The Day-to-Day Things Bothering B-to-B Marketers

Marketing Executives Group (LinkedIn)The discussion boards on LinkedIn are often good places to capture the pulse of what’s happening “on the ground” in the marketing field.

A case in point is a discussion started recently on the Marketing Executives Group on LinkedIn by Carson Honeycutt, an account executive at marketing research firm Mintel.

Honeycutt’s question was, “What are the biggest day-to-day issues for marketing execs?”

He was interested in getting input to help him speak to needs and offer solutions when interfacing with his customers and prospects – even if those solutions meant referring them to other vendors.

According to Honeycutt, he often hears responses like, “Too busy to talk. I’m swamped and we have no budget anyway.”

His query generated some interesting feedback. Comments ranged from the succinct (“sounds like you’re getting the brush-off”) to ones that were more helpful and useful.

The OfficeOne response I liked particularly well came from Brent Parker David, a marketing strategist at CRE8EGY. His listing of the day-to-day issues for marketing execs were to-the-point:

  • Too many meetings;
  • Lack of experienced creative thinking;
  • Personal and political agendas overshadowing the mission and the marketing objectives;
  • Too many “experts” who have never truly accomplished anything — but are very comfortable telling others what to do or how to behave.

I think most of us involved the marketing field for any length of time will be nodding knowingly at the above points …

Another response — more nuanced — came from Matt Smith, a marketing strategist in the consumer packaged goods  field. Here’s what he contributed:

“When Marketing doesn’t provide deep insights and a strategy to leverage them, price discounting takes over. This gives Sales the lead, as they are the executors. Growing sales, no matter how it’s done, is taken as progress. Sales is the hero, even though margins [may] have eroded.

“The byproduct of this is increasing their trade spend budgets — and by extension, their political clout. Conversely, Marketing loses clout as they don’t have an answer that drives sales AND margins. In the zero-sum budget game, the increased trade spend comes out of the advertising/promotion/innovation budget.”

Smith went on to add that “marketing is only stifled by bean-counters if they don’t know their customers and [can’t] devise a creative strategy to get them to buy more at higher margins.”

What are your own thoughts about the biggest day-to-day challenges facing marketing execs? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

 

What Social Media is Teaching Us (Again)

Social MediaSocial media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and all that – burst onto the scene only a few years ago. Because of this, we’re still learning daily how these tools are impacting and influencing attitudes about companies and brands … as well as the propensity for people to buy products and services as a result.

But some aspects are coming into pretty strong focus now. One of the interesting insights I’ve drawn from social media is that it spotlights the “disconnect” that exists between marketing and sales personnel.

This disconnect has existed for decades, of course. In my nearly 35 years in business, I’ve heard a common refrain from sales folks. It goes something like this: “I have no idea what those people in marketing do all day long!”

On the flip side, the marketing pros have a few choice words for the sales personnel as well: “All they ever think about is the next order. Unless it delivers instant hot prospects who are ready to buy immediately, they’re not interested in any of our marketing programs.”

This is why so many B-to-B companies have tried to cross-pollinate between marketing and sales by moving staff back and forth between the two areas.

But what company is inclined to gives up its star sales performers to marketing? What happens more often is that the underperforming sales people are the ones who end up in marketing … where they then achieve only middling success there as well.

Conversely, so many of the best sales performers aren’t “God’s gift to strategic thinking” at all … while the marketing people who are so creative and insightful when thinking about markets are woefully inadequate when it comes to keeping up with a Rolodex® full of dozens of sales contacts.

Another part of the problem is the approach to metrics. Marketing personnel have historically been focused on reaching wider audiences. To a salesperson, things like “creating awareness” and “building a brand” are frustratingly fuzzy. Instead, salespeople focus on individual customers, sales quotas and other quantifiable information – real “bottom line” figures.

Today, social media is bringing all of this into sharper relief. To be most effective, social media demand that marketing and sales personnel work together. It’s no longer possible for the two groups to employ different approaches, different interactions and different metrics for success.

To my view, it’s going to be harder for marketing and communications personnel to get their heads around new expectations for metrics and analyses when compared to the sales folks. There are many new analytical tools to be mastered – and that’s probably a source of fear for many a marketer.

