2B marketing is disjointed with no real plan or purpose. In increasingly competitive markets sales are the top priority and marketing is the poor relation. Company politics and the long established disruptive relationship between sales and marketing often means sales calls the tune.

Sales (rightly so) tend to be focussed on short term objectives (I need ‘X’ to progress this prospect) which leads to requests for marketing support that are random with no relation to any plan or process. In many B2B businesses there is a Sales and Marketing Manager or Director who comes from a sales background and that just exacerbates the problem.

Jumping from one B2B marketing tactic to the next is unlikely to deliver the required result. Even if there is sporadic success it is impossible to identify what generated the positive result so it may be repeated in future. An Ad Hoc approach means marketing is reactive rather than proactive and that is not the best way to run any business department

Following the latest marketing fad, only to abandon it a few months later when it does not generate immediate results, is a hugh waste of cash and resources. Reactive support of sales requests with customised material that could be produced once then delivered simply as required wastes time and effort.

B2B Marketing Strategy Is Key

To move towards a more proactive and planned approach the first step is to define the marketing strategy. A full strategic marketing process is the ideal but as a minimum there should be some consideration of the business objectives, the market, target market segments, competition, the sales plan and how marketing can deliver the quality leads sales need to deliver on that plan.

In practice, there is one major issue to consider before committing the time and effort to preparing a marketing strategy and that is buy in from senior management and sales management. Marketing cannot operate in a silo so if there is no commitment to developing and (crucially) following through on a strategy there is little point putting one in place.

Building A B2B Marketing Process

With a strategy in place, it is possible to consider all the marketing tactics available to the business and how they may be utilised to support various stages in the sales cycle. Working closely with sales the marketing input required to deliver the required outcomes may be quantified in some detail.

Instead of the Ad hoc approach the best marketing activities can be identified, interrelated, quantified and scheduled to deliver the required results. Inputs including both in house and external resources can be planned in and therefore progressed to ensure they are available when required.

Measurement And ROI

When building the marketing process measurement points and the tools used to collect data should be specifically identified. Most digital marketing techniques can be measured in detail but data from the field via the sales force may also be required.

With a process and measurement data in place it is relatively easy to identify what is working well and where there are problems to be addressed. If something works well it can be increased and marketing techniques that fail to deliver may be dropped to be replaced with others with a better chance of success

Marketing Process – The Disadvantages

With the short term demands placed on the marketing department by sales one of the major problems with any B2B marketing process is the time and resource required to put that process is place. It needs real higher management commitment to allow the marketing department the time and space to deliver.

Any B2B marketing process by definition will require a range of interrelated marketing tools and techniques to deliver the required result. This, of course assumes the in house marketing department has experience of a wide range of marketing skills and (most important) have real experience and data on the results they should expect from each technique. If these skills are not available in house a level of outsourcing will need to be considered.

Although the Ad Hoc approach is actually high cost (and low ROI) it is often not perceived that way. When marketing is sales driven it often does not have its own budget and the low ROI can be buried. A process, by contrast, needs a budget and that budget is identified up front. Higher management therefore have a decision to make on approval (or not) and this can stop the marketing process before it even starts.

The Need For Automation

To both minimise the required budget and maximise the ROI of the B2B marketing process it is important to keep costs to a minimum. It is therefore important to think through how the involvement of expensive in house staff can be minimised once the process is in place and running smoothly. Any duplication of effort should be identified and removed and systems and processes made as slick and efficient as practical.

Conclusion

The only way for B2B marketers to show their value is to deliver an ongoing stream of quality leads to sales. They need to move away from reacting to the demands of sales and build a proactive, efficient and repeatable process.

There are undoubted challenges in gaining higher management buy in and support for building the process so, once in place there is an obligation to deliver the maximum ROI. A level of automation is the best way forward (often utilizing external agencies to take on repetitive tasks efficiently) once the process has been built and tested. The best way to deliver consistent results is both B2B marketing process and automation.

Best B2B Marketing Practice

What is best B2B marketing practice in today’s increasingly complex marketplace? The 2013 B2B awards (run by B2B marketing magazine) provides some clues on the best B2B marketing tactics across a number of target markets. To be selected to win the award the companies all had to prove a significant return on marketing investment.

Multichannel Marketing Campaign

The winner used advertorial and Email primarily to raise awareness supported by social media and live events. Once interest was stimulated a content marketing campaign was employed with an information based website as its hub.

B2B Lead Generation

In the opinion of the judges the best campaign used Email to raise awareness with a telemarketing follow up to establish interest level and prioritise sales effort. Target contacts were carefully screened and prioritised pre campaign and the exact campaign was fine-tuned according to the audience. A sophisticated sales and CRM system was utilised to record results and prioritise ongoing activity.

Decision Maker Targeted Marketing Campaign

The winner precisely profiled target decision makers and pre called to verify details and prepare them for the next stage. This was followed by a direct mail campaign customised to the decision makers profile and potential requirements. A content marketing campaign was built with a customised website as its hub. With the content plan in place targets were sent a number of Emails built around their specific needs and guided back to the website for more information.

Website

The objective of the winner was to raise awareness and generate leads. Content marketing was used extensively with detailed tracking of prospects and follow up via a well-trained and briefed telemarketing team with sales only passed hot leads to close.

Conclusions

Despite the increasing B2B market focus on inbound marketing it is clear that outbound marketing activities such as telemarketing are still effective. However, the emphasis appears to have changed to pre-screening and follow up instead of direct lead generation.

Email marketing (primarily to build awareness and drive traffic to the website) figures prominently across a number of campaigns. However the use of social media appears limited and is, at best, a supporting rather than a direct lead generation activity. Direct mail is only mentioned in one campaign as an awareness building tool.

Inbound (content) marketing was utilised extensively in three of the four campaigns listed above. It appears therefore that best B2B marketing practice is based on using content marketing as the key element of the campaign with outbound techniques used to drive awareness and traffic to that content.

The full B2B awards document can be read at B2Bmarketing.net

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