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.

 

Dealing with a Deluge of Marketing Data

Marketing analytics in the era of social mediaBelieve it or not, there was a time not so long ago when marketing professionals actually complained about a lack of data when it came to determining the success of sales, advertising or promotional initiatives.

Clearly, those days are long past. With the inexorable rise of digital and social media, many marketing managers now believe they can’t analyze and react to the sheer volumes of data that are now available.

That view comes through loud and clear in IBM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Study, released in October 2011. In this large survey, IBM interviewed nearly 1,750 CMOs across nearly 20 industries in more than 50 countries … and ~70% of them revealed that they felt incapable of analyzing and responding to all of the data available to them.

For example, only about one in four CMOs in the survey reported that they are tracking blog content.

On the other hand, only ~36% reported that they still focus primarily on traditional sources of marketing information. Even so, ~80% continue to use certain forms of traditional management techniques to measure their success, such as competitive benchmarking and market research surveys.

As the newest activity – and perhaps the thorniest to measure – social media is a particular struggle, according to these CMOs. While just over 55% believe that social platforms represent a “key engagement channel,” an equal percentage say they’re not prepared to be held accountable for social media ROI.

Calculating the return on investment for acquiring Facebook fans, YouTube followers or LinkedIn company connections is really challenging, these respondents report. Instead, metrics that are typically tracked are new account signups, exits and cross-selling activity. For now at least, the commitment is to engage customers using social platforms without agonizing over ROI factors.

Thankfully, the hard-dollar advertising costs of using social platforms are modest … even though marketing departments must devote significant personnel resources to support the effort properly.

Monitoring social discussions, product reviews and other anecdotal information — and then compiling the data into actionable reports — requires daily focus and attention. But those actions are key to triggering timely alerts if something is amiss or there’s a change in the competitive picture.

What’s the prognosis for marketing data in the future? (Much) more of the same. For companies, the deluge – if not the fun – is just beginning.

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.