For salespeople, who live and die by facts and figures, this is duck soup by comparison.

And if you really think about social media, it’s about audience (customer) engagement in a direct and personal manner. Who’s been doing that for years? The sales force, of course.

So does it make any sense to “silo” social media activity and content development within the marketing department? Generally speaking, no.

In fact, many sales personnel have already embraced social media activities because they see it as another useful tool to leverage customer engagement. This is an environment they already know well, because they’ve always been in the business of building relationships.

So the times demand that marketing and sales team up as never before. For marketers, that means opening up the social media initiative and structuring it to include sales personnel as well the marketing staff. Redlining these tasks won’t work.

And here’s another idea: Have the marketing staff hang around with the sales force. Put them out there at trade shows and other industry events where they are forced interact with customers and behave like … salespeople!

[This is especially true if a company’s marketing staff comes from collegiate or administrative backgrounds – a common weakness in many mid-sized B-to-B firms where the most lucrative upward career paths take employees through engineering, R&D or sales, not through marketing and communications.]

Social media reminds us, once again, that the key to success in business is “mixing it up” with customers and prospects. We need to make sure we do the same inside our own companies.

McCormick Place Loses its Luster

Has all the grumbling about Chicago’s vaunted McCormick Place as America’s premier tradeshow venue finally reached critical mass?

For years, corporate exhibitors have groused about government-controlled, money-losing McCormick Place. Stories abound of exhibitors being forced to spend hundreds of dollars for services as mundane as plugging in a piece of machinery, or being charged $1,000 to hang a sign from the ceiling, because of onerous union rules governing “who does this” and “who can’t do that.” It’s been a constant refrain of complaining I’ve heard at every tradeshow I’ve attended at McCormick Place, dating back some 20 years.

Despite all of the criticism about McCormick Place’s high costs and lack of user-friendly service, it remains the largest convention complex in America, with over 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space. But attendance has been declining pretty dramatically, from ~3.0 million in 2001 to ~2.3 million in 2008. While the figures haven’t been released yet for 2009, it’s widely expected that show traffic will be reported as down another 20%.

As the current economic recession has put the most severe strains yet on the tradeshow business, it seems that a rebellion against McCormick Place is in now full swing. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “a gradual drop-off in business … has turned into a rout as a string of high-profile shows have pulled out.” The deserters include a triennial plastics show (~75.000 attendees), as well as the Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society’s annual conference (~27,500 attendees).

But isn’t tradeshow attendance off in other convention centers as well? Well … yes. But clearly not as much. In truth, tradeshow attendance has been under pressure at a “macro” level ever since 9/11, and an important reason beyond the issue of terrorism is technological innovation and the ability for people to interact through video-conferencing and for companies to demo their equipment and services via the Internet and other forms of digital communication.

Tradeshows were once the only way to gather a community together, but now there are other options. One school of thought holds that large tradeshows are now less effective than small, targeted conferences that provide heightened ability for attendees to interact with one another on a more intimate basis. Some events no longer charge attendees … but they make sure to “vet” them carefully to ensure that the show sponsors who are underwriting the costs are reaching prospects with important degrees of influence or buying authority.

On top of these “macro” trends, the current economic downturn just makes McCormick Place look more and more like a loser when it comes to the tradeshow game. Compared to Chicago’s three most significant competing tradeshow locales – Atlanta, Las Vegas and Orlando – the cost of many items from electricians (union labor) to foodservice (greasy spoon-quality coffee at Starbucks® prices) to hotel accommodations (room fees and surtaxes that won’t quit) ranges two times to eight times higher in Chicago. And in today’s business climate when every cost is scrutinized closely, none of this looks very cost-effective to the corporate bean-counters.

True, Chicago is more centrally located for travel from both coasts: Who wants to take a five hour flight from New York to Las Vegas or from California to Orlando to attend a meeting?

[On the other hand, no one can honestly say that the weather in Chicago is preferable to sunny Florida or Nevada!]

So it would seem that Chicago’s worthy tradeshow competitors have achieved the upper hand now. I just returned from two national shows this past week – the International Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Expo and the International Poultry Expo. Where were they held? Orlando and Atlanta – the same cities which are attracting McCormick Place’s erstwhile customers.

